Capcom unveils its vast new fantasy world of monsters, magic and a heart-pinching reptile.
Dragon's Dogma: Capcom steps outside the arcade mould
As any fan of big burly dwarfs with big beards and big axes, old guys who are a bit of a whizz with a wooden stick or slightly saucy-looking elven queens in unsuitable clothing will probably know, there's really only one dragon in town this year. Thankfully, until Smaug smoulders his way on to cinema screens in Peter Jackson's rendition of The Hobbit this December, there's another to keep us busy. And as the first few scenes from Dragon's Dogma underline, he's also of the somewhat massive and powerful variety.
An action role-player set in a vast open-world fantasy land, Dragon's Dogma is an ambitious new turn from the usual zombies and Street Fighter-style shenanigans you might expect out of Capcom, and the company's biggest attempt yet to break its old arcade mould.
Thrust into the thick of things right from the get-go, having selected your character's warrior class and look (a short, dumpy gentleman with a ginger moustache in our case), off you're sent with a rusty sword to defend your fishing village from the flying reptile. Predictably, you lose but, just to make things worse, end up also having your heart plucked out and eaten. That's it, you might think. Shortest game ever. Back to Fifa 12? Not quite.
Despite lacking that vital muscular organ, your guy (or girl) lives on through some unknown miracle, but as an "Arisen", which we assume means "has the ability to return over and over again to the same part of his life until he stops being killed". And off you then trot on a series of missions, which within the first few minutes stretch from flower-picking to taking out giant multi-headed hydras, on the eventual (but somewhat meandering) quest to get your heart back.
So far, so cliché-heavy, with characters straight out of the fantasy book (basically, forthright, earnest soldier-types and villagers with broad regional English dialects).
But what makes Dragon's Dogma immediately stand out is its innovative "pawn" system regarding your party members.
Early on, you're given your own pawn to shape and arm as you see fit; a character who will accompany you on your mission, becoming a vital tool in your battles and offering regular advice, sadly not always when you want it and often repeatedly in the same tone of voice.
Your pawn will evolve and learn as you progress, picking up hints as to how to complete certain missions. But - and here's the clever bit - your pawn can then be "rented" out to other players online and, in return, you're able to gain the services of up to two more (ideally ones who know how to get past everything easily). Nice move, Capcom.
However, while fantasy wife-swap might raise a few eyebrows, it doesn't make up for one glaring omission - multiplayer. As your pawn offers guidance such as "we've only just begun, master" for the umpteenth time, you might well wish for a bit of real human interaction instead. But this isn't its downfall. Dragon's Dogma is an accomplished game, strange in parts, but brilliant in others (particularly the boss fights). And with almost half a million players already in Japan, there should be a few pawns out there to guide you.