RPS has sealed itself inside a chocolate egg for the duration of the UK's long holiday weekend, to emerge only when the reign of Mr Hops The Doom Rabbit has run its dread course. While we slumber, enjoy these fine words previously published as part of our Supporter program. More to come.
"A goblin," shouted one of my moronic followers, before running across a field, away from a goblin to collect some bark. "I understand this place far better than before."
She found a mushroom underneath the bark. What a time to be alive.
Dragon's Dogma [official site], in my brief experience, is like an experimental art-game that takes on all of the tropes and mechanics of an MMORPG, and then replaces the other human players with deranged parodies of living beings. I am altogether pleased to have made its acquaintance.
My favourite thing about Dragon's Dogma so far, and I've only played for a couple of hours, has nothing to do with the clambering Shadow of the Mini-Colossus style boss fights, or the (possibly) enormous world. For all I know, the whole world might be made up of a couple of fields, some trees and a tiny fishing village. Oh, I've seen a settlement with a magic rock in it as well, now that I think about it, but that looked an awful lot like the fishing village, minus the coast and plus a bit more wood, so it had slipped my mind.
I'm drawing your attention to how little I've seen because it's entirely plausible that I'll hate the game if I carry on playing. If you want to know what it's actually like to play, as a whole, our review is here.
What I can tell you is that it looks ropey, the constant barks of my companions make me feel like I'm being pursued by a pack of excitably disobedient dogs, and it has already committed one of the RPG cardinal sins by filling my pockets and pouches with a load of shite that I'm scared to throw away in case I'll need it for a crafting pop quiz further down the line. It feels less like a console port than a game that has magically landed on my PC having fallen through a timewarp at the bottom of a bargain bucket in an alternate dimension's equivalent of CEX.
And that's probably one of the reasons I've warmed to this ridiculous game so quickly. It's ramshackle in a way that somehow seems accomplished - great energies and talents directed toward the creation of something that is rough around the edges and right through to its core, but packed with more personality and punch than many a perfectly formed and polished artifact. Dragon's Dogma is an oddity and the main source of its weirdness and wonder lies in the pawns.
Pawns are NPC followers. Companions without a scripted personality and with artificial intelligence that is very obviously artificial but barely intelligent at all. It's not that the actual ability to engage in combat, gather loot and do all of the other RPG things you'll want your party to do is lacking, it's that the behaviour of the pawns is so transparently mechanical and constructed that they act like automatons in an RPG-themed theme park attraction. They're going through the motions and doing so in an exaggeratedly loud and broad fashion, such that you can't help but notice just how very much they are going through those motions.
And what are those motions? Well, there's the aforementioned cries of alert as enemies approach, the gathering of materials and the actual business of putting monsters to the sword (or spell/arrow/club). The brilliance of the opening hour or two of the game, from my perspective, is that it feels like a version of every MMORPG I've ever played, with hordes of newcomers rattling around the opening area trying to get to grips with the controls. Some of them are so ecstatic that they can jump and emote that they're going to jump and emote until the cows come home. Some are so excited by the idea of venturing forth as a party that they won't give you more than an inch of breathing space, crowding around you like flies around shit/sugar.
I love them, one and all. They're so eager. How many games have you played in which companions are world-weary sellswords or fugitives from some nebulous justice that just so happens to tie in with your own grim backstory? The NPCs in Dragon's Dogma are world-eager. They're happy just to exist and as they hoover up resources, they'll repeatedly tell you how bloody exciting it is to be on an adventure with you.
It helps that they're an odd-looking bunch. Some pawns are imported from other peoples' games and others are randomly generated. You make one companion to accompany your own character (both are created using a robust customisation suite that allowed me to make a tiny little man with a huge arse, an enormous nose and eyes that are permanently closed) and that companion can be summoned into other peoples' games. You'll find pawns lingering around the magical stone in the settlement I had forgotten about until I started writing. Lots of them look like someone's best attempt to make Drizzt or attractive lady archer #2,026, but others look like they've wandered into the game straight out of some forbidden zone full of mutants and rejects. Those are the ones for me.
I might be bored with them by this time next week, these infinite idiot companions, but right now I love them. You can pick up almost anything in Dogma's world, weight and strength permitting, and I'm sure I saw one of my pawns lugging a goblin corpse around earlier. There was no reason to. I assumed he'd just got overexcited and started to hammer all of the buttons until he ended up carrying whatever was closest to his character at the time. During fights, they'll sometimes grab an enemy and hold it in place, expecting some kind of tag team takedown, but sometimes I'll be half a field away when they do that. Again, they must have been pressing the wrong buttons.
Then I had to remind myself that there were no buttons to hammer. Their erratic behaviour is entirely a result of their programming and learned traits from their original creators. And what wonderfully rickety programming it is.