I've recently been playing a new game of Dragon's Dogma, which is one of the most surprisingly good games of recent years.
But how does it stack up against the 800lb gorilla of RPGs that is Skyrim?
The menu's are reasonable but could be a little slicker. Conversations are pretty basic, but there are a few significant choices to make.
However, the game's greatest asset is it's bloody fantastic combat. Not only is it a challenge, the difficulty is just about spot on. So, you will die, but not every fifteen seconds. Enemies could be slightly more varied but there are a decent number of larger monsters which are a joy, especially at lower levels, to fight. Even better, there are nine classes (three to start with) and the fighter, strider and mage fight in very different ways. Importantly, they're well-balanced and fun, and, during the course of a game, a player's job can be switched easily.
Character creation offers a single race, but otherwise has average or extensive options (height, weight and stance being especially distinctive from the 'make your face' approach of other character creators).
The single save slot and auto-save feature, however, is a pain in the arse, and I really hope they sort that out for Dragon's Dogma 2: Rhetoric Returns [ok, I made the subtitle up].
I love the race options, and whilst it's nice being able to vary muscularity a height/fat slider would've gone down nicely.
There's no class system as such, enabling a character the opportunity to specialise or become a jack-of-all-trades from the start. However, fighting in a melee style is pretty simplistic, the spells are far less impressive than Dragon's Dogma and fighting as an archer is a bit clunkier. The absence of a customised main pawn/sidekick also weighs against Skyrim.
Menus are pretty user-friendly, although they do lack a fantasy feel, and there are often a good range of choices in conversation. However, when it comes to serious choices to change the outcome of the central quest line or that of a guild there are almost none.
Unlike Dragon's Dogma, Skyrim has a sensible saving system allowing for tons of saves.
Dragon's Dogma's brilliant combat makes its gameplay the better by a clear distance.
The quality of graphics for characters and items are perfectly reasonable, without being fantastic. Spells (and their effects, such as immolating a cyclops' arm) look either pretty good or very good. The gradual change of lighting effects for the day/night cycle look very nice. Landscapes look reasonably good without being fantastic. Gran Soren, the main city, isn't bad graphically but the city does look bloody boring.
The large range of clothing/armour available fits well together and doesn't lead to items meshing poorly.
Character faces look good (and have nice dirt/tattoo options), enemies are nice and realistic in appearance and the province of Skyrim looks amazingly good. Even better is the knowledge that just about everywhere visible can be visited. Snowy climes, icy seas, dense woodland, open tundra, misty bogs, all look great. The cities are at worst functional (Falkreath) and at best distinctive visually (Solitude). The spells are a significant improvement on Oblivion and I love the fact that every single object can be looked at in the menu. Reading the books can be quite entertaining, actually.
In almost every area Skyrim matches or, more often, surpasses Dragon's Dogma.
Bit of a mixed bag, to be honest. Lots of the voice-acting is hampered by a poor attempt at ye olde English (for a top notch effort at this play the fantastic Vagrant Story), and the quality of voice actors is highly variable.
Creeping rats and shrieking bats sound better, and the spells (always a high point) often sound pretty good. The music (that shocking J-rock opening track aside) is pretty good.
The voice-acting is significantly better than Oblivion, and I love the Nordic voice actors (especially the lady who voices Mjoll the Lioness). The scripts are generally good (or at least make sense and don't use the word 'aught' three times a sentence) too.
The sound effects for magical effects, most especially the lightning spells, are very good, and the music soundtrack is excellent. The main theme in particular is fantastic.
Skyrim wins, courtesy of better voice-acting and an outstanding score.
Whilst not very original, there's nothing wrong with Dragon's Dogma's storyline. A mighty dragon destined to destroy the world has emerged, and you play the man or woman who must slay it.
Whilst not very original, there's nothing wrong with Skyrim's storyline. A mighty dragon destined to destroy the world has emerged, and you play the man or woman who must slay it.
Erm… I'd give it to Skyrim. Although superficially the storylines are basically identical, Skyrim has a far better defined world, more lore, a greater sense of why the dragon's about and killing things. Late on, Dragon's Dogma does actually explain quite a lot, but overall the experience of Skyrim's story is better than its rival.
The world is pretty big, and effectively made larger by the difficulty of fast travel. There are also many classes (on my first playthrough I mastered 3/9 of them) and the player creates both their own character and main sidekick, increasing the possible variables.
There are only a few serious choices to make, but they do seem to make a very significant difference to the end of the game.
On the downside, the central story is linear and once completed the game ends (or a New Game Plus begins), and there's really only one way to do a given side quest.
The world is bloody enormous (in fact, it's probably as big as a world can get before its size becomes a liability rather than an asset), but can shrink quickly courtesy of carriages to cities and very easy fast travel.
The main storyline is entirely linear, and the guilds are almost entirely linear also. There is, however, greater variance regarding racial choice for the player-character, and because of the way perks and levelling works characters can be wildly different (it takes some time to become a journeyman or master mage, for example).
Whilst I love the combat in Dragon's Dogma, my own experience suggests that the enormity of Skyrim makes it far more replayable. A first time playthrough also takes significantly longer.
Bugs and other problems
One save slot and auto-saving is bloody stupid. I think even Sonic 3 had three save slots. That's the only serious gripe that springs to mind.
Originally it froze all the damned time. Now, it freezes but relatively rarely. It's still a pain, though.
Occasionally weird things occur (mammoths falling from the sky, a giant trapped in the road outside Whiterun etc) but they tend not to be too serious. I did once, however, get a Companions quest to find something, and it wasn't there. Thankfully, my ridiculously frequent saving meant I could go back to a minutely earlier save and continue from there.
Dragon's Dogma will give you less buggy woe than Skyrim.
This is quite difficult. Dragon's Dogma has a great combat system, but in every other area (save freezing) Skyrim is better. If an immersive world, whether regarding lore, graphics, sound or a definite sense of place, is a must-have for you then Skyrim must be considered the better. If all of that stuff is superficial to you and you just want to dive in and enjoy killing things, go for Dragon's Dogma.
As for me? Er…. I'd probably, just, go for Skyrim. I love good voice-acting, lore and a game I play for hundreds of hours. Dragon's Dogma is a great game and I'm delighted it's getting a sequel, but if I had to pick one, it'd probably be Skyrim.