Capcom fans have been pondering the meaning of a new Capcom teaser site for something referred to as "DD." We are now able to confirm via a reveal at the publisher's annual Captivate preview event that "DD" stands for Dragon's Dogma, a new game sprung from the mind of Devil May Cry 4 director Hideaki Itsuno.
Dragon's Dogma is based on ideas that Itsuno, a fan of The Lord of the Rings and other fantasy settings, has had since his days in high school. At base, we are looking at an open-world action-driven game with RPG elements and real-time combat. Itsuno, along with producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi, repeatedly stress during the demo presentation that action is a core focus of the game, despite appearances to the contrary that this is a top-to-bottom RPG.
The story opens with an ancient dragon, one not seen in decades, rising from his slumber and attacking nearby towns and cities. Your player character, who can be either male or female, has his heart taken by the mighty wyrm at an early point. After this, s/he can hear the dragon's thoughts constantly. Eventually, as you perform an increasing number of tasks for the dragon, you come to learn why the dragon has returned and why it has chosen you specifically to carry out these tasks.
For the demo, which we later got to go hands-on with, the player character faced off against a giant Griffon in a region of rolling hills situated just outside a nearby walled, foreign city. Immediately we noticed that the hero was joined by a party of four other characters.
These are Pawns, the Dragon's Dogma equivalent of henchman. Not much was revealed about how they come to join your party, other than it being said that they can be recruited in the game world's various towns and cities. We did learn, however, that Pawns play a crucial role in the game's fighting mechanics.
Each one falls into one of the three available character classes (this applies to player characters as well): fighter, mage and "Strider," which is essentially a rogue class with both close-quarters (dual wielded daggers) and long range (bow and arrow) capabilities. Pawns will interact directly with the player character during battle, offering aid either independently or under orders (issued using the D-pad) and shouting out effective tactics as they come to learn more and more about the enemies you face.
The party makeup for the Griffon fight worked just fine, but there will be certain larger creatures in the game -- such as the many-headed hydra seen in a brief gameplay clip -- that require a bit more advance planning. The demo kicks off with a brief scuffle between your group and a pack of goblins. In trying out his spells, your mage Pawn discovers that fire is effective against these guys; in addition to alerting you to that fact, he also spell which imbues all of your parties weapons with fire for a limited amount of time.
As the last of the goblin stragglers fall, an enormous Griffon sets down right in the middle of the battlefield, knocking most of your party off of its feet as it aggressively moves to attack. The Griffon moves quickly and delivers damaging strikes, though heeding your party's advice to attack the wings seems to work.
The Griffon absorbs some damage and then takes to the sky once again, circling around to prepare for another dive bomb attack. "This corpse might serve as bait," one Pawn usefully offers as a method for luring the mythical beast out of the air. Another drops to one knees and calls the player character over, launching him high into the air where the Griffon can be grabbed onto.
Grabbing is an important mechanics in Dragon's Dogma. Smaller enemies and allies can simply be picked up and thrown over your shoulder. However, the game's larger enemies can also be grappled in a sort of Shadow of the Colossus-lite sort of way. You can crawl to any point on the grabbed creature's body and even attack it with your close-ranger weapons. Each beast will have its weak point, but players will be left to figure it out. The hydra, for example, will regrow any of its heads that you chop off... until you discover a way to make them stop growing back.
Dragon's Dogma is a big game, set on a peninsula which players can freely explore. The one city we got to look at during our demo is said to be filled with over 200 non-player characters, all of which move about in a daily schedule of routines according to the game's 24 hour day/night clock. The creatures you'll face at night are different too, and efforts have apparently been made to ensure that venturing out at night with your trusty lantern clipped to your belt is a frightening experience.
Neither Itsuno nor Kobayashi were willing to go into much detail on the game's RPG element, other than to say that there are ways to upgrade and improve both your character and his/her Pawns. At least part of this involves finding better weapons and armor, but it seems that there is more beyond that. There will also be some way to influence the game's story, and multiple endings are possible. Some kind of multiplayer component is being worked on as well, but nothing has been revealed yet.
For the hands-on portion of the demo, we got to play through the Griffon fight again. The controls are definitely inspired by more action-oriented games, with light and heavy attacks as well as specials which can be activated by combining a light/heavy button press with one of the gamepad's LB/RB shoulder buttons (on an Xbox 360 gamepad). While the many possible button combos at first seem daunting, especially with the Strider's two different types of weapons, it wasn't long before we were able to take the Griffon out in less than five minutes.
There's plenty more to see yet, but the core ideas come together in a way that seems designed to appeal to fans of expansive RPGs like The Elder Scrolls. The initial impression is that there is much less stat-juggling and much more action, one that Itsuno and Kobayashi also seemed to be emphasizing through their translator, but only time -- and additional reveals -- will paint a fuller picture. There's still a long way to go, as the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 release is currently planned for early 2012.