Before you get all excited about this article, take a look at the spelling of “Pawn”.
This was the system that set Dragon’s Dogma aside from the rest of the JRPGs that were littering the landscape back in 2012. Yes, this is the tenth anniversary of Capcom’s release of the quest through the land of Gransys, as we went to defeat a massive dragon called Grigori. Bit of an odd name for a dragon if you ask me, like a troll called Dave, but we had to work within the narrative framework that we were given.
So, come with me back to 2012, when I was yet to turn 40, and the world – and Dragon’s Dogma – was still my oyster.
Now, regular readers of my scribblings in these hallowed pages will know that I am a sucker for an RPG, of any flavour. Whether that be a grand, life-consuming affair like Elden Ring, a smaller scale effort such as Infinite Links or any of the releases from KEMCO, or anything in between, if there is an RPG in the offing I can usually be found playing it.
And so it was back in 2012. I had heard good things on the grapevine in regards Dragon’s Dogma and so I decided to avail myself of its pleasures. The story of the game has been pretty much covered in the opening paragraph, in broad brushstrokes – we are the Arisen, and we have been created for one express purpose, to go and save the world.
You see, Greg the dragon (only his friends can call him Greg) is apparently the harbinger of the end of the world, and so we are nominated to go and get rid of him and save the day. Of course, Greg isn’t going to respond to a polite invitation to vacate the world, or even to harsh language; he is going to need persuading. And as always in these games, persuasion comes from the point of a sword, or the end of an arrow, or any of the other weapons that can be found. A vast world lies at our feet, and a large part of it would like to see us dead. Just another day in the office, right? Well, since becoming the Arisen comes about as a result of losing not only a fight with Greg, but also by him taking our heart out and us surviving, not quite!
Now, the actual gameplay. In a large part, this depends on which class you choose at the beginning, as is usual for this type of game. From the choice offered in Dragon’s Dogma, classes are as wide apart as Fighter, which is your standard “charge in and hit things” class, through Strider, who can climb enemies more easily, through to Magic Archer, which does exactly what it says on the tin – the world can be a dangerous place. Playing to the strengths of your class will help (for instance, as a Sorcerer, don’t rush in and go toe-to-toe with enemies), but the Pawn system is a revelation in this regard.
Basically, a Pawn is an A.I. controlled ally, and while one is always with you, and can be designed by you (having a Pawn whose strengths cover the weaknesses in your own character is a very good idea), as you go through the game you can also borrow Pawns from other players through some kind of online market almost. Being able to go shopping for just the right Pawn with the right set of skills to help you with the fight you are about to have was a very good idea; the system worked well. Of course, you could also send your Pawn to help others, and them coming back with a new bit of kit of a new level was always pretty cool. Success in Dragon’s Dogma depended on not only keeping yourself as current as possible with weapons and armour, but you had to make sure your Pawn had the best gear too, in order to keep them and yourself competitive.
What unfolded was almost a Japanese take on a Western RPG, and the stated inspiration for Dragon’s Dogma were games like Fallout 3 and Oblivion, and even Fable II. How successful this was I’m not sure, as to me, the game never felt anything less than Japanese, and this is not a drawback to my way of thinking.
What I really enjoyed though was the scale. I think I am right in saying that this was the first time that Capcom had tried an open world environment, and they knocked it out of the park on their first attempt. The Pawn system was the icing on the cake, and while the story was a little cliched, if I’m being brutally honest, it was compelling enough to keep me playing right to the end to see what happened. A trick that Fable II and Oblivion weren’t able to replicate, I might add…
A new version of Dragon’s Dogma was released in 2013, going by the name of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen. This is almost a double anniversary as well, as the game was re-released on the shiny new Xbox One in 2017, in its Dark Arisen version, and again received favourable reviews, even if the graphics were a little muddy and dull by the standards of the new console. The basic gameplay was strong enough to carry a slightly ropy graphical port (as in the Dark Souls that also re-released for the Xbox One) and all in all, this is still a game that begs to be played today.
So, these are my memories then of playing all of the versions of Dragon’s Dogma, throughout the last ten years. But what about you guys out there? Is this a game you played, and what did you think of the Pawn system? If you didn’t play, have my rose tinted glasses made it sound like a possibility? Let us know in the comments!
If you wish to play Dragon’s Dogma, pick up Dark Arisen on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S from the Xbox Store.