Dragon's Dogma review

Dragon's Dogma borrows a bit of Skyrim, a bit of Kingdoms of Amalur, and throws in a cool party-building system to create a intriguing action RPG.

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Combine the open-world exploration of Skyrim, the lightning-quick combat of Kingdoms of Amalur, and the player-punishing difficulty of Dark Souls, and you've got Dragon's Dogma...sort of. While it does borrow from recent favorites in the genre, Capcom's answer to the action-RPG also takes a stab at some original ideas. A steep learning curve and lack of polish occasionally sully the experience, but fans of the style who've already exhausted the aforementioned titles will find more than enough here to lure them in for a play-through or two. While its world will feel familiar to anyone who's looted a treasure chest or burned a troll, Dragon's Dogma doesn't begin with the expected rodent-killing quests or talky cut scenes. Instead, it throws you into the action head first. As an unassuming villager, you're almost immediately faced with an unfair fight against a fire-breathing beastie; it's as lopsided as it sounds and the monster's talon unceremoniously plucks your heart from your chest. Upon miraculously surviving the attack, you're dubbed the "Arisen" and set out to seek revenge and retrieve your stolen ticker. The story begins with a bang, but things soon settle into familiar Tolkien-wannabe territory. You'll personalize your avatar, accept quests from chatty NPCs, collect loot aplenty, and face baddies of the horned, fanged, and clawed variety. The been-there-slayed-that formula remains engaging thanks to responsive, weighty combat. Favoring intuitive light and heavy attack combos over the cumbersome controls often associated with the genre, the thumb-blistering battles feel more action than RPG. The arcadey exchanges are further complemented by the ability to scale sky-eclipsing enemies, Shadow of the Colossus-style. The mechanic, which slowly drains stamina, lends an organic feel to the epic fights while injecting them with a welcome layer of risk-versus-reward strategy. It's tempting, for example, to climb atop a downed griffon and drive a dagger into its jugular for the quick kill; if the beast manages to take flight before drawing its last breath, however, you'll be in for a fatal fall when your strength betrays you. Going toe-to-talon with mythical monsters poses ample reward for patient players, but undoubtedly spells sudden death for more eager attackers. Dragon's Dogma may feel like a button-mashing dungeon crawl, but its encounters require thoughtful planning and careful execution. Thankfully, its defining party-customization system ensures you'll never face an ugly foe by yourself. On top of tweaking your main character throughout the 30-plus hour journey, you'll personalize an A.I.-controlled pawn that brings both physical strength and sage advice to the battlefield. In addition to looting and leveling alongside this brother (or sister) in arms, two other pawns--with set stats and skills--can be hired from any of the world's many towns. This second pair of mercenaries is expendable and will be swapped often depending on your needs. Shopping for the proper pawns is an addictive affair. Searching for a spell-spewing mage, steel-swinging fighter, or a support character to heal your wounds? No problem, just head to the closest village where a variety of swords-for-hire will happily accept your gold coins.

Plenty of big creatures to fight here

More than just meat-shields, these CPU-controlled combatants hold their own on the battlefield and even handle the heavy lifting when allowed to. Their very vocal strategies are also helpful, often providing the key to downing a difficult threat. It's especially satisfying to return to the site of a previously failed encounter with the right pawns in tow, prepared to turn the tables. The mechanic isn't a tacked-on feature or optional part of the experience either. In fact, if you hope to reacquaint your heart and chest cavity, you'd better learn to play nice with the pawns. While more than enough of these helpers are randomly generated in-game, they can also be borrowed from other players. Like an extension of Dark Souls' anonymous hint system, this feature doesn't require any interaction, just an online connection. If you're having trouble silencing a specific baddie, another players' pawn--who's already skinned said beast--can join your game with the necessary intel to finish the job. Conversely, if your pawn gets recruited into another game, they'll return to your virtual world with any knowledge they've gained while battling abroad. Coupled with the fast-paced combat, this inspired party-building system refreshingly separates Dragon's Dogma from the hack-and-slash pack. That said, some will find frustration long before discovering the game's groove. (It took me about six hours to feel comfortable with the mechanics and around 10 before I entered battles with any degree of confidence.) A generic high-fantasy presentation, some mundane quests, and an open-world that's too easy to get lost in won't help the uncommitted conquer the learning curve. Still, seasoned dragon-slayers with an appetite for hardcore adventuring will overlook the game's dull edges while they relish the spoils of the last battle and fret over deciding which pawn to take into combat next.
[This Dragon's Dogma review is based on an Xbox 360 gold master version of the game provided by the publisher.]

From The Chatty

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    May 24, 2012 8:00 AM

    Matt Cabral posted a new article, Dragon's Dogma review.

    Dragon's Dogma borrows a bit of Skyrim, a bit of Kingdoms of Amalur, and throws in a cool party-building system to create a intriguing action RPG.

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      May 24, 2012 8:28 AM

      Caption text here

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      May 24, 2012 8:28 AM

      I have a lot to say about the game, and maybe I'll write it up sometime, but the short of it is: I'm enjoying it. I expected a sort of Skyrim meets Demon's Souls meets Baldur's Gate with some technical faults, some clunky mechanics, and some flat presentation and so far (only 6-7 hours) it has met all these expectations.

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      May 24, 2012 8:37 AM

      I want a PC version of this game.

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        May 24, 2012 9:02 AM

        I want a multiplayer version of this game.

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        May 24, 2012 10:28 AM

        I want a 64 bit PC version of this game.

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        May 24, 2012 10:48 AM

        Same here... I settled for the 360 version after comparing the PS3 and 360 versions of the demos, but man... it just looks pretty bad (:

        Would have totally jumped on a PC version first.

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          May 24, 2012 10:53 AM

          What differences did you discover between the PS3 and X360 that impacted your choice?

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            May 24, 2012 2:06 PM

            The frame rates and textures were better looking on the 360 version... and I'm a guy who buys PC first, then PS3 and then 360... so for me to get the 360 version over the PS3 version, there was reason enough for it in the performance and slight edge in crispier textures

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              May 24, 2012 8:34 PM

              I have read the opposite in reviews, I have heard the 360 has some framerate issues and the PS3 does not. Now I have to do more research, I was going to get the PS3 version.

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      May 24, 2012 8:55 AM

      "easy to get lost in world" sounds awesome to me. Can't wait to play!

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      May 24, 2012 2:09 PM

      Reviews are saying that this suffers from typical JRPG horrible storytelling, shitty dialogue, and wooden characters that the player could care less about. I hope most of that can be overlooked because the demo is pretty amazing.

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        May 24, 2012 4:33 PM

        I don't really even notice the story, the rest of the game steamrolls over it all.

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          May 24, 2012 5:09 PM

          Yeah, the story and dialog are minimal and fine. You don't play this game for the story. You play it for the exploration and combat.

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            May 24, 2012 8:35 PM

            The demo combat was great, the reviews I've read says the combat carries the game from start to end.

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              May 24, 2012 9:52 PM

              Yeah, I've spent 15 hours with it so far and I'm really enjoying it. Combat is wonderful: varied, tactical, kinetic. I'm playing a mystic knight, which is a hybrid class that joins fighter with mage. My favorite spell allows me to cast an AOE wall of energy (which can be further imbued with a type of magic) that deflects enemies when they enter its radius of effect. I usually drop that at the start of each fight to protect myself while I buff my mace and magic shield, and to give my ranged pawns a safe area to stand in. I do wish I had more control of my pawns (the FF12 gambit system would be awesome), but they do well enough on their own. I never got around to playing either Dragon Age game, but it feels to me like a near perfect adaptation of classical DnD party combat to real time. I might write up more this weekend because not much has been said about it, and it's a treat for those with the right interest.

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                May 24, 2012 10:03 PM

                I want to buy it, but I need more info on which platform. I have heard opposite things for each one.

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                  May 24, 2012 10:50 PM

                  I only have a PS3, so I can't offer a comparison. Otosnede says above that he chose the 360 version based on the demo, but who's to say the code hasn't changed? I can say that I've no complaints: the PS3, the framerate is solid even when a lot of characters and magic effects are on screen. My only real technical frustration is that manually saving takes a long time, but again I don't know if it's any better on the 360. Textures are low res, but it's a console game, so I don't mind. I suspect that while one version may be better than the other, the difference must be marginal, so if you can't find a definite recommendation, just buy one.

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        May 24, 2012 9:17 PM

        That goes with the "a bit of Kingdoms of Amalur"

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        May 24, 2012 11:55 PM

        The story and production all around are pretty bad, but the game shines in just exploration and combat. You really have to think ahead before venturing out and plan your routes carefully (and prepare to get destroyed if you go out at night).

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      May 24, 2012 10:02 PM

      Really hoping that this comes out on the PC.

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      May 25, 2012 10:40 PM

      Just finished playing for 6 hours. This game is sexy time! I love the challenge in combat and upgrading Pawns so you can go back to area that kicked your ass earlier and FUCKING KILL EVERYTHING! Then find a Dragon that one shots everyone and remember you are still a little bitch. It's wonderful.

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      May 26, 2012 9:24 PM

      One of my favorites so far. The first time you run into one of those zombies and it just wont freakin' die while it eats my pawns beautiful face off just about made me pee my pants. "No. No! No no no no no!"

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      May 27, 2012 11:16 PM

      I just came to a realisation that if this system had been paired with diablo 3's story/theme, it would have been the greatest thing in the universe. Sorry blizzard, go back to choking on money.