Capcom’s Dragon’s Dogma has been somewhat of a curiosity throughout the decade since release. Despite quickly achieving a cult following, there’s been no signs of a sequel. The repackaging of the game for new consoles as Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen was welcomed, but fell short of satisfying fans’ hunger. Dragon’s Dogma was a unique, compelling adventure at launch. And it remains so 10 years later.
In Dragon’s Dogma, players take on the role of the Arisen. When a dragon attacks your lands the only right thing to do is defend. Though your attempt to do so was ill-fated, it could have been much worse. As the dragon flings you from his back, he removes your heart with but a tap of his finger. And eats it. You awake unknowing of how much time has passed, but now able to hear the voice of a distant antagonist. Grabbing your sword and shield, you step forth to claim your heart back from the dragon, and save your land.
Dragon’s Dogma – Combining Combat with Command
A high-fantasy tale for which the delivery edges towards the mature market, Dragon’s Dogma begins with a short tutorial informing the player of the basic mechanics. This includes combat and using the all-important Pawns. These are AI comrades who will work with your towards your goal. They can be hired and fired, and will gain experience as they work with the player. In a nutshell, they are the key innovation of Dragon’s Dogma. Allies that act similarly to those of Dragon Age: Origins, but without the need for the player to perform every command.
Dragon’s Dogma Pawns – Just as Disposable as Chess Pawns
The player can command one main pawn who goes everywhere with you, and is subject to the same customisation and class system for its development. Three classes are available initially: Fighter, Strider and Mage. The Fighter is a melee character, Striders are ranged attackers and the Mage is exactly what any experienced gamer would expect. You can also hire up to two additional pawns at any point, though these are not so customisable. Instead they stick to a set pattern for class and level, but are no less helpful in combat.
The AI is in fact so well designed that some may well think it’s been taken a step too far. That some of the ‘playing’ has been taken out of the player’s hand. But doing so is to miss the point: Dragon’s Dogma provides a simulation of real comrades. While they may not have the most unique character, they do promote an understanding of the player’s wishes greater than most.
Pawns who Stay Together, Level-Up Together
Players and Pawns will climb through levels automatically, gaining statistics increases as they go. Experience can be spent with tutors located around the land in exchange for leaning new skills or improving existing ones. These skills can then be assigned to a face button. While holding either the left or right should button (depending on whether it’s your secondary or primary weapon, respectively), pressing that face button will execute the manoeuvre in combat.
The levelling system is fairly rudimentary, but in that it echoes one of the greatest sentiments of the videogame. Dragon’s Dogma is realistically a fairly straight forward adventure title. However, it constantly gives the feeling that you are engaging in a deep and methodical RPG in which your decisions have a bearing on the outcome. Were it not for the respectably sized open world, Dragon’s Dogma would have more in common with the underappreciated Warriors: Legends of Troy than The Elder Scrolls or Dragon Age series.
RPG or Adventure Game?
The quest structure plays as would be expected. A series of core quests that advance the story and some intermittent sidetracks that offer bonuses and rewards otherwise unobtainable. Again, it’s a structure that appears to follow the convention dictated by RPG titles, but is just as evident in the Fable series. What does give Dragon’s Dogma a slight edge here is that many of these quests can intertwine. You can be attempting a quest which seems fairly simple, only to hit a stumbling block and be unable to proceed. However, opting to break and complete a different quest in the same area might well be the key to progression. It’s a simple addition to the formula that sounds more annoying than it is, as all paths still lead somewhere.
There’s plenty of similarly scaled additions that make Dragon’s Dogma feel like an interesting variation on a standard template. Unlocking of additional classes; the opportunity to change that of both the player character and pawn at inns; the Affinity system which sees AI characters develop an opinion of you based on your actions and not simply through conversations; and of course there’s the infamous ability to climb on enemies. This last mechanic isn’t limited to just giant beasts however (who do often offer unique points for those who choose to scale their heights, in a fashion clearly inspired by Shadow of the Colossus). Smaller enemies are also able to be grabbed, as well as environmental objects such as rocks and exploding barrels.
Dragon’s Dogma is a Game Comfortable in it’s Own Skin
From a technical standpoint Dragon’s Dogma isn’t exactly astounding, but it could never be considered poor either. The visual quality may not be striking, and there are occasional draw distance issues, but the designers have chosen to use a filter which does make the look and feel of the videogame something quite unique.
The character creation process does at first seem remarkably limited. It at first asks you to choose from a selection of preset bodies. However, this is merely giving the casual player the chance to jump straight in with a reasonably proportioned hero. The options are there for a player to customise their on-screen avatar to a considerable degree. However it still falls short of the likes of Mass Effect 3 by a fair margin. More successful however is the sound design. A perfectly balanced score marks the highs and lows of your adventure, and distances moments of tension from the run-of-the-mill highway battles.
Despite the comparative lack of attention Dragon’s Dogma has received since its launch, it weaves a truly remarkable tale. While at a glance it may appear to be a deep and foreboding RPG it is in fact a very accessible adventure. So enjoyable is the combination of familiarity and innovation, that it does compete with some of the finest adventure games. Minor blemishes in terms of collision detection, visual design and reliance on outdated story delivery conventions don’t degrade the overall experience, which is never anything less than engrossing. 10 years since it’s debut, we’re still holding hope for a true Dragon’s Dogma sequel.