A new open-world RPG launched recently, with little fanfare, that I think most fans of the genre should take a look at. No it’s not perfect, plays out lots of the usual tropes, and it does get frustrating at times, but Capcom (yes, Capcom) does quite a bit interesting in Dragon’s Dogma.
Dragon’s Dogma allows you to not only custom-design your character in true RPG fashion, but you also will custom-design a Pawn. A Pawn is a companion adventurer for your character, who will fight alongside you and whose information will be uploaded to Capcom’s servers. Other players of Dragon’s Dogma can then hire your Pawn to fill out their four-person squad.
As your pawn assists those players, he (or she!) will be not only gaining experience and rewards, but will also be gaining knowledge of enemies, quests and locations that you may not have encountered yet. Your Pawn brings this knowledge back to you and will offer advice as needed for creatures (“The goblins are weak to fire”), locations (“The blacksmith is over here”), or quests (“We’ll want to have plenty of lantern oil, if we’re going through the old mines”). Other players can even rate your Pawn, sending them back to you with gifts or upgraded equipment. Unfortunately, the Pawns only have a limited repertoire of comments, so be prepared to hear the same things often.
In the meantime, you’re doing the same thing with the Pawns created by other players. It’s utterly ambitious and ingenious, and feels like a natural evolution of the pseudo-multiplayer of Dark Souls. Your system will connect to the Capcom servers and download the Pawns created by other players to populate your game world. You’ll find them on the road, walking between villages or patrolling a city street. … It’s an inspired piece of game design.
Dragon’s Dogma follows your character’s quest to hunt down a dragon and take back their heart. (No, really! The dragon plucked out the character’s heart and ate it, but some sort of magic keeps your character alive.) That’s the very short version. The long version is a bit convoluted (again, in typical RPG fashion), but is coming together after almost 15 hours playing through the game. This isn’t too cerebral, though, so don’t expect any Pulitzer awards.
The open-world RPG allows you to make your own decisions with minimal nudging from the in-game, and the scenery, while not as pretty as Skyrim, is just as varied. The skills you learn can be immediately put to use, but sometimes wading through the multiple menu layers can be frustrating. The battle system is good, but not as robust as I’d like; there are times when being able to direct specific Pawns that I’ve hired to attack specific enemies would be a welcome ability. Luckily, the Mage Pawn I hired knows to keep using his healing spell!
Unfortunately, there have been a few bugs that are minor annoyances. I have noticed occasional framerate drops, and the in-game camera system has caused more than one death to my character while I’m trying to spin it around to see my enemy better. The minimal amount of guidance within the game can sometimes lead you to not knowing where to go next, and you end up wandering aimlessly. Also, by virtue of said wandering aimlessly, it’s quite possible to end up in areas where the enemies are of much higher level than you, and your characters will die. Which can be a bit frustrating. I appreciate that Capcom was willing to take off the guardrails, but there’ve been times that I wished for a bit more guidance on which quests will advance the main plotline.
Dragon’s Dogma has all the hallmarks of a cult favorite: decent but slightly ambiguous story, ingenious design ideas in the Pawn System, a mostly well thought-out battle system, and it was released without much press fanfare. Count me amongst the believers, Capcom!