I venture forth. Beyond the walls of the ravaged fishing village that my character calls home, there lies a vast land of monsters and uncharted wilderness. My pawns follow at my boot heels as we take to the road after nightfall. There are no farmers, traders, or soldiers out. They know better than to go beyond the walls of their towns and camps when the sun sleeps. But I am the Arisen and my sword is sharp. The monsters that stir in the shadows of the night are not what scare me, it is the darkness itself that gives me pause. My lantern only casts light so far and my pawns constantly talk about the dangers lurking all about. The lantern becomes my sanctuary.
Dragon’s Dogma is one of the few videogames where darkness actually feels true. When night falls, a heavy void-like black obfuscates the land. A lantern becomes a necessary tool in traversing the night, and without it one begins to feel sightless. I’ve never felt that way in a videogame. It is not a feeling of fear as much as it is the feeling of recognition that comes with acknowledging that the world is a living thing — it goes on with or without me, and it is afforded the power of infinite change. Banishing light is one such power. While the world may be able to cut my vision down at its knees, my lantern can still guide me. It is not perfect — far from it, actually — and refilling it with lantern oil becomes as important as making sure my player’s health and stamina are in check.
Where my lantern guides me, my pawns’ voices reassure me. Traversing darkness with a pinprick of light is an exercise in bubbling anxiety, of not knowing if the shadows that dance in the dark are tree branches fluttering in the wind or if they are the batting wings of ravenous harpies. But it is far from isolating thanks to my pawns. They speak and converse as we travel the beaten paths and forests of Dragon’s Dogma. Their dialogue is canned and often repeats itself, but the line-delivery is so sincere to the point that it all feels startlingly genuine. I do not roll my eyes when a pawn says, “This produce looks fresh.” as we pass a street vendor. Rather, I marvel at the possibility that these pawns — often seen as barely human husks by other in-game NPCs — contain the essence of humanity that speaks to an enjoyment of food. I’d take that dialogue over military banter or barked orders over some comm-feed any day. The pawns point out the obvious and they do not waste any words. Blunt observation can often be beautiful and contain unseen depth(s), and pawns begin to feel like real beings the more that they speak and soak in the world around them. Observation after observation, repeated dialogue after repeated dialogue, combat shout after combat shout — their multitudes begin to unravel and the tapestries of a human being begin to be sown.
Hearing a pawn wax on and on about the dangers of night as we walk the dark path between two villages does not lead me to fear, but rather to optimistic caution. Yes, we may encounter a troll that slaps me like you’d swat a fly, but at least my pawns will be there beside me. The gaps in their speech and the way they are dressed and created allows me to craft a dense head canon for each one in my party. The possibility space of self-imaginative projection is part of what makes Dragon’s Dogma such a unique experience. My journey feels like my own, even the darkness feels specific to me because I cannot separate the all-consuming dark from the reassuring sound of the voices of my pawns. They will always be by my side, and who they are is defined by what they offer and what I imbue into their characters beyond their simple sentences and character designs.
My party ventures forth; not alone but as a unit. We fight harpies and cyclops, goblins and wolves, and when the day of reckoning comes and the credits begin to roll, I know that my pawns’ story will not end where mine did. No, their story will only still be in its opening chapters. They will live on in other players’ games, as pawns can do via the unique (and all-too-overlooked) Pawn System that is at the heart of Dragon’s Dogma. They’ll continue to slay harpies and trolls, goblins and wolves, and they’ll find new character arcs to ebb and flow through as players beyond me imbue them with their own dreams, desires, and narratives.