Dragon's Dogma: Among the best of its kind

I am what you might call a casual fan of role-playing games. I have dabbled in World of Warcraft, taken a quick look at Skyrim and spent plenty of hours in the Fable universe.

Dragon's Dogma

From: Capcom

For: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC

Four and a half stars (out of five)

Often, when a new RPG comes along, it is either too deep or too shallow, too predictable or too stupidly difficult, to keep me on board for longer than a few hours.

Dragon's Dogma ticks none of those boxes. Typically, for a Japanese-developed RPG, it arrived in this part of the world with very little fanfare, but it is a welcome, surprising addition to the genre.

It's a fresh, highly ambitious open-world fantasy set in a mediaeval-ish kingdom called Gransys.

You begin the game with an intense battle with a dragon, a battle which has a shocking conclusion and sets the scene for your future as an "Arisen" and the long quest ahead.

What follows is a familiar weave of main story and side quests, though with enough tweaks to avoid the feeling of over-familiarity.

The makers of Dragon's Dogma included those who worked on Capcom's Devil May Cry series, and the influence in the area of combat is noticeable.

Fighting is a delicious mix of strategy and hack-and-slash. The controls are simple but challenging enough to make it worthwhile.

In a nod to the great PS2 game, Shadow of the Colossus, large enemies can be scaled. It really is a terrific thrill, in the middle of a battle with a troll or a mythical creature of some sort, to grab on to its scales/fur/horns and leap up, sword in hand, to search for the beast's weak spot.

The other major feature of the game is the presence of "pawns", outwardly-human brethren who are completely under your control.

They help in battle, give tips during quests and generally make navigating the huge world a whole lot easier. One main pawn accompanies you, and two others can be recruited, and all three are levelled up alongside you.

In the absence of a multiplayer mode, it is possible to go online and recruit other gamers' pawns.

While the game has come from Japan, it looks nothing like a traditional Japanese RPG. The setting is more Game of Thrones than anime. In fact, the graphics are marvellously lush, at the very top end of what the consoles (I have the PS3 version) are capable.

Every RPG needs an inventory system and a broad level of major and minor quests.

The game's inventory system offers little that has not been seen before but it is clean and accessible, and that is all you can ask.

The quests are varied and well spaced. Again, I am not sure any RPG has offered much better.

There is also a nice mix of action across daytime and night settings.

When the sun goes down, the game morphs from traditional RPG into survival horror, with some interesting results.

Dragon's Dogma might be viewed as just another RPG. But take a deeper look, and it becomes clear it is at least in the top bracket of its kind.




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