If you havenít heard of Capcomís new RPG, Dragonís Dogma, then you obviously donít watch G4 or Comedy Central. I canít recall the last time I have seen so many commercials for a single game release; sometimes two ads within the same 2-minute window. To their credit, the TV spot does a respectable job of enticing one to rush out to the store and pick up a copy; at least those who enjoy a good RPG, but in a year where we are seeing just as many role-playing games as FPS and action titles, does Dragonís Dogma have what it takes to pry the required coins from your purse as well, as justify the 30-40 hour time commitment to complete the game?
Dragonís Dogma starts much like any other RPG with character creation. You can (and I did) spend nearly an hour tweaking all sorts of stats and sliders to nail down your look and your skill set. You are then dropped into a village which is promptly attacked by a dragon; you engage in battle, and subsequently have your heart plucked out and consumed by the beast. When your heartless hero wakes up you find that you are now a special being known as the Arisen, able to do cool stuff that most others cannot such as commanding your own set of Pawns.
The cool factor of Prawns is increased exponentially when you realize that these AI recruits are actually the creations of other people playing this game all over the world. Each player is allowed to create and customized one personal Pawn and then recruit two others from the Rift. The one you create for yourself can go off and moonlight with other players just as easily as you can recruit the Pawn of another. Whatís really creative is that if a recruited Pawn has already been to a certain area or completed a mission with a previous Arisen player, they will have and share insider knowledge of that section with you, so you aren't just recruiting skills, but knowledge as well. Of course, all this requires that you are playing Dragonís Dogma while connected to Xbox Live and agree to all their rules. Itís a brilliant concept that is sadly wasted on a rather dull game.
The combat in Dragonís Dogma is one of its best features, offering endless possibilities with all sorts of cross-trained character classes and a variety of weapons and abilities. The AI performs admirably in all but the most serious of encounters in which case youíll need to take more direct control over battle tactics. I especially enjoyed the healing aspect where my healer would know when somebody needed a boost, even if they did create the healing aura 20-feet away from me, and I had to run over and soak in its green glow while everyone else fought on. The larger monsters are impressive; almost like a mini-version of Shadow of the Colossus or God of War, where you work on their lower sections and can even jump on and climb the beasts, hanging on for dear life as they try to shake you off.
Itís one of these massive ďboss fightsĒ that triggers your first significant quest, when you defeat a giant Hydra and are then tasked to take one of its heads to the king as an offering. The capital city is miles away and the road is treacherous, winding along the seashore and then into the mountains where all sorts of wolves, bandits, goblins, harpies, and other ghastly creature seem hell bent on attacking the wagon and destroying the hydra head. Itís a good 30-minute escort mission that will teach you a lot of the basics, as well as give you a taste of the variety of environments you can explore in this world.
Once you reach the capital the world and the game opens up. There are numerous places to visit within the city and they all offer plenty of quests. You can visit the tavern and consult the job board to load up on side-quests as well; some relatively easy and short, and other taking upwards of an hour to complete and requiring you travel to new locations and cities, and of course you'll find even more adventures long the way and once you reach your destination. There is no shortage of content in Dragon's Dogma.
There is an interesting day/night cycle that not only changes the way the world looks, but also varies the monsters encountered and the level of danger when exploring the wilderness areas of the map. If you are bold enough to travel at night, your lantern will offer a bit of illumination but little protection when a pack of wolves or a group of bandits attack. Itís best to stay within the city walls or at least huddle down around a campfire and wait for sunrise; at least until your party is powerful enough to survive a night in the wilderness. Even daylight travel can be treacherous if you decide to leave the well-traveled roads and obvious trails.
The world of Dragonís Dogma is massive, and at times I felt like I was playing an MMO. I would be traveling to my destination and come across a cave, or a mineshaft entrance, or a suspicious waterfall that I wasn't ready to explore yet, but still made a mental note for a return visit later. There were also all these stone textures that kept prompting me to come back with a Pick Axe, prompting a visit to a nearby store. There is a lot to do in Dragonís Dogma but for the most part it is all just out there in the world with very little story structure to tie it all together. I suppose this is great for those who just want to get lost in the experience, but for those looking for a more linear narrative or engaging story to keep them motivated; you wonít find it here.
Dragonís Dogma has more than its share of technical issues, starting with horrible load times. These can be reduced by installing the game to your Xbox hard drive, but installation wonít help with the numerous graphical glitches, missing textures, pop-up and vanishing enemies, and extreme slowdown during the larger encounters. My screen actually froze a few times during the Hydra fight. Iím not really sure whatís causing all these performance issues as there is nothing terribly complicated about the textures or level of detail in either the monster or the environment.
Parts of the world look good and I really enjoyed the seamless transitions between seaside cliffs, grassy plains, rolling hills, and jagged mountains as you travelled the land, but for the most part, Dragonís Dogma is very average looking and somewhat of a graphical disappointment considering how far we are in the Xbox 360 lifecycle. Even the sound and music seemed a bit out of place, with some crazy rock guitar solo that opens the game before it finally settles down to a more thematic medieval fantasy score. The dialogue is overly verbose with flowery speech and almost comical delivery that will have you reading the text and advancing the script.
Dragonís Dogma is a 40-hour game on average if you plan to do all that is offered. Expect the first third of that to be a lot of hand-holding as you learn the ropes, and donít expect anything that resembles a cohesive story after the first hour until the last. Plus, with virtually no checkpoints it is extremely easy to get caught in the middle of nowhere after sunset, die, and have to replay lengthy portions of the game over again, plus anything you discovered and everything you did will all be reset.
Dragonís Dogma has some great ideas like the whole Pawn sharing and the engaging real-time combat system, but with repetitive monsters, boring missions and side-quests, and the complete absence of anything that resembles a story, playing the game seems more like a job than a game, and making it to the end seems like an impossible task. If you are content to simply wander a massive world and grind your characters and recruit various Pawns from the Rift, then Dragonís Dogma will certainly keep you busy for a few weeks of casual role-playing, but Iím not sure it will keep you entertained.