Impressions on Dragon’s Dogma

Recently, Capcom released a demo for the upcoming action role-playing game, Dragon’s Dogma.  Join us as we take a walk through this interesting adventure title, with some pretty attention-grabbing concepts.  As per usual though, minor or major plot spoilers for the demo may be ahead, so read on with caution.

Our trial of Dragon’s Dogma gives us access to three different parts of the game: the prologue chapter, character customization, and a monster hunting chapter.  I highly recommend playing the game in this order, as the prologue serves as a tutorial as well.

The first chapter has players chasing a dragon through an underground lair (for reasons that aren’t explained) and, as mentioned, teaches you the basics of the game.  You’ll take the role of a warrior for this level, armed with a trusty sword and shield.  Using your sword, you can execute a combo by stringing together a series of light attacks followed by a heavy one.  When looking for some extra damage, three special sword skills (each with its own little animation) are at your disposal.

A player’s shield can be raised by holding a specific button, but it also doubles as a weapon!  When holding the shield in its defensive position, three attack skills (such as a shield bash) may be used in a similar fashion as that of the sword.  This gives players more of a reason to block, and makes it a very useful combat tactic.  Looks like the best defense is a good offence after all!

As you fight your way against goblins through the underground cavern you will also learn about other aspects of gameplay, such as teamwork and the climb mechanic.  Teammates, aside from simply fighting alongside you, are capable of other advanced combat tactics as well.  They may grab an enemy to let you go to town on them, enchant your weapons with fire, or spring-board you skyward to reach an airborne foe.  It’s good to have friends, isn’t it?

Eventually, you’ll come to an open room just before the dragon’s lair.  There’s one problem though: a chimera.  This intimidating beast might seem like a powerful boss, but it also serves to teach you the climb mechanic.  With this feature, players can grab and then climb onto any large foe, crawl about them, and hack and slash at the body part of choice.  I myself climbed the chimera’s back to attack its goat head as it pranced about the room, and then I dismounted in a powerful downwards slash.  After defeating this multi-creature menace, you’re treated to a short cutscene and the mission ends.

After the prologue concludes, your next stop will be the customization screen.  Here, you’ll be able to create and model your character however you see fit.  The range and depth of changeable aspects are incredibly impressive.  From common characteristics like hair styles and skin colour, to uncommon features like posture and stance, players will be able to make any character they see fit.

It’s not just what can be changed that makes customization in DD so remarkable though; it’s also how much is customizable.  In just about any RPG you can determine your height, weight, and age, but how many allow you to be as short as a child, as large and jolly as Santa, or as old and wrinkly as the librarian down the street?  Every aspect of the player’s character is changeable and in a very diverse way.

But that’s not all!  After toiling away at your character at great length (I took about 25 minutes myself) you get to do that all over again for your “pawn”, your own little personalized companion.  This pawn is one of three companions who will follow you on your quest and assist in battles, with the other two being pulled from other users’ creations on either Xbox Live or PSN, giving DD a social aspect to it.  Not many games get such in-depth customizations.  Thankfully, these personal creations can be carried over from the demo to main title at launch, so your time spent making changes won’t go to waste!

Next up is the monster hunt chapter, where you’re tasked with taking down a griffin. In this level your character and pawn will actively reflect your customizations as well, so you get to see your creations in action.  Players will be taking on the role of a rogue for this one, as opposed to the warrior in the first level.  This class not only gives the player dual daggers and a variety of skills to slash away with, but a bow for use as a secondary weapon (much like how the warrior used his shield earlier).  Using this ranged weapon turns the game into a bit of a third-person shooter, allowing for arrows to be popped off one after another and with special bow-specific skills (such as an “arrow-rain”) at the player’s disposal as well.

At the start of the level, the gamer needs to eliminate a group of attacking goblins.  These prove to be child’s play, but shortly after dispatching them the mighty griffin joins the fray!  This foe is even more formidable than the chimera, due to the fact that it can fly.  However, when it happens to hit the ground, players are able to grab and climb it, just like its snake-lion-goat predecessor, leading to amazing and adrenaline-pumping scenes.  For me, I had grabbed a hold of his rear leg and started hacking away.  My feathered foe didn’t take kindly to this and immediately took off, which is where the fight got interesting…

Each aspect of DD’s combat system, from the climb mechanic to the way pawns interact with and find weaknesses in enemies, gives an incredibly unique spin to it; this also causes cinematic-like events to occur through player-controlled moments in battle.  I have to say, riding a chimera like a bucking-bronco and climbing a griffin’s back hundreds of feet in the air are two of the most heart-pounding and shiver-invoking moments I’ve played in any game of this genre.  If more moments like this can be created in the full release, then Capcom will have a sure winner on their hands.

There is some cause for concern, however, which comes in the form of animation and audio.  Character animation can appear somewhat ridged at times, like their motion capture actor didn’t fully commit to his role (though it’s few and far between), but the main problem is the very apparent lack of gore.  One can understand a lack of severed limbs or decapitation, but if a character is cinematically pounced and shredded by the razor-sharp teeth of a lion, one expects him to at least be covered with a red-ish hue (if not literally ripped apart); instead he lies there, as healthy looking as he was five minutes ago.

The issues in audio come from voice work, but not in the way you’d think.  Overall, acting is always at least believable, but it’s the frequency at which characters speak that causes some problems.  Your teammates have a tendency to all speak at once, making it impossible is understand anyone. Some characters will also get distracted, and will start a new sentence before finishing their current one.  While subtitles specific to each character are present, combat can keep you too pre-occupied to bother reading them.  While the demo might simply be made from old code, these are issues that will hold back the otherwise wonderful title from greatness at launch.

When all the beasts have been slain, the demo for Dragon’s Dogma will take players for a short but wild ride, and then leave them drooling and wanting more.  With only some animation and graphics issues, this is one title you’ll want to keep an eye on for sure!

Dragon’s Dogma launches on May 22nd for the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 – keep watching for a full review shortly thereafter!

About This Post

April 29, 2012 - 8:00 am