I could name many reasons for Dragon’s Dogma’s success: it has great combat, varied classes, and huge monsters roaming through the world. Despite all those fantastic features, what truly sets Dragon’s Dogma apart from other RPGs is the Pawn system – a mechanic that allows you to loan your personal customisable companion to other players to take on battles and complete quests in your absence.
That’s why we’re focusing on the Dragon’s Dogma Pawns in this edition of Zoom In – the column where we examine a tiny element of a series that helped elevate it in underappreciated ways.
Shortly after creating your character, the Arisen, you’re tasked with giving life to a companion that will come on all of your future adventures. They belong to a humanoid race of beings called the Pawns – entities that live to serve. Pawns are described as dimwitted and directionless, and without humans to assist they’d just cease to exist. It certainly is one way of getting around the morality and ethics of creating a life that does nothing but worship you, I guess. You customise everything about your Pawn: their name, how they look, what equipment they have, how they approach combat, and even the little details such as how cocky or shy they are.
You can have up to two extra Pawns in your party, bringing your team up to a total of four. Without internet access, the game provides you with a large pool to choose from, but online is where the Pawn system really shines, because you loan your Pawn out to other players and can also borrow theirs. As you travel, your Pawn will comment on their surroundings, the enemies they’re fighting, and the quests they’ve completed. “I’ve learned new ways to deal with that foe,” they’ll say merrily, or “Now I know more about this location!” It seems a bit weird until you hear a Pawn you’ve borrowed from someone else shout, “This beast loathes heat” while imbuing your bow with fire and it suddenly all clicks – the Pawns retain their knowledge and use it to help players. It’s almost like the Dark Souls message system, except no one is saying “Try tongue but hole” or tricking you into jumping off a cliff.
This is a fantastic way of incorporating online play – it’s uninvasive, entirely unnecessary, and only has positive effects, something I never thought I’d write about online gameplay. The way it works is relatively simple, at least on your end – I have no idea how complicated the technology behind it is. Each Pawn you borrow from another player comes with their own experiences. You can see their knowledge of enemies, areas, and quests before you hire them, so you can either go for one that will help you, or you can be a pal and take an inexperienced Pawn under your wing to help a new player. They’ll learn as they venture on with you, and when you send them back they’ll pass all that knowledge on to the player that created them.
Your own Pawn works in a similar way. They somehow send a copy of themselves to work with other players while simultaneously remaining at your side, and whenever you rest at an inn they’ll regale you with tales of their latest exploits. Sleeping at inns is encouraged, as the game’s day and night cycles are quite long, and inns are the only way to skip ahead. If a player has returned your Pawn since you last slept, they’ll update in your game with new experiences. Fellow adventurers can even leave nice feedback or provide a gift for your Pawn to give to you. This system means it’s worth your while making the best Pawn possible, as this will encourage other players to use them, giving them more gifts and experience as they’re used. To make Pawns more broadly appealing, they appear online under a set list of monikers to ensure no swearing or slurs are sent out into the general player base. Your feedback is also limited to pre-written constructive and kind sentences, so everyone stays happy.
With the Pawn system Capcom basically took out the most toxic element of online play: the player. It’s implemented brilliantly, as some of the larger and tougher enemies have multiple weaknesses, strengths, and tactics that you need to learn. If your Pawn or the Pawns in your party have fought a Chimera before, they’ll tell you that the goat head casts magic, so you know to focus on that first. There’s nothing better than seeing a huge beast and hearing your faithful Pawn reassure you that they know how to take it down. They can also dish out hints during a tough quest, like telling you where to go or when someone is available to talk to. Thanks to this system, you won’t have to rely on guides and can instead spend your time within the world. This makes Pawns feel alive and dynamic, which is an impressive feat for a species described as dull and subservient. This brilliant buddy system feels well ahead of its time and makes Dragon’s Dogma stand out from the crowd – don’t leave your Pawn waiting, give the game a go.
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