I Left My Heart in Gransys

by Laleh Tobin on Apr 11, 2013 at 11:13 AM

Capcom’s Western-style RPG may have slipped under your radar when it released last May. It certainly slipped under mine, as I was still adventuring in the snowy north of Skyrim. A few weeks ago, however, I decided to give it a chance, aiming to scratch my Monster Hunter and Elder Scrolls itches simultaneously. And let me tell you, I was blown away.

A giant, Latin-speaking dragon descends on your fishing village, and plucks your heart out. Then, newly “Arisen,” you are tasked with felling the beast before darkness descends over the kingdom of Gransys. Of course, before you can face this foe, you’ll need to hone your skills, and become a worthy opponent. This translates into single-handedly giving the wolf population a run for its money (“They hate fire!”), fighting off near-constant goblin and bandit ambushes, protecting any number of citizens as you escort them across the wilderness, et cetera. Players who are too hasty can expect to be quickly put in their place.

This is a game where you are often outmatched (especially in the first few hours of play time). Early in my game, I happened to run into Drake, a lesser dragon. I fought with vigor and determination, but was quickly bested. He is always resting in Devilfire Grove, no matter your level, but you won’t be able to defeat him for quite some time. I finally made short work of him last night, after discovering how to exploit his weakness — an exposed wound over his heart. Like in Capcom’s Monster Hunter, slaying monsters depends a lot on knowing when to fight and when to run, what the beast is weak to, and where to attack in order to gain the upper hand. Luckily, it’s a bit easier to learn these tricks without a guide (or an experienced trio of friends) in Dragon’s Dogma, thanks to the innovative Pawn system.

The darkness of night is realistic. You don't want to find yourself without oil for your lantern.

In addition to your own character, you also create an additional character, who serves as your main Pawn throughout the game. Customization is extremely deep, and you’ll find that your bespoke companion quickly becomes your best friend. This pawn levels up beside you, and you can change his gear, weapons, appearance and vocation just as you can change your own.

This is one of my favorite things about the game. After you begin as a Fighter, Mage, or Strider (as I did), and level up a certain amount, you can then change your vocation to a more specialized version (I chose becoming a Ranger over a Magick Archer). Or, if you happen to enlist a pawn (more on that shortly) that looks like they’re having more fun than you are, start from scratch and switch it up. It doesn’t take long to level each vocation up, so trying them out is much more fun and much less work than switching things up a typical Western RPG, where changing classes halfway through will often keep you from reaching your bad-ass potential.

Speaking of bad-assery, the combat in Dragon’s Dogma is much more fun and rewarding than in the likes of Skyrim (at least in my opinion). Some of the team members from the Devil May Cry series worked their magic for Dragon’s Dogma, and it shows.

I'm pretty sure I've killed about 500 Cyclopes.

Unfortunately, the gameplay far outshines the story in Dragon’s Dogma. If there is one thing I’d love to see in future entries, it would be more story—more quests, more player choice, more to explore. Playing this immediately after Skyrim and Mass Effect 3, left me wanting more. Luckily, wandering back and forth across Gransys will have you meeting infinite monsters, and though fighting the ubiquitous Direwolf packs, Cyclopes and Chimeras may become repetitive, they’ll be quickly brought to their knees (hooves?) once you level up a bit, and there are other foes that are much harder to find (and fight).

Seeking out the higher-level monsters is part of what makes me love the lack of fast-travel in Dragon’s Dogma. You can fast-travel to Gran Soren (the capital) and other locations of your choosing by using the super-rare Ferrystones and Portcrystals, but I rarely felt the need to. Exploration will reveal shortcuts that make Gransys seem much less overwhelming. The kingdom is much smaller than Skyrim, and there are far fewer caves, mines, dungeons, and keeps. I would never want to play Skyrim without fast-travel available, but I only fast-traveled three times in 60+ hours of Dragon’s Dogma.

Maybe that’s because in Skyrim, I’m overencumbered about 80% of the time, whereas in Dragon’s Dogma, I have three pack mules.

Bandits will ambush you often. Unless you do them favors...

The Pawns in Dragon’s Dogma are absolutely essential. They distract monsters from your attacks, deal considerable damage of their own, and are an infinite (and I mean constant) source of information. In the first few hours, you’ll be made painfully aware of the Pawns’ flaws — namely that they won’t shut up for more than thirty seconds, and tend to become poisoned/cursed/drenched immediately after warning you of the danger afoot — but it won’t be long before they are deeply appreciated.

As I mentioned earlier, you make a main Pawn in addition to your player character. Well, everyone else who has played Dragon’s Dogma did, too. When you’re connected online, you can enlist other players’ main Pawns to your party. Not only do they come with awesome powers and gear, but also with the knowledge of every quest they’ve ever been on with “other Arisen in other realms.” Often, will be able to guide you to a location you have yet to discover, or warn you of a specific monster that you’ll find there (and what you should bring in order to survive the journey).

All in all, Dragon’s Dogma definitely has its flaws, but they are far outweighed by the sheer joy of stumbling upon a Griffin and shooting it out of the sky with a flurry of ten blazing arrows after it takes wing to carry an Ox back to its nest. And then clinging to its feathers to give him a taste of your daggers, a la Shadow of the Colossus.

Each monster requires a unique strategy. Breaking off a Cyclops' armor will help you to fell him quickly.

It is, basically, the game I’ve always wanted to play. And I want there to be a lot more Dragon’s Dogma in the future. So if you like Monster Hunter, but have always wanted it set in a sprawling open world; if you love Skyrim but were disappointed with the uninteresting, broken, pansy dragons; if you want to experience a wonderful new take on the mash-up of the Action and RPG genres…if you’re interested for any reason, I implore you to give it a shot.

Better yet, buy the upcoming expanded version, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (which allows you to import your character from the original entry, in case you want to test the water with a rental first).

Want more? Read Jeff Cork’s review of Dragon’s Dogma.