Rating: 3 stars out of 4
"Dragon's Dogma" has the elements of everything you'd expect from an open-world action role-playing game with a fantasy setting. Even the box art smacks of a "Dungeons and Dragons" guide. Once you get inside "Dragon's Dogma," you realize that it is unlike any fantasy RPG (or almost any) game you've played before.
The key feature of "Dragon's Dogma" is the "pawn" system, a format that allows the player to create one "main pawn," a character that follows you perpetually, and two other pawns that are sourced from an online database of other players' pawns. So essentially, it's match.com for warriors and mages. While you're offline, your pawn, if hired by someone else, is rampaging through the game while earning prowess and loot. It's a truly inspired and well-executed feature.
Within the gameplay, pawns are incredibly useful as a tactical advantage against foes, as well as guides who offer advice and quest information. The best analogy is it's like having your own little guild organizing a raiding party, only the other players are artifical intelligence instead of pale people with headsets.
"Dragon's Dogma" is an open-world game that doesn't feel like an open-world game, which at first gives it a sense of confusion and urgency like you're putting off a bunch of important tasks. But you can play at your own pace, opening the universe up to the player's interpretation. Wander around and hunt goblins all night if you want, as the escort and fetch quests will still be there when you get back.
The action combat is fast-paced and accessible. Cooperative attacks with pawns (basically "tag team" moves in wrestling terms) and the ability to freely climb on (and fall from) large monsters makes fighting battles in the game a joy rather than a grind.
The worst thing about "Dragon's Dogma" is it's your bog-standard swords and sorcery tale. You're the chosen one, there's a dragon's soul to conquer, the fate of the realm is in your hands, etc. It's well-covered ground but familiar enough that there isn't a lot of needless explanation and character moments.
On balance, "Dragon's Dogma" is a technical breakthrough for the genre, albeit wrapped in the blandest tropes of warriors and wizardry.