Dragon's Dogma's innovative pawn system adds another layer of customization. Storywise, pawns come from another world through rifts and they collectively serve the Arisen (that's you). Early on, you create one pawn using the same basic creation system you used to design your hero. This is your main pawn, and he or she will have your back for the whole game. The cool meta part of all this is that you fill out your party of four by recruiting two more pawns from the pool of pawns that other real life players of Dragon's Dogma create. You can easily search for whatever type of pawn would complement you and your main pawn, like a svelte ranger or a sorceress with elemental magic. Your main pawn levels with you, but the other two pawns don't, so you will want to upgrade by recruiting higher level pawns. You can even blow real money on recruiting pawns way above your level.
Because I didn't drop some dough on a badass Gandalf-lookalike (and there are many of these available to recruit), I had a little trouble quickly defeating the big monsters that inhabit Dragon's Dogma. The battles against huge ogres, cyclopes, gryphons and chimeras are really exciting at first. You can climb up the limbs of these beasts to strike at their squishy bits, which does add some realism to taking down such huge creatures. But even after you figure out a strategy to defeat them, it just takes far too long to whittle down their huge HP bar. There's only so much novelty you get from climbing up a golem's legs and endlessly gobbling curative items when he tosses you around like a side of ham.
I would have appreciated the open world of Dragon's Dogma a lot more if the color palette didn't just go from dirt brown and spring green to sandy brown, burnt sienna, and bile yellow. There's a fast travel option, but because it's tied to a rare consumable item, you'll spend a lot of time traversing the bland landscape just to get anywhere. I understood that the visual style leaned more towards realism than the fantastic, but the colors were too washed-out and uninteresting.
Bottom Line: It's a true open-world RPG with an engaging combat system and neat pawn mechanic, but Dragon's Dogma has some flaws you have to overlook to enjoy.
Recommendation: If you're tired of Skyrim, and want a challenge to your skills and your game design sensibilities, give Dragon's Dogma a shot.
This review was based on the Xbox 360 version.