I've just finished playing this, and have completed it once (and begun a new game plus with the same character). It's a free-roaming RPG for the PS3 and Xbox360, and I played the PS3 version. An internet connection adds to the experience but is not essential.
Perhaps uniquely, Dragon's Dogma has the player not only create the player-character but also a permanent sidekick (the main pawn).
There is no racial option, but height can be altered dramatically and pointy ears are available.
There's quite a lot of customisation on offer, mostly through a large array of presets with more detailed options for each body/facial part also available. Stance, musculature, fat, scars, arms, legs and torsos can also be independently altered. You can even give them different coloured eyes.
In brief: there's a very good set of options allowing for a broad range of characters to be created.
Dragon's Dogma has fantastically good gameplay. There are nine classes (vocations) to choose from (three starting, three advanced and three hybrid) and they fundamentally change the way the game is played. They all have genuine advantages and weaknesses, and there isn't a class I don't want to play at some point.
The pawn system (which could've been better named) involves your main pawn and two support pawns. The main pawn levels up with the player-character but is never directly controlled. As per the player-character, the main pawn is outfitted and given a vocation/skills by the player, and acts as your permanent sidekick.
Support pawns are summoned through rift stones and are computer-generated or come from other players (if you're connected to the internet). Getting a pawn of your own level or lower is free, but a higher level pawn costs rift crystals, a second currency used only for this purpose and in a single shop.
Likewise, your own pawn can be hired (either by the computer taking pity on you or through the internet by other players), and gain experience of areas, enemies and quests. You'll also receive a certain number of rift crystals in return for this. It's a cool and innovative way of using the internet, and whilst the game is single player it does add a nice communal touch (and it's a warm and fuzzy moment when your pawn gets highly rated and comes back with a ton of rift crystals).
Enemies broadly vary between two main types: a standard-sized foe and a massive one. The massive ones can be devastating all by themselves, but can also be climbed and damaged so that they drop weapons or get stunned. The smaller ones look less fearsome but a gang of bandits can and will give you trouble for the early-mid levels.
There's a reasonably good variety of enemies, and they do have upgraded versions (goblins are grunt standard, a strong version is the hobgoblin and so on). Some have criticised the range of enemies, but there's a nice mix from mythology, with griffins, chimeras (chimerae?), a hydra, a dragon, cyclopes, and ogres all making an appearance alongside goblins, bandits, wolves and harpies.
The character and main pawn can be decked out in a wide variety of clothing, with many body parts having separate armour and clothing slots, which I really like. It adds to the options for customisation, and all clothing/armour can be upgraded if sufficient money and (sometimes) extra items are possessed by the player. You can equip borrowed pawns but the items you equip them with are a permanent gift.
The menus are somewhat clunky. It is nice being able to see how your character/pawn looks with new armour, but the buy, sell and enhance options are all entirely separate and there's a separate menu for items and for equipping them. Not a serious issue, but it could've been better done.
Saving is poorly done because there's just one save slot. Now, this game has one of the most easily versatile player (and pawn) approaches I've seen for some time, so you might ask why anyone would want a second save slot. Well, it would be nice to have an extra character, and if the save gets corrupted (not happened to me but have heard one or two reports of this) then, unless you've backed it up, you're screwed. Happily, the save can be backed up with a flashdrive, but it would've been far better to give the player multiple save slots.
There is fast travel but it's highly limited and requires a special item which is slightly expensive and not very common. Some have complained about this as questing involves trekking out to do it and then back to base. This can sometimes be tedious, but it also makes returning home a real achievement and actually means that the day/night cycle matters. Not only is night pitch black, it is also when more serious monsters come out to play, making getting back home in the dark a more trying ordeal. Overall, I think it works pretty well.
Difficulty: this has been whinged about by many a reviewer. I don't know why. The game's challenging and doesn't use level-scaling, so if you go into a level 25 area at level 5 you'll get slaughtered, but if you return at level 35 you'll kick arse. Generally, the difficulty is spot on, as the game is challenging without being frustratingly difficult. Ensuring your party is balanced and your borrowed pawns are more or less the right level is important. Actually defeating major enemies feels like a serious achievement rather than an inevitability.
In brief: the gameplay is absolutely fantastic. In a world of hand-holding simplicity Dragon's Dogma stands apart as a challenge for the player to meet.
A weaker spot for the game, which is a shame. The story starts out well, and it ends (there are multiple endings and I've just seen the one) well, but the vast majority of the game in the middle doesn't really develop the story. There's also a weird incident in the castle of Gran Soren I won't spoil which, at the time, seems massively significant for the player but just seems to be forgotten about by everyone after it occurs.
The world itself is exciting to play in but could use rather more development and some specific lore to stop it feeling so entirely generic. This is also true of Gran Soren, the capital, which works perfectly well but feels like it's entry 1 in 101 Stereotypical Fantasy Cities.
I don't want to say much more because the ending (whichever path you take) is somewhat surprising, and I don't want to spoil them.
In brief: good start, an original end but is depressingly absent in the middle.
A mixed bag, this one. The music is good, excepting the opening menu music, and the little jingle when you slaughter a massive foe is reminiscent of the old RPG days when you'd get victory music after a turn-based triumph.
The sound effects are also good. My character began as a mage and then became a sorceress, and it was always cool to hear a wall of flame erupt or the excellent and devastating maelstrom spell whirl through the air. If your character gets severely low health then the screen darkens, the sound muffles and you can hear her (or his) heartbeat, which is a nice touch.
The voice-acting is a bit of a weak link, though. It's good at times, and not so elsewhere. The actors may also be hampered somewhat by a slightly poor effort at ye olde English which has led to some clunky phrases and a serious overdose on the word 'aught', which is used far, far too often. I hope the chap who did Vagrant Story's brilliant translation is employed for Dragon's Dogma 2, which is reportedly already under development.
In brief: good music and effects, but the voice-acting could use a better translation and some better performances.
Character faces could be better, but perhaps I'm being picky. The transition from dawn to brilliant sunshine and then through dusk to absolute darkness works very well.
The effects of spells are well done, and it's great to see that when you cast a very high end spell (high maelstrom or high bolide, for example) the game doesn't skimp on the effect. There are few more joyous sights than seeing an entire gang of bandits slain by a giant whirlwind or crushed by meteorites raining from the sky. Especially pleasing is that when fighting a massive foe you can set parts of their body ablaze, which looks great.
The landscapes look nice, and there's a little bit of variety between grassy, rocky and wooded areas. I really liked the armour/clothing variety. I'd been worried from some of the pictures that there'd be an abundance of chainmail bikini style armour, but most of it looks good without plumbing such depths (or attaining such heights, if that's your kind of thing).
In brief: the graphics are pretty good generally and especially so in combat.
Bugs and other issues
I don't want to jinx the game but I don't think I came across an actual bug.
The save slot issue I've mentioned already, and some quests will be cancelled, sometimes without warning, if you accept a certain different quest.
The difficulty is, for me, pitched perfectly, but if you played Skyrim on normal and thought it was pretty tough then this game might not be for you.
The framerate can very occasionally slow a little, but this happened rarely and wasn't too serious.
It's not a problem with the game itself, but on-disc DLC is the work of Satan. I really hope this doesn't make a repeat appearance for the sequel.
I very rarely pre-order games, especially on a whim, but this has turned out to be a surprisingly good game. The combat is the best in an RPG since Vagrant Story, the pawn system is innovative and works very well and the story (whilst conspicuously absent in the middle of the game) is a fresh take on the old 'dragon threatens the world' plot, which has become rather common in RPGs of late.
There are rough edges, but they're minor compared to the excellence of combat and the sense of actually beating a game instead of just jumping through hoops. I knocked half a point off the score due to a lack of extra stuff for a new game plus.