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Making Imaginary Friends in Dragon's Dogma

The further I venture into Dragon's Dogma the more deep -- and satisfying -- the game becomes. Not only does my character, Lhyria, demonstrate more potential, but the pawn system comes into its own as an innovative and welcome addition. Indeed Capcom's RPG is a single-player experience with co-op elements, a game that honors genre traditions while establishing new ones.

When reviewing the game's menu variety there is a breadth and depth of detail this is impressive though it can border on information overload. However, they are reasonably well designed for navigation. For instance, one can easily check on the status of their character in terms of their attributes and overall development, whether offensive or defensive capabilities, skills, etc.

Indeed I like the overall design of this interface. Parchment paper screens are shown to full effect with topographic style maps illustrating different views of the world. In general, every screen features multiple tabs and each tab has a series of scrollable categories, whether logs of details about you, your pawns or NPCs, or of tutorials related to combat, exploration, skills, items, quests, etc. 

The world of Gransys is similarly detailed and some panoramas (the game sports a decent draw distance) even reminded me of the Uncharted series though with slightly less polish. Structures each have a unique though uniform design, foliage is varied and blows convincingly in the wind, waves roll realistically into shore, and the overall design makes for a sometimes familiar though nonetheless compelling fantasy world.

Lighting is always an element that on its own can have a dramatic impact on my level of immersion in a game. Capcom has done an excellent job creating convincing light whether sunlight or candlelight. It casts realistic shadows both stationary and moving such as windblown branches. Most impressive is how the day/night cycle believably transforms the landscape from one moment to the next.

In a game so dependent on the time of day, where the evening reportedly harbors much worse dangers than daylight hours and a lantern proves an important tool, such an emphasis on lighting is integral to the experience.

As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time exploring my surroundings, I was pleasantly surprised by the degree to which Dragon's Dogma encourages exploration. I appreciate when my wanderlust is rewarded by design that allows me to go where I want and even includes items for discovery by the intrepid explorer. Traveling the rooftops of this town reminded me of titles like Assassin's Creed.

Gamers can now expect quality RPGs to include NPCs living their lives from day to day, working at their jobs in the daytime and returning home in the evening to sleep. But much goes on behind closed doors, and unless you enter after dark you won't see it. That's why I appreciate how you can pass by open windows and see people at home in the evening, even if they're just sitting seemingly alone lost in thought.

Building interiors, like their exteriors, have a uniform design to create a consistent world yet can vary in compelling ways. The downstairs floorplan of this two story abode features multiple rooms and includes a kitchen off the main dining area. The lighting enhances the different areas. As with exteriors, there are items throughout that can be gathered, again encouraging a thorough inspection.

I'd assumed Quina and a boy were Lhyria's family based on CG cutscenes and Lhyria's fisherman's clothing. But her tendency to refer to Lhyria as "cos" was a little disconcerting until I realized many in town referred to each other as "cos." So maybe they're kissing cousins, or they're not kissing at all; or maybe "cos" is just a term of endearment, as in "Hey, cos, do you understand this wack story?"

If Lhyria and Quina are involved, perhaps it's an open relationship, at least to judge by this encounter. After renting a room for the night, Lhyria awoke to a knight leaving her quarters! Perhaps that huge jug of mead had something to do with it.

"They're a strange lot." So says the man who wears a toga made of rope as well as gold armbands. Kudos to Capcom for recognizing the inherently bizarre nature of the game's pawns. There's little backstory up to this point that I remember, except that these beings are born to follow the Arisen. How convenient for you!

If I recall, Lhyria first had to combat a Cyclops to prove her Arisen status and warrant the company of pawns. The most important element of combat that I've found, as some others have alluded to, is your stamina. Overexertion, including scaling foes, will drain it. Once fully drained, you have to gather your breath and strength. That can leave you vulnerable to attack. I have yet to make use of them, but reportedly stamina potions(?) help restore this precious commodity.

Creating your pawn includes many of the same options gamers had when generating their own character. However, pawns have a variety of "inclinations" including challenger, guardian, pioneer, etc., that are all impacted by one's answer to a series of questions that resembles a personality test. It's an interesting concept though the practical implications might not always be apparent.

My pawn, Ryu (aka Renza, aka Rose Byrne), is a mage for good reason. In the demo, I recognized the value of one who could restore my health during combat. My penchant for getting hurt means that any mage in my party will be kept busy just ensuring my survival. However, they also prove adept at casting spells against foes. This proves indispensable when considering my ineptitude with conjuring or alchemy.

It's interesting how you have to become literally heartless before the Pawn Nation will follow you. Makes one wary of pawn intentions, and if Dragon's Dogma had a deep, multilayered narrative it would be worth consideration. But by all reports it does not, so just enjoy their allegiance and take advantage of the camaraderie they provide.

Indeed this element provides an interesting, innovative component that frankly is the next best thing to having friends accompany you in a more standard co-op mode. Instead, you can choose their pawn creations for your squad, and benefit from their experience. For example, when I accepted a quest to find Quina, I think, in some forest, my friend's pawn suggested he was familiar with the area and could lead the way. Such knowledge also can involve foes.

Once your squad is selected, you'll be better prepared to take on virtually any manner of beast. In fact, I tend to take advantage of the distraction they can provide by climbing foes to attack from on high. Such a strategy can take a few attempts and, even then, victory might ultimately require an alternate approach. Regardless, having a varied squad to back you up allows for a suite of gameplay options for fluid, dynamic encounters every time.

And this is beginning to prove one of the strengths of Dragon's Dogma. Whether borrowing pawns from friends or strangers, using them in tandem with a character that you develop based on your preferred style of gameplay creates a variety of tactics at your disposal for conquering the various enemies you'll face in your dramatic journey through Gransys. I can't wait to continue!

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