Review: Dragon’s Dogma a Worthy Yet Struggling Adventure (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)

Though it has its fair share of hiccups, Capcom’s ambitious open-world adventure should be savored.

Releasing an open-world adventure game these days is a pretty risky move, not only because you need to have the right amount of content to make it worthwhile, but also because of the competition.  Skyrim has been ruling the online realm for months, despite PlayStation 3 problems; The Witcher 2 introduced a captivating tale in its own right; and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning certainly isn’t a slouch.  Undaunted, Capcom has decided to release Dragon’s Dogma anyway, and though it’s hardly a trouble-free experience, adventurers will love what it has to offer.

In the game, you’re a young adventurer who finds himself (or herself, depending on who you create) in a vast quest for…well, your own heart.  In the opening of the game (following a robust customization session), you find yourself facing a vicious dragon, only to be knocked to the ground.  But rather than crush you under its foot, the beast decides to tear open your chest and consume your heart.  And yet, you somehow survive under the new label of “the Arisen”, and your journey has you setting out to retrieve it, while still trying to figure out how you’re still breathing.

You won’t be taking this journey alone.  As you progress, you have the opportunity to enlist “pawns” to your cause.  These ever-loyal humans, controlled by the computer AI, are helpful in a pinch, resurrecting your health when you’re running low or providing enough of a secondary attack so you can swoop in and strike.  Better still, you can fashion them as you would real friends.  (If you have the Xbox Live version, you can even pick two friends from your list and turn them into comrades.)

The game features hours upon hours of quests.  Some are tedious, forcing you to retread through territories in order to find items; others fare much better, pitting you against enormous Cyclops creatures and other devastatingly large foes.  At one point, you’re even facing a nasty multi-headed snake creature, with your buddies telling you to chop away at it until you can properly decapitate it, putting it out of commission.  While these boss battles are strenuous, they’re thoroughly appealing, challenging your best warrior skills.

That said, there are things that kind of drag the journey beneath the likes of Skyrim and Witcher.  The first is the somewhat offbeat mixture of missions.  You have to wade through some of the dull stuff to get to the better ones, which can easily discourage you from continuing if you’re not up for it.  You can take alternate paths, but you’re likely to run into the same problem, as there’s more than one lackluster mission to face here.

The second, which is even harder to overlook, lies with the “Pawns” themselves.  These guys, while helpful in a battle, can’t be commanded, which means you have to rely on them when the time is right…and the results don’t always pay off.  There are times they can do the wrong thing, or, worse yet, shout out continuous commands that can get old very, very quickly.  If you can live with them, though, they’ll eventually form a relationship with you, and one for the better closer to the mid-section of the game.