There be dragons and dungeons ahoy!
Once in a while a game comes along that slips under the old radar, sneaking by and stealthily passing in the night unless illuminated by a spotlight. Now we're not saying that Dragon's Dogma is a low-profile game, far from it. What we are saying is that with Skyrim, The Old Republic and Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning, it might sneak on past and be missed.
Dragon's Dogma is brought to us by Capcom, and with the talents of both development geniuses behind Devil May Cry 4 and Resident Evil 4, it's actually something pretty special. It's a Japanese game with Western design philosophy and it looks rather good. It might not boast the most superlative graphics that we've seen so far, but it has a wealth of customisation in terms of characters and weapons that rivals the likes of Dark Souls and so on.
It's a fantasy action-adventure rpg with an open world, a huge open world that's populated by a ton of different monsters that are rife for the slaying, with looting and questing galore. It has a massive dragon as the big bad, which starts things off with your main character in a pretty spectacular way. It has dynamic day/night systems that actually mean day questing is vastly different to night time. Night time is truly scary where the dark rolls in and all you have is a lantern and your senses to work out where you are in the world.
At night the zombies and so on come out, so it transforms Dragon's Dogma into something akin to a survival horror at times. So it's best to try and do the quest during the day or at least start out from the tavern in the morning so you have enough daylight to see you there and back, before the truly nasty stuff appears.
Dragon's Dogma is a third person game with a lot of depth in the combat, and classes. It might not seem like much at first, with the Wizard, Fighter and Strider classes on offer as starting Vocations, but they soon expand those into the Advanced Vocations and allow you to tinker with the Magick Archer, Sorcerer and Assassin to name three of the more advanced options on offer.
What seems to set Dragon's Dogma apart from everything else in the genre is the attention to things like, physics. Monsters actually have physical weight and power in the game, so a Griffin's spiked tail for example, can really cause some damage and throw you around like a ragdoll as it comes swooping down, if you get caught in the swish as it pounces. Also hit locations define places where you can cause major damage and latch onto key points of the bigger monsters for some Shadow of the Colossus style climbing-hacking fun.
You can also target locations like weapon hands, making Cyclops drop their massive weapons on the floor, staggering them and generally causing major havoc to their attack patterns. Leaping up into the air and grabbing onto a flying Harpy brings another tactical move to the battle, guiding the creature towards where you want to go and then dropping on the enemies' head.
It's all married to a fast paced and effective combat system, one that shows the pedigree of the developers involved. Spells have a casting time, which means you don't need to worry about mana and such, just how long it takes to perform some of the more dangerous magics. Melee is based on stamina and as long as you have a high bar, you can do more moves and fight for longer before you get exhausted and run out of power.
Physics also ties into your character; your weight limit both in terms of encumbrance and physical character weight is an important concept to keep in mind. If you are too fat, then you'll find your stamina drains quickly and you can't do much in the way of athletic combat. Have a lithe and nimble character, you won't have much strength but you'll be able to move around with a ton of freedom and exploit the climbing mechanic far more.
Then there are the Pawns, an innovative way of supporting your main character through their quest with other heroic entities. You have a Pawn that's your secondary character, and they are just as customisable as your main character (there's a TON of customisation in the game, more than we've seen from the likes of games like Mass Effect too). They can level up and so on. Then you can have up to two other Pawns who are brought in at a specific level, they never advance and have to be switched out for more powerful Pawns as you progress through the game.
You can get Pawns from the Rift and the Rift is where things get really interesting. See in the Rift there's a ton of Pawns and if you have XBL or PSN you can get more, from random people across the world or your friend's list. You pay in Rift Crystals most of the time and these let you recruit Pawns (and more powerful mercenary Pawns) - we aren't sure, but it's possible that friend's Pawns are gained for free.
When a Pawn is off in another realm, they come back with rewards for you and most importantly Rift Crystals. So the game encourages this unique form of multiplayer sharing quite a lot. Pawns are also highly customisable, so you can create the party that you want to adventure with by picking Pawns that compliment your main character's skills. If you're going for a stealthy ranged type, with little or no magic, then you can pick a Pawn as your second who does a lot of magic or melee combat. Then support that with a healer type and a mage.
All in all, Dragon's Dogma looks to be shaping into something that's truly quite interesting with a huge open world, dark and forbidding dungeons that rely upon light sources such as lanterns to explore and a dynamic day and night where night time truly feels dangerous and deadly. A wealth of customisation in terms of weapons, armour and equipment means that you can make the character that you want and equip them with the best that money can buy, crafting a truly unique look for them and for your other Pawn.
Dragon's Dogma will be out in the UK on May 25th and available for the PS3 and 360. Expect a full review around then and see what we think of this truly interesting take on fantasy adventure.