So this is an odd one. Dragon’s Dogma was first released on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in May 2012. It was generally well received and got an enhanced version called Dark Arisen, with extra content and features, a year later. Although the situation is slowly changing it’s still not unusual for Japanese-made games not to have a PC version, and Capcom has decided, after three years, to reverse its earlier omission. Which is fine by us because this is still a game worth playing.
The original Dragon’s Dogma was a peculiar mix of Dark Souls, Skyrim, and Shadow Of The Colossus. It borrowed ideas liberally but carefully, in an attempt to make a kind of hybrid of Western and Japanese style action role-players. If this was a new release it’d also be compared to The Witcher 3, which just shows how successful Capcom was in creating a gestalt role-player of many influences.
Dragon’s Dogma avoids seeming like a clone of any one particular game, but there’s little in the way of interesting storytelling or characters. The game’s opening tutorial features a medieval style knight hunting down a large and surprisingly garrulous dragon. It’s hinted that both he and the knight are merely part of a never-ending cycle, with the game proper beginning years later as the dragon reappears and plucks the beating heart out of your custom-created character.
The fact that you manage to survive this encounter with nothing but a nasty scar has everyone referring to you as Arisen – a chosen one who not only stands up to dragons but can command strange otherworldly warriors called ‘pawns’.
Although Dragon’s Dogma is strictly a single-player only game you’re able to recruit up to three pawns to your party. The first you get to customise in the same way as your main character, the other two are recruited by either meeting them in the game world or using magical stones dotted around the landscape to pick and choose your allies.
Since both you and your primary pawn earn experience, and can be equipped with weapons and equipment independently, the idea is that you can lend and trade pawns with other players. The game constantly checks to see what other people are doing with their borrowed copies, and both you and their actions feed back on each other.
The pawns display an impressive level of artificial intelligence, and depending on whether a pawn is a fighter, archer or wizard they’ll tackle enemies and bosses intelligently and without being asked. Which is a good job because, despite their importance to the game, you have surprisingly little control over them – just a small set of tactical commands that don’t amount to much more than ‘stop’ and ‘go’.
Not only will pawns fight for you but they’ll also heal you when necessary, and even when you’re just exploring they’ll search for ingredients and hidden objects – as well as memorise a location for anyone you might later pass them onto. It’s a very strange concept, that the game’s story fails to make sense of, but in gameplay terms it definitely works.
Of course the pawns won’t do quite everything for you and given the team’s background with the Devil May Cry series it’s not surprising to find a very robust fighting system. You start off with little more than a light and heavy attack but can learn additional moves if you pay a trainer, all of which work with a satisfying sense of weight and power.
Visually the game was always something of a mixed bag, with some impressively large and detailed monsters but lots of very distracting screen tearing. Although it includes all the DLC ever released the PC version doesn’t really add or change anything in terms of content, but it does allow for an uncapped frame rate and 4K resolutions. Many of the textures are also improved, and although overall it’s not quite state-of-the-art some areas can look extremely impressive.
During the day it almost looks like you’re holidaying on some peaceful Greek island, but you’re told by everyone you meet that venturing out at night – or into any of the many dungeons and caves – is near suicide. And when you first start that’s very good advice for although Dragon’s Dogma doesn’t go to quite the extremes of Dark Souls it’s not afraid to punish the incautious.
But while Dragon’s Dogma mixes and matches its influences with impressive skill the game world is nowhere near as intricately designed as either Dark Souls or Skyrim. It lacks personality and, at least in daylight, atmosphere. And with no memorable characters and inevitability repetitive quests your interest begins to wane more quickly than any of its would-be peers.
There’s much to build on here though, and we always liked the old school bestiary filled with mythological oddities such as wyverns, hydras, and chimeras. Capcom has hinted that if this new PC version is well received then they’ll reconsider a full sequel, and we think they should. None of the game’s problems are difficult to solve and its best ideas are too good to waste.
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
In Short: Despite borrowing so much from so many different games Capcom’s Western style role-player is still very much its own game – with plenty of interesting ideas of its own.
Pros: Weighty, exciting action with some great boss encounters. Pawn system is odd but interesting in its implications. Hugely involved customisation options. 4K visuals often impress.
Cons: Game world and story lacks character. Combat and quests do get repetitive. Weak dialogue and poor voice acting.
Release Date: 15th January 2016
Age Rating: 18