Dragon’s Dogma offers a serious case of déjà vu to long-time Xbox gamers. Not in its gameplay, which is an innovative new take on RPGs, but because it offers early access to the Resident Evil 6 demo this summer, long before anyone else will get to play it. Just as people bought Crackdown to get the Halo 3 beta and were pleasantly surprised to find they’d picked up an expectedly awesome game, that enticing Resident Evil 6 demo offer is packed in with a game that’s surprisingly wonderful and that more than justifies the purchase all by itself. Capcom has crafted an ambitious, deep, beautiful open-world RPG that’s packed with exciting combat, an intriguing new pawn-based party system, and the kind of combat challenge that’s typically reserved for action titles.
Though Dragon’s Dogma comes from Capcom, it’s not a Japanese-style RPG in the Final Fantasytradition. It has much more in common with the Elder Scrolls games, with an open world to explore, a quest log you can work through at your own whim, and real-time combat. The combat is where Capcom’s heritage comes into play. It’s fast-paced, it requires some serious thinking and use of your entire party, and it can be quite challenging. (Not to the point of Dark Souls, but you’ll definitely feel like you’ve accomplished something significant when beating a boss character.) Capcom’s development crew on this game had experience on titles in the Devil May Cry and Resident Evilseries, and it shows in the exciting combat. It’s a nice change of pace from MMO-style “click the bad guy till he’s dead” combat.
While the combat is original, what really makes the game stand out is its innovative Pawn system. Pawns make up the other three members of your party. You’ll create one from scratch as your omnipresent companion, and then you can recruit two more to fill out the rest of your party. Over the course of the game, you can swap out pawns for more experienced recruits, or recruits with class skills better suited for the current quest. What makes this special, though, is that the pawns you recruit are actually other players’ companion pawns, and you’re able to take advantage of their experience. And, your own pawn is dropped into this pool, so you may very well sign on to find that your pawn has been off questing with someone else, and has arrived with new experience and a gift as well. So if a pawn has fought (under another player’s control) an opponent that you’re facing for the first time, or has already completed the quest you’re on, that pawn will offer helpful hints.
You don’t directly control the pawns, but you can give them basic commands to ask them to help you, go forward, or hang back with the group. You can also set your primary pawn’s basic attitude and personality—whether they rush into combat, or hang back to heal, and how talkative they are. Pawns are essential in combat, and they also do useful things like pick up herbs and objects on the ground that you might miss otherwise.
As you work your way through the story, fighting a variety of challenging foes including some seriously scary chimera, you’ll be able to not only unlock new skills and spells, but you can also choose to use some of your experience points to respec your character. Start as a pure mage or bow-wielding strider, and switch later on to a mystic knight (fighter/magician) or a covert assassin (fighter/archer) who can wield just about any weapon and mount beasts during battle.
With its unique new features and all the RPG trappings fans of games like Skyrim or Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning might expect, Dragon’s Dogma is a game that role-playing game fans will definitely want to check out. If you want to give it a try before buying, there’s a free demo available from Xbox LIVE Marketplace.