Dragon's Dogma Hands-on Preview
Post by Mark @ 02:46pm 01/05/12 | Comments
After an exclusive gameplay session attended by Capcom's Hideaki Itsuno and more quality time with the publicly available demo, we take a detailed look at what Dragon's Dogma has to offer.
It’s only reasonable to be sceptical about Capcom's upcoming monster killer, Dragon's Dogma, as the advertising campaign has thus far consisted of a few trailers showcasing the banal looking abilities of some of the classes and an incomprehensible tale about a dragon that stole someone's heart.
However, after sitting down with Director Hideaki Itsuno for a guided tour of the game, and having played the demo (available now on PSN and Xbox Live), I am happy to say that the relationship between the advertising and the actual product is about as close as eating a slab of butter coated cheese is to going on a healthy diet.
In Dragon's Dogma, your main party will normally consist of yourself and three Pawns, the first of which is your personal Pawn that you create and customise yourself. The other two Pawns will be those you summon from the rift -- personal Pawns of other Dragon's Dogma players. Hiring out Pawns that are your level or lower is free, but higher level Pawns require you to spend Rift Points: a currency gained by hiring out your Pawn to other players.
The process is simple, but it comes with an amazing level of innovation. Firstly, the Pawn search system is extremely comprehensive. You can search by player name, friends list, level, class, gender, abilities, and so on and so forth till you've found the perfect companion, whether they be an eight foot warrior wielding a two handed mace or a four foot sorcerer who likes to play with fire.
Pawns will aid you in your battles with more than just swords, arrows and spells. If you are wading into a fight against an enemy you haven’t encountered before, any Pawn that has had experience going against such a creature will call out advice on how to take it down. Pawns will also heal you, provide buffs, throw you into the air to attack flying enemies, hold creatures down so you can finish them off, and drag other unconscious pawns out of harms way so you can revive them in safety. If you’re feeling particularly dickish, you can also grab Pawns and use them as human shields.
If a Pawn has served you well, you can reward its creator by gifting them with items. In this sense, your main character is almost secondary to your Pawn. By equipping them well and ensuring they are seasoned in battle, you will be granted more gifts and more Rift Points which you can then spend on other Pawns, and so on and so forth. The Pawns are the heart and soul of this game, and as Itsuno said, “the world of Dragon's Dogma was built around them”.
Unfortunately, the demo of Dragon's Dogma only gives a tiny taste of what the wider game has to offer, and even then only one of the two levels in it provides a taste of how epic the final product will be. Countryside Quest is where you and your party, comprised of you as a ranger, your main Pawn as a warrior, and two other Pawns (a sorcerer and archer), take on a Griffin.
While Dragon's Dogma is supposed to be an action-rpg, you'll find yourself struggling to find where the RPG element is. The game feels far more action-oriented, and this works in its favour. Beginning the Countryside Quest you take on a group of goblins, testing your bow and knives. Shooting takes place in the third-person, and while I couldn't detect an aim-assist function, if you're pointing in the right direction you'll hit more often than not. Coming into close quarters, your knife-play will see you spinning and slashing with a cool grace that tiptoes the lines between realistic and flashy.
Both weapons have three special attacks that go with them. With the bow, you can bend the bowstring back as far as it can go for a single, powerful shot; rain a hail of arrows down from the sky; or shoot three arrows in one pull. The knives special moves will see you performing a dash attack; a dodge and rush attack, or an attack where you front-flip, becoming less of a ranger and more of ball of razor-edged steel. Amidst the combat with the goblins, you'll see a dark shadow moving across the ground, announcing the presence of the griffin.
As the battle ensues between your party and the hybrid beast of legend, you'll hear cries of “aim for its wings!” and “fiery wings can't fly!”. Providing you're in range, your sorcerer will buff your weapons with fire, and so all that's left to do is aim for the griffins wings in hopes you'll set them alight. This comes down to perseverance and luck, as hitting a moving creature in mid-flight, even when it's homing in on your position, is no easy task. This makes it all the more satisfying when it spreads its wings to slow its descent, and a hastily flung flaming arrow finds its mark, sending the creature crashing down to the ground.
From here, you can attack the creature till it finds its legs, where you can then grab onto its back as it starts to fly away, hacking at its wings with your enchanted knives until once again it loses the power of flight.
This level of interaction is intoxicating, and it feels as realistic as games can get. Just like Devil May Cry and Shadow of the Colossus before it, Dragon's Dogma makes the enemies feel like a physical presence rather than just code that you kind of interact with.
In games like Monster Hunter, Gods Eater Burst, or even Lost Planet, there are few times that you look at the creature you're battling against and feel as though it is nothing more than a program designed to act in a certain way over and over again. While Dragon's Dogma hasn't quite reached a level of bestial realism, it's the closest I've encountered in a game to-date. Whether it's from the way the griffin becomes bloodied after it has been set on with blades, or the way it tries to shake you off its back.
It's more than that though. In the full game, players will need to light a lantern on their belt to have be able to see during the night. Armour in the game is layered, so you will have the option to put on leather, chain and plate, just as knights used to do. Weapons -- even enchanted weapons -- look like real weapons, without being bastardised into the grandiose like so many high fantasy genre games like to do -- particularly Japanese-developed ones. Dragon's Dogma never lets go of realism, and that's what makes its experience so full.
Dragon's Dogma is due for launch on the 24th of May for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and I for one can't wait to strap on sword and shield and take down history’s nastiest mythological creatures.