I've played this game for only a short time, so this isn't a comprehensive review but my thoughts on a few days' worth of play. I'll put up a full review at a later date.
Dragon's Dogma (DD) is a free-roaming single player RPG available for the PS3 and Xbox 360 (I've got the PS3 version).
Unlike most games, DD has a creator that allows not only for a customised face but for the entire body to be changed. This will have an impact upon gameplay. Bigger characters have long reach and can carry more, but also get tired more quickly.
Facially, it's pretty good, although it can take a little time to make an attractive character (and be sure to check the Details which allow you to give characters different coloured eyes and other small but cool things like that). There aren't any set race options, but you can roleplay as an elf by giving your character pointy ears, or as a dwarf/giant by fiddling with the height.
Overall, this is very good, which is nice because after making your character you then design your non-playable permanent sidekick (the main pawn).
This is the beating heart of the game, and it's very good indeed. I played as a mage, with my main pawn (see below) a fighter. The game follows a party structure, with the player and main pawn joined temporarily by two other pawns who do not level up. These can be computer-generated or the creations of other players, hired by using Riftstones. Likewise, your own pawn can be hired and, if it is, other players will rate them, perhaps send them back with a gift and you'll earn Rift Crystals, a second currency used mainly for hiring higher level pawns. In addition, your pawn may well learn more of enemies, areas and quests whilst adventuring with another and thus come back with helpful information.
Combat is the game's single best feature. Each class has genuine advantages. Magic takes a little while to cast, but when it does the damage inflicted is significant. Sword and shield types can protect mages by distracting the enemy, and archers can double up with ranged combat and a pair of daggers for closer quarters combat. The enemies are reasonably varied and the larger monsters are tremendous fun to fight. My favourite battle so far was with an armoured cyclops armed with a massive cudgel. My party shouted out advice to target certain parts, and we smashed his helmet and wounded his arm so that he dropped his weapon. When it seized my archer I blasted its arm with fire and it was forced to drop her, and there was much rejoicing.
The game's difficulty is higher than average without being over the top, and if it seems a bit too hard players can always use Rift Crystals to buy stronger pawns. Hand-holding is not something the game does. It's entirely possible to run into an area too strong for you and get your arse kicked in short order. The roads are safer then taking shortcuts through forests and the countryside, but safe is a relative term and doesn't preclude the appearance of tough bandits and even the odd griffin or cyclops. There's also very limited fast travel, so you have to wander all the way back to an inn after trekking away to do a quest. Night time is not just a bit darker, it's pitch black except for the meagre light offered by your lantern, and nasty things come out to play in the darkness. This, and the general difficulty, makes it feel like a real achievement when you make it back home successfully.
There's a surprisingly large range of armour/clothing options, which might sound a bit superficial but actually it's brilliant. This allows for a far greater degree of customisation than just a few pieces of armour, and the design is generally good. You can also enhance weapons/armour using cash and certain rarer items.
The saving system is poor. There's a single regular slot, with a secondary one for checkpoint saves (made when resting at an inn), so you can't have multiple characters. I think you can copy your save file to a flashdrive to keep your character and make a new one but that's a bit of a faff. It's a bit frustrating, to be honest, and is probably my least favourite aspect of the game.
This is pretty hard to assess only a short way into it. The story is not that tightly bound to the character, and most of the quests you do are nothing to do with being the Arisen (your player's title). There's nothing wrong with the plot, it just seems to play rather less of a role than it might do, but this might change further in.
The world has little sense of identity. It's pretty generic, and that's a bit of a shame. Non-quest NPCs almost never have anything interesting to say and conversations are very basic.
The graphics generally are pretty good. Spells in particular look quite impressive. However, there are issues with pop-in (the draw distance isn't too long) that affect both safe areas and the great outdoors, although I think dungeons are not affected.
Some animations look a bit clunky and in the dark shadows trail behind the character (so if you turn around your shadow turns with you, like the train of a dress).
The sound effects are good, and the in-game music is pretty good as well (the title music sounds alright initially but then turns into a rather unimpressive pop-rock piece).
Voice-acting is a bit ropey at times. They've gone for an old English approach, which is fine, except that the execution is lacking. The word 'aught' is far too common and seems to be used to mean almost anything. It's a shame, but they should've gotten the chap who did the excellent Vagrant Story translation to do the same for this.
The pawns all have verbal diarrhoea. It's useful, sometimes, in fight, but they just never shut the hell up. My favourite example of this is a pawn remarking "A tent" when I walked past one. Yes, I know it's a tent. Please stop commenting on everything in the world.
Reasons to Buy or Avoid
This isn't a comprehensive pros/cons list, just a few stand-out points that might sway people one way or the other.
Avoid: on-disc DLC is the work of Satan and is present here.
Buy: the combat is challenging and exciting.
Buy: the pawn system is an interesting and innovative use of online technology. [I know some bemoan the lack of multiplayer, but as I dislike multiplayer I'm not one of them].
A Weird Connectivity Thing
I don't have my PS3 hooked up to the internet most of the time, but did so to see how the pawn system worked, and to let my fellow gamers benefit from my splendid lady pawn. Weirdly, when playing without the connection, I found my pawn still returning from adventuring with others, complete with nice little gifts. Er…?
I've since found that if you're unconnected the game takes pity on you and the CPU pretends to hire your pawn, giving you a small number of rift crystals and little gifts.
Why I bought it early
There are a few reasons. I was intrigued by the reports of its higher difficulty (this is true but has been exaggerated by limp-wristed bed-wetting reviewers) and the prospect of a new free-roaming RPG. The game has lots of good ideas, but here and there execution is lacking. The combat remains its biggest plus point.
A big double reason was the previews and other videos from two Youtube accounts I found, linked to below:
I'll do a full review later on. After beating the game you get a New Game Plus so I'm not sure if I'll do a review after finishing the game or play a bit more after that. At this stage I'd probably give it about 8.5/10.