Creating the illusion that you’re playing with a human player rather than an AI controlled character is quite the task, but one that Capcom has managed to pull off here spectacularly.
The AI of your three fellow adventurers is in fact good enough to instantly forgive that there’s no ‘proper’ multi-player. Instead, in this RPG players share Pawns â€“ custom made characters with unique behavioural patterns and the ability to become more proficient in battle. They’ve been programmed to follow you closely, warn of dangers, and also pick up any items you may have missed. The first time we witnessed one pick up a barrel full of explosives and throw it at a group of enemies our eyebrows were raised higher than one of the ‘ladies’ you see on Jeremy Kyle.
Picking Pawns to create the perfect team is just one of the many enjoyable elements. Once a Pawn is released back into the realm from where they came, they can be rated and given gifts to bestow upon their creator. Doesn’t that sound a lot more inviting than having some random player with a name like BillyBumHole68 invading your world, snagging all of the best loot then vanishing off to pester another player? Of course it does.
The Pawns also help to make Dragon’s Dogma one of the more accessible RPGs out there. If they’re familiar with a mission they’ll provide invaluable hints while mages and sorcerers will cast healing spells even if you’re only slightly low on health. It’s also a looters paradise â€“ items of use and often of value are easily stumbled upon, and so it’s not uncommon to have plenty of cash to buy new weapons and half-a-dozen health potions for your inventory.
Dark Souls this is not. It does however have a few similarities with From Software’s RPG â€“ it shares a very similar visual style and assortments of armour and arsenal. It’s also worth running past the larger enemies until you’ve levelled up a bit, much like Dark Souls’ legendary ‘suicide runs’. Worry not â€“ these fiends are reluctant to give chase.
For an RPG of considerable size, Dragon’s Dogma has a rather minimal plot. After surviving an encounter with a fearsome dragon which would have left any other man dead, the main character becomes known as â€˜The Arisen’ and it soon transpires that his destiny is to find and kill said winged beast. A cult know as Salvation however are out to try and make this task as tricky as possible â€“ they believe that the dragon’s coming will cleanse the world ready to start anew. You get to make a few moral choices along the way, such as choosing to spare the lives of some of your enemies, but nothing on the same magnitude as in the likes of Mass Effect.
The first few hours are spent in a quaint seaside town which includes the usual assortment of RPG missions such as investigating an unusual noise coming from inside a well and locating some stolen items. These simple quests help break you in gently, before casting you into a wide open world. A lot of time is spent in the capital city of Gran Soren; there’s a wealth of merchants, plus inns where you can purchase new skills and improve existing ones. You can also change your character class at an inn, so if you fancy a change from melee attacks to magic then the option is there. It’s not long until your fabled feats catch the attention of the Duke, who issues the missions that’ll lead you up to your final confrontation.
Whereas the combat in the likes of Two Worlds and Risen feels like glorified morris dancing, Dragon’s Dogma has combat that’s both satisfying and enthralling, like something out of a highly rated hack and slasher. Each character class has several moves, some of which are rather creative. Archers can be given the ability to pin foes to walls and trees with arrows, and also fire an arrow so powerful it sends the unfortunate recipient flying through the air. Magic attacks fill the screen with devastating elemental powers while items such as flasks of poison can be thrown to weaken an enemy before going in for the kill. Larger enemies can be scaled as well â€“ get on top of a cyclops’s shoulders and you can knock its helmet off to expose its eye. Discovering enemies’ weak spots and then exploiting them is curiously thrilling.
Although Capcom have managed to hit the nail on the head where combat is concerned, for every memorable mission there’s one that either feels half-baked or defies all logic. A good half hour was wasted trying to find a red book which had been placed on top of a building with a red roof. Although we can’t be certain, we’re pretty sure we walked past it a dozen times before eventually spotting it. Another quest entails finding a treasure chest. Again, after much scavenging we learned that it had to be reached by performing what can only be described as medieval parkour. What should be simple tasks are sometimes made maddening by some very bizarre design decisions. We also missed out on the chance to complete one optional mission by not being in the right place at the right time, neither of which we were previously informed of.
There’s a fair bit of backtracking too. Although you can teleport back to the capital city, the ferrystones required to do so are rather scarce.
Those memorable missions though are mind-blowing: there’s a Lord of the Rings-style battle to retake a castle overrun by goblins, and then later a battle against a colossal griffin which includes an hour long trek across the map to reach its nesting place. They’re the type of thing that you’ll want to tell your friends about, epic in scale and leaving you with a sense of accomplishment. If no friends are in earshot you can share photos of your triumphant endeavours with those on Facebook via the photo sharing ability. All the screenshots on this page were taken by us, no less.
The bare bones plot, dull sub-quests and occasionally sketchy mission objectives prevent Dragon’s Dogma from being the on top of the ever growing list of this generation’s RPGs. It certainly has the best combat though, and also sets the bar for how intelligent we expect our AI controlled cohorts to be. We’re also quite amazed how few glitches we encountered given the size of the game world. So much for Bethesda’s usual ‘impossible to remove all bugs in a game this size before launch’ excuses.