Last night I finally had the time to plunk down on the couch and play the Dragon’s Dogma demo I’d downloaded last week. It was much shorter than I’d anticipated but still gave me enough of an impression to write about.
First thing I need to get off my chest: the character creator portion of the demo saves your avatars for if/when you purchase the retail version of Dragon’s Dogma. This is one of the most forward-thinking features of any demo I’ve ever played. I’m the type to resign the first day of owning a game of this scale to getting my character just right, which can take hours. Not only do you need to make a protagonist in Dragon’s Dogma, you also need to customize your pawn, or constant AI companion. That means twice as much time traversing menus. Well, whoever the genius was behind this demo allowed you to save once you’ve completed your protagonist, so you can customize your pawn at your leisure. I’ve yet to even settle on so much as a gender for my pawn, so it may be a while. I can’t say enough good about character creation in this game — it’s user friendly (although there is a slight learning curve for traversing the menus), robust, and solid enough that no matter how crazy you get, the result is more or less recognizable as a human.
There are two playable portions to the demo, both highlighting dramatically different environments. The first I experienced were the ruins of a dungeon — broken stone structures and darkness as far as the eye could, or couldn’t see. An NPC prompted me to turn on a lantern which threw long shadows across the floors: it’s evident care was taken in darkness/lighting effects and it added tension to the otherwise familiar fantasy ambiance. I saw enough to convince me that Dragon’s Dogma may not be showing us much new in terms of fantasy environments, but the innovative presentation sets it apart.
Battle initially felt rather simple, but became increasingly complex. There were two attack buttons: one quick, the other slower but stronger. Different classes can wield different gear — one character I played used a sword and shield, the other dual daggers with an offhand short bow. Switching between the two was fast and intuitive. I could also jump. In the entirety of the demo, not once did I jump for a reason other than to say to myself, “Oh, you can jump. That’s kinda cool.” I can’t say with any certainty that this mechanic is useless (a dodgeroll certainly would be more welcome), but I can say the demo didn’t make it seem useful.
Interacting with your pawns is a massively important part of combat. Not only do they (frequently) vocalize tips, as well as what they’re doing (…as well as what they plan on doing…) But they also create openings for you to exploit. For instance, they may use fire to down a flying foe, or hold an orc allowing you to execute a fatal stab (complete with cool slowdown effect).
This teamwork aspect becomes important when faced with a large, imposing boss. At one point during a battle with a Griffin, a pawn told me to jump on his massive greatsword and he’d launch me onto the winged beast’s back. I then stabbed my way up to the its head, where I turned its white feathers black with blood. Meanwhile my mages set its wings ablaze, grounding it long enough for other melee units to finish the job. This combination of an emphasis on teamwork and reacting to different enemy behavior gave me a special joy generally only derived from Monster Hunter.
Dragon’s Dogma has some potential, the demo made that clear. It takes the tried and true open-world fantasy game and builds upon it by making environments more real, and combat more rewarding and interactive. Capcom may be striking out a lot lately, but I daresay they got their act together for this one.
NOTE: Dragon’s Dogma US Release date: May 22