It may be hiding under a few rough edges, but Dragon’s Dogma is one of the best fantasy experiences money can buy. As someone who is favors the adventure, over-the-top action and mystery that fantasy role-playing games often promise in the form of CGI trailers only to drop you into spreadsheet land, DD has already become my favorite game of this year, perhaps for all time. So allow me to enlighten you on the game’s most enticing features and some simple ways to get around a few minor flaws that seem to be driving people away.
1. You can teach your Pawn to can it.
The most common complaint I see coming from players and critics alike is that DD’s eager-to-please AI companions won’t shut the hell up. It’s a valid complaint, but a lovely little feature that the game should have made more apparent can fix that. It’s called the knowledge chair and it exists at most resting points around the world of Gransys. It allows you to mold not only your Pawn’s rate of helpful commentary, but also their tone and basic battle priorities. Unfortunately you can only do this with your personal Pawn and will have to rely on other players to do the same for theirs, so spread the word! You can also turn off those annoying subtitles that come on screen whenever one of your Pawns speaks.
2. Experimentation is good.
As the Arisen, you have the ability to switch vocations (classes) at the inn in the game’s central hub city. Each class has a very different play style, which will keep things fresh for you as new skills and combos are learned. Warriors play almost exactly like a Monster Hunter with a great sword while a Strider will feel more like playing Devil May Cry using juggles and dodges. The most important aspect of switching classes, however, is any class can equip any augment (passive skill). For example, the health-increasing augment that Fighters learn can be equipped by someone who has switched over to a Mage. So don’t stick with one class, experiment with sexy new classes that dye their hair and conjure lightning whips.
3. Why yes, I did say, “lightning whip.”
One thing DD does very, very right is its selection of spells. Capcom’s team decided at some point that maybe different-colored projectiles labeled “ice, fire, and lightning” was a little cliché. Sure, it starts out like that, but then you get the coolest fire-wall spell I’ve seen since Diablo 2, ice pillars that can be used like stepping-stones and a lightning whip. I usually shun magic in fantasy games and Skyrim certainly didn’t push me any further away from that tendency, so I left the magic classes in DD for last. If you’re like me, don’t make that mistake. Otherwise you won’t discover the joy of watching a cyclops stagger backwards and drop its club after you whip it in the face with lightning then follow that up with a massive tornado that would make Mighty Thor blush until your second playthrough. DD delivers on magic so don’t miss out on it.
4. Pimp yo’ Pawn.
For your main pawn, who sticks with you the entire game, you can control everything about it from appearance, vocation, mannerisms, equipment, skills and voice. This is important since other Arisen (players) can recruit your Pawn into their own corners of the DD multiverse. Every time you rest your main pawn gains experience, monster weak spot knowledge and whatever goodies were sent back by the other player. Therefore it would behoove you to make your lifetime companion desirable to other players. Don’t skimp on their equipment and make sure to assign them useful skills. I named mine Sora and made her look like a little girl. She was extra adorable when conjuring high-level magic or using my shield as a stepping to be launched into the air so she should cripple a griffin by stabbing it in the wings. I just had to remind myself that sort of thing was what she was doing when she asked, “How did I perform? I tried my hardest,” after coming from another player’s game.
5. Get to Gran Soren as soon as possible.
One of DD’s fumbles, depending on whom you ask, is that you’re free to wander the moment you choose your class. This means you can end up running around the world getting killed by everything stronger than a basic bandit or wolf since you haven’t found a place to purchase any decent equipment. Let the game guide you until after the quest where you escort a hydra head (that you severed, naturally), to the city. There you will find the inn that lets you switch classes, pretty much the only two merchants you will ever interact with (Monster Hunter style), a barber shop that will even let you change your voice and much more.
6. Don’t underestimate your Pawns.
As I searched an abandoned castle that had a ton of hidden treasure for the skilled platformer, my jaw dropped as I watched my supposedly dull companions jumping gaps right along with me. Pawns can be a bit clueless and don’t seem to have great memories, but they are really, really smart. They know that the undead can be easily dispatched using fire or holy magic and will enchant your weapon accordingly. They also will have plenty of advice to give for fighting creatures they’ve seen before like chimera and griffins. Listen to them. It may be a bit grating to hear “wolves hunt in packs” and “the road splits here, what says the map, Arisen?” hundreds of times, but you know what? Wolves do hunt in packs and will mess you the hell up if you aren’t careful. And if you head down the wrong road you will regret it because you can’t diagonally jump your way over a mountain if you take a wrong turn. So be wary of wolves and check your damned map.
7. Seriously, those wolves.
“Psh, wolves” you say. “Every fantasy RPG has wolves. I’m not Liam Neeson and I’m not leading the survivors of a plane crash. Wolves are just the starting enemies, like rats.” Not in this game they aren’t. The wolves of Gransys behave a lot more like real wolves. They know you can shoot fire and tend to carry big metal things that are unpleasant to be stabbed by. They will not just lock on to you and keep biting you until you decide to give them a taste of your steel. They use hit-and-run tactics, dodge your attacks and will pin you to the ground and gang bite you to death if you’re not careful. At night, they will stalk you just outside of your lantern’s light radius. The only indication you’ll get is the reflection of light in their eyes and a single howl before your party is set upon from all sides. Of course there’s also the hell hounds you encounter later on that breathe fire and will drag you off for some private face munching if they get a hold of you.
8. There’s a pretty fun stealth system hidden in this game.
DD may not seem like a game of subtlety. After all the Strider (rogue) class is designed to fill the “climb monsters and hit their weak points for massive damage” role lieu of sneaky stabbing. Then there is the Assassin class. An assassin starts out as a combination of a Fighter and a Strider, but eventually learns an invisibility spell, augments that only work at night, an augment that increases damage against unaware enemies and one that enhances your character if you work alone. So send your Pawns into the Rift and venture out for some moonlit backstabbing if you’re looking for some very different gameplay.
9. There is New Game Plus.
When was the last time you got to steamroll through a game using all your upgraded gear and abilities from your previous playthrough? It had been a while for me, so I was overjoyed that DD allowed me this opportunity. So how much of your hard-earned booty is retained when you start a new game? Well, everything. Everything in your item bank, your vocation ranks, character level and even the amount of map fog you’ve cleared. Another neat bonus is that you get to completely overhaul the appearance of your character and main pawn. I would personally recommend this. Why? Well, you’ll see when you get to the end for the second time.
10. Above all, remember that Capcom is new at this.
It’s easy to dismiss Dragon’s Dogma as a forgettable fantasy game, but let’s put this into perspective. Capcom, who could just as easily crap out a new Resident Evil, Megaman and Street Fighter every year, has created an open world RPG that is full of influences from their best games. The first dragon battle that you are supposed to lose is not unlike that unwinnable fight at the beginning of Megaman X that everyone gushes over. The combat is right out of Devil May Cry with a dash of Monster Hunter. Nighttime, which actually looks like nighttime reaches near Resident Evil levels of terrifying. Yet you’re getting upset because a few characters take a minute to load into the game world and the crime system makes no sense?
Don’t you have worse games to get upset about?