The action shines in Dragon's Dogma, but a lack of polish infuriates
Dragon's Dogma is an interesting creature — at first glance, it's another action/RPG set in a predictably dull fantasy universe, and yet its Japanese influence is very clear right from the start. Along with the Japanese game design (particularly when a western-style RPG is being attempted), come the stereotypical issues; tiresome dialogue, poor writing (in ye olde English, no less) and voice acting (with a lot lost in translation), and a universe that can be described as anything but immersive. Then there's the situation with the disproportionate character models that would barely have made the cut in games some ten years old. The lack of polish doesn't end there, because the player is faced with the most cluttered interface ever seen in video gaming — the screen almost always seems full of information which the game feels is relevant to your current situation, including subtitles for banter, damage numbers, character progression messages, controls and lots more. Yes, all of that information is critical in an RPG, but it would have been brilliant if it didn't take up three-fourths of the screen. This is topped off with messy menus, unintuitive inventory system and even more clutter. The problems don't end there, but under all the infuriating issues is a console action/RPG experience that is both rewarding and unique.
There's hardly a semblance of a story in Dragon's Dogma, and while there is an overarching plot, twists and scripted sections, it is very easy for the player to miss a lot of the story-based content on offer due to the open world nature of the game. However, the world itself is rich and deadly, and due to limits on fast travel and teleportation, the player is forced to set out exploring the great outdoors, and as a result, is faced with a fair amount of loosely scripted narrative content. It's great for the player who just wants to get on with the action and not care about kings, sorcerers and great generals but not so great for those looking for an involving story. The former type of player will get the most out of Dragon's Dogma, because the action really shines.
From small scale skirmishes against goblins and minor beasts to insane battles against gigantic mythical creatures (often with multiple heads), Dragon's Dogma has got it all. The action is polished, offering fantastic levels of satisfaction and a fair bit of variety when playing different classes. The player has to be on his toes at all times, waiting for the perfect opportunity to scale one of the game's many beasts, and hack his way to a kill. The character progression system is well developed, and in later levels, battles will require the use of your character's higher level abilities (the mage class has some spectacular looking ones). Enemies don't scale to your character's level, so expect one-sided battles later in the game. Kingdoms of Amalur did a good job with the combat system, but Dragon's Dogma has gone one up on it, successfully capturing the scale and intensity of massive battles while keeping the action fluid and rewarding.
Like Dark Souls, Dragon's Dogma is best played online if you want to make the most use of its ‘pawn' system. Pawns are companions who accompany your character on his quest. The player can create his pawns with a host of customisation options and skills, with the option of uploading the pawn to the game's servers, after which other players can take your pawns on their journey through the game's main story. Similarly, you are able to recruit pawns created by other players to do your bidding as well. The pawns evolve and gain experience from fighting against specific types of creatures, so for instance, if your pawn has been fighting a certain enemy type in another player's game, he will utilise tactics he has learned and even shout out tips and tricks when in your game.
If you can look past the clunky interface and lack of polish, Dragon's Dogma's open world exploration and solid action-adventuring are, if nothing else, quite a lot of fun. The game is available on PS3 and Xbox 360.