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Dragon's Dogma review: The most hardcore RPG on consoles

Capcom delivers a hardcore, rewarding, and authentic role-playing experience

For another verdict read OXM's Dragon's Dogma review.

There's no sense of danger in modern games. Dying has become a minor setback rather than something to be feared. That's why Dragon's Dogma is so inspiring. Its enormous world is rife with danger, and death lurks around every corner. It's an adventure in the truest sense of the word, rich with mystery and peril.

On the surface, it's a fairly bland fantasy setting. Capcom have taken their visuals cues from a litany of Western fantasynovels and films. But thebrown, uninspiring environments betray a game of remarkable imagination.
Broadly speaking, the game is reminiscent of the Elder Scrolls series. It presents an open world filled with towns, cities, NPCs, quests, shops, dungeons, caves, forests, and everything else you might expect from an RPG.

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The third-person combat occurs in real-time, and varies depending on your class. It has a satisfying weight and physicality to it, which has led some to compare it to Dark Souls - although it's not quite as brutally precise. You can attack from afar with a bow and arrow as a Strider, wade in with a sword and shield as a Fighter, or hurl spells as a Mage.

It's a fairly standard RPG class system, but the biggest innovation, and the real core of the combat, is the pawn system. Pawns are magical, sentient creatures that are human in appearance, but exist only to serve as hired mercenaries for a hero known as the Arisen.

Every generation, a dragon arrives in the land of Gransys, bringing with it a scourge of terrible monsters. These creatures roam the countryside, terrorising and killing the locals. But whenever there's a dragon, there also appears an Arisen: a hero destined to drive the beast back to whence it came. Naturally, you are the Arisen, and your arrival has stirred the pawns to life, who are sworn to help you defeat the dragon.

What's really interesting about the pawns is that there are an infinite amount of them - either randomly generated by the game, or downloaded from the internet. In most RPGs you form your party from a selection of NPCs, but in Dragon's Dogma you create it yourself.

TRIPPING THE RIFT
Using a Rift Stone, which you can find in most towns and cities, you access a slick interface that allows you to browse through a vast archive of pawns, many of which (providing your console is connected to the internet) are creations of other players. When we reviewed the game, the servers were full of pawns with Japanese names: presumably belonging to the development team. When the game is released there'll be many, many more to choose from, which is an exciting prospect.

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Say you need a healer. You can search through a list of Mages, studying their stats and abilities to see whether they're right for your party. Some may specialise in offensive magic, while others are tuned for support and healing; there are limitless combinations, and you have to make sure you have the right team for each quest. Pawns don't level up, so as the Arisen's skills improve, you have to constantly change up and reshape your team. They're designed to be expendable.

You can hire two pawns at atime, in addition to one main pawn that you create yourself from scratch, and who travels with you for the entirety of the game. Ours is a tall, blonde, pointy-eared Strider named Anna, who's a mean shot with abow. Once created, other players will be able to download her, earning us in-game items and currency. Capcom even say we'll be able to share our pawns on Facebook, although we were unable to test this.

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