Dragon’s Dogma Demo Impressions

Dragon’s Dogma is the latest new IP (Intellectual property)  from Capcom, and is due out in mid May. The fact that it is a new IP from Capcom is significant. Capcom is a top tier developer, but it is also known for releasing constant rehashes of the same games, and, generally, playing it too safe. It is this attitude that got us Super Street Fighter 4: Arcade Edition, and Dead Rising: Off the Record. Basically, when Capcom doesn’t play it safe, it is worth noticing. Dragon’s Dogma is an epic fantasy RPG in the same vein as Dark Souls and Skyrim. I had watched a few trailers of Dragon’s Dogma before playing the demo and was very unimpressed, but I decided to give the demo a try based on the fact that trailers are often unrepresentative of the actual game, and you need to get your hands on it to properly judge something. I’m glad I did because Dragon’s Dogma looks like will be a phenomenal game.

The Dragon is free to have its own Dogma as long as it doesn’t try to push it on others. Of course it is a giant evil reptile…

The demo is broken into three parts. First there is a prologue chapter where you play as a pre-made character and learn the ropes of the game. Then there is the character creator, and finally, there is a monster hunting mission where you get to use your created character and pawn (More on this later). The progression works fairly well from learning about the game, getting into the creator, and then seeing what your character can do. In the combat missions two classes are highlighted. One of them is a warrior type character, and the other plays like a rogue with a bow option. I wondered if this game would be class-based or if you would just pick equipment like Dark Souls. According to Wikipedia there will be at least nine classes which will limit player options, so none of this Warrior, Wizard, Rogue crap you get from other fantasy games. The bosses are huge and extremely fun to fight. The game was clearly channelling Shadow of the Colossus when creating their bosses and it really paid off. They also feel a lot like Monster Hunter bosses except they aren’t a total pain to fight, so there is a fundamental difference there. Nevertheless, huge, epic fights with mythological creatures is a definite bonus.

Still generic classes, but at least there are more than THREE of them.

The two gameplay segments are short with two boss fights. The main combat gameplay seems to be a bit of a mix between Dragon Age and Dark Souls. It is slow and methodical with real weight behind it like Dark Souls. At the same time there are various special movies available that can be triggered with the face buttons by holding R1(Right bumper) or L1(Left bumper). These moves aren’t the same set it and forget it pure flash as in Dragon Age though. They have serious tactical use. For the fighter, a move will move you closer to an enemy to strike; one will have you dodge then attack, and the last will have you attack airborne enemies. These are all useful tactically, and it doesn’t look like it will be a simple matter of spamming all of your special moves like in Dragon Age. The combat has been compared to Devil May Cry, and this is a poor comparison. This combat is not meant for solo encounters and isn’t focused the way Devil May Cry’s combat is. Just because one of the moves resembles the Stinger doesn’t mean that it’s like Devil May Cry in the slightest. The other main part of the combat involves you being able to grab enemies or climb on bosses. This is extremely reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus and it works very well. There is a certain satisfaction you can get with climbing on top of a Chimera to finish off its goat head.

This image does not do this game justice. Play the demo.

Then there are the pawns. Unlike in Dark Souls in which it’s you alone agains the world. Dragon’s Dogma has various A.I. controlled characters that will come to aid you. You can create your main pawn and others will be provided from other players using an internet connection. According to the developers, this is the natural evolution of the Dark Souls message system. The pawns are very useful in combat, often buffing you or distracting the enemies. Putting fire on your weapons so you can burn your enemies is not only fun, but very useful. They are also very noisy, which is good and bad. It is good that they will tell you weaknesses of enemies and it makes you feel less like they are simply A.I. dolls, but it is bad because of repetition. Fortunately, from what I’ve been able to find out, you will be able to mute these characters, so it’s a win-win for everyone on this front.

This is going to happen whether you like it or not.

The character creator is nothing short of amazing. What is the number 1 problem with character creators? It is making a character that looks even somewhat human without restricting the player too much. Games like Fallout 3 and Skyrim give you lots of sliders with which to intimately customize your characters, but God help you if you want to make a character that looks good. It is much easier in Skyrim, but it is an ordeal nonetheless. Dragon’s Dogma does away with all of the sliders, which were borderline useless for anyone who didn’t want to spend months on character creation. Instead they offer a huge variety of pre-made features. This may sound like it is restricting, but it isn’t in the slightest. There are more hairstyles than in Skyrim and you can customize more parts of your character in much more interesting ways. Most surprisingly, you can change the musculature of the female characters. This is major, and most games that allow customization avoid this. In most games, you have the choice of supermodel thin or porn actress voluptuous for female models and nothing in between. There is a lot more freedom here. True, you can increase the bust, but it never gets out of proportion and isn’t the only thing you can alter. This reminds me of DC Universe Online’s terrible customization options for women. As a man, you could be a boy, and regular guy, and a huge mass of muscles. As a woman you can be a short voluptuous woman, and average sized voluptuous woman, and a tall voluptuous woman. Fortunately there is much more to this game. On top of regular character customization, you can also fully customize your primary pawn, which you can presumably send to other players to help them.

Truly the most surprising thing about the demo

The music and graphics are also huge pluses in this game. The music is absolutely phenomenal, especially the tracks with vocals such as the main menu theme. The voice work is fine, and it is good to know that your character is “The Arisen” as that will at least give NPCs something to call you instead of simple never addressing you like in most mute protagonist fantasy RPGs. The graphics are also good. They seem to be mimicking Dark Souls closely, which is generally a good thing. In short, the game is beautiful in ways that most games can only dream of. The character models and enemy models also don’t suffer, and the bosses are actually impressive. It has been a long time since I was impressed by a Chimera or Griffin, so that is telling you something. The framerate does chug a little at times, and this is unclear if this is because it is a demo or not. Assuming it is the same in the main game (Which is a fair bet), it isn’t a problem. There was never a point in which the slows affected gameplay, so there is no reason to be concerned.

For the record arrows don’t really hurt stone.

 Now for the possible problems with the game. It is supposed to be a huge open world type game, and I’m not convinced that the Dark Souls approach can work in such a circumstance. Maybe I’m wrong, but it is worrisome. We also don’t know anything about the quest system, and it could easily prove to be as mundane as Kingdom of Amalur. Another similar problem is the difficulty. The demo was very easy; however, you start at a high level and are optimized so I’m not sure if I can call foul yet. Even despite this, I had a closer call against the Griffin than any battle in Amalur. With various hard modes and skill-based bosses, this could turn out fine. The leveling system is a mystery at this point as well. How deep will customization go? Will it be very minimal like in Dark Souls? Finally there is the problem with story. If they keep it minimal like Dark Souls they should be fine, but they could run into trouble if they start ramping it up. Too many anonymous, generic characters in the demo for comfort.

Of course it has a club. Ogres love clubs.

The demo for Dragon’s Dogma was excellent; although I can’t shake the feeling that restricted levels may not be the best way of showcasing an open world game. There are a lot of questions still to be answered for this game, but if the final product is anywhere near as fun as the demo, it should be just fine. In the end that is the most important thing, whether or not the game is fun and engaging and the demo definitely was. I would say that the biggest problem with Dragon’s Dogma is that it is going to be released a mere week after Diablo 3, which isn’t the smartest idea.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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