Capcom's new action RPG franchise, Dragon's Dogma, is a heady concoction of open world exploration combined with challenging combat depth. You can't go wrong.
"The road splits here. Let's be doubly sure which will see us to our destination."
A unique party system aside, it's easy to spot some of the core influences on Dragon's Dogma, with Skyrim's open-world non-linear exploration being one of the biggest. Once players get through the opening segment of the game, they'll eventually make their way to Gran Soren, the capital of the land and the main quest hub for the player's adventures. From here, the game opens up relatively quickly, letting the player explore the countryside without pushing them too hard into the main story. I would note here that the initial map of Gransys might be intimidating in its size, but it was unfortunately smaller than expected once everything had been filled out. Still, the size of the world was fairly impressive in scope, and there's nothing more exhilarating than taking on an escort quest to an unknown location, stumbling through unfamiliar woods, running from Manticores, and all the while hoping to reach your destination before nightfall.
As an interesting aside, where Skyrim burned me out of cave spelunking - with unexplored dungeons positively littering the countryside - I did appreciate Dragon's Dogma's more conservative approach. Each dungeon in Gransys has either a meaningful quest or a story behind it, and I genuinely remember each area distinctly, whereas Skyrim's dungeons all seem to blur into a medley of undead crypts and bandit hideouts. This is, however, a matter of preference, as some players might be quick to cry out "too linear!" if every dungeon has an associated quest. I preferred it this way, but sometimes exploration for the sake of exploration is a great feature to have.
"'Tis not defeat to flee from battle, master. 'Tis survival."
If Dragon's Dogma takes much of its open-world exploration themes from Skyrim, then it takes an equal measure of inspiration from Dark Souls. Each weapon type in Dragon's Dogma has a unique feel to it, and players have a large number of ways in which they can dismember their foes. For a main character, there are nine total classes to choose from, with each retaining a unique viability to end levels: Soldier, Strider, Mage, Warrior, Ranger, Sorcerer, Mystic Knight, Magic Archer, and Sorcerer. Combat has a fairly "weighty" feel to it, although it's not as slow and deliberate as Dark Souls. Players can bind up to three weapon skills to their controller, and these weapon skills can be used to combo with pawns (or off of each other) to create some fairly impressive looking ability chains.
Large monster fights also tend to be more involved than your typical "swing at everything" approach. Players can climb monsters by jumping onto their backs, similar to Shadow of the Colossus. Once a firm grip has been established, your character can exploit certain enemy weaknesses, like smacking away at an unprotected head or arm. Given that Dragon's Dogma employs a fairly precise localized damage mechanism, each large monster ultimately has an "optimal" approach to taking it down. Cyclops, for example, will drop their clubs if you hit their elbow, but you can also send them reeling by breaking off their tusks or shooting them in the eye. Gryphons will flee a fight once they're injured unless you jump on top and hold their wings down. Dragons typically stay in the air to fight, but if you can hit them in the heart, they'll come crashing to the ground to fight.
I've also heard some players complain that certain parts of Dragon's Dogma can be too challenging, but it's simply because the game doesn't utilize level scaling (or if it does, to a very minor degree). In other words, while the game won't tell you that you've ventured too far down the path, once you start meeting enemies that kill you in two hits, you'll know soon enough. If you find yourself struggling with the enemies in an area, it's entirely prudent to either return once you've gotten stronger, or to recruit a stronger pawn for this particular adventure.
"Lucky is the pawn able to fight at the Arisen's side. I am thankful."
I'm getting a little long in this review, so I'll end here: this is an action-RPG done right. The combat is smooth and varied, the world is immersive (although the inane NPC chatter - a sample of which can be sampled via the subject titles in this article - tries hard to dispel this) and the pawn system is unique. So if you're just polishing up on Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning's latest DLC, or if you're waiting on Skyrim's Dawnguard Expansion or the Dark Souls' PC update and you want something to tide you over, give Dragon's Dogma a shot. It might not be a master work, but you certainly can't go wrong here.
Chris "Pwyff' Tom, Editor-in-Chief