Dragon’s Dogma is the latest new IP from Capcom, a developer/publisher well-versed in fantasy settings and the monsters often associated with these kinds of worlds. Yet don’t expect this game to be a successor to Capcom’s popular franchise (in Japan), Monster Hunter. Dragon’s Dogma has much more in common with The Elder Scrolls, a series that the Dogma team has cited as an influence on their game.
Don’t be surprised if you end up thinking of other respected games when playing Dragon’s Dogma. The ability to mount enemies 10 times the size of your character should please many Shadow of the Colossus fans. We’ve illustrated this a number of times with trailers and past accounts of mounting golems and chimeras, where you’re able to continuous whack away at them to bring them down.
You’ll also recall a bit of Demon Souls, particularly how both games have a strong asynchronous multiplayer component. In Dragon’s Dogma’s case, it’s a much more active form, conveyed by the game’s “pawn” system. Think of it as NPC party members who you can command and more impressively, share with friends on temporary loan.
What We’re Seeing Now:
Aside from a generous hour and a half long hands-on session, this most recent preview with Dragon’s Dogma (at Capcom’s US office, incidentally) also shed more light on the value and advantages of sharing pawns. Along with your main pawn, there’s a value judgment that needs to be considered when deciding on the size of your party. Conventional gaming wisdom should steer you to having a full party of four but this is actually one of those RPGs where the experience points are shared equally among party members. From my experience with the game, I have a feeling I’ll go with the maximum size during my full playthrough. Even if I don’t level up as quickly as a two-man party, the size of the game’s world should allow for ample opportunities to grow and hopefully keep up with the monster encounters.
And the more I learn about the multiplayer aspects of pawns, the more promising it sounds. No, you can’t game the system by having your friends level up your pawns for you while you sleep. What a pawn can do is give you recon and intel on missions you haven’t played yet. Say you have a friend who is further along or has done side missions you haven’t explored yet. When your pawn returns from those missions, he’ll be able to tell you what hazards to look out for, not to mention the correct path you should take to reach the goal.
It’s an inventive form of reconnaissance that doesn’t spoil your playthrough but helps in making this a nearly shared experience with your friends. It should also be noted that the equipment your loaned pawn has upon his return can be used in your campaign. Consider it the game’s form of gifting.
When creating your main pawn, you get to go through the same character creation process that you went through in customizing your hero. It’s as impressively deep as most Western RPGs, not all dissimilar to many Bethesda and BioWare RPGs, certainly much deeper than Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. The key is in assigning the class; simply the basic RPG 101 adage of having a partner who complements your protagonist’s skills.
As open as Dragon’s Dogma’s world is, Capcom certainly didn’t space out the action. All forms of aggression from bandits to wolves to evil mages are lingering just paces away from the towns and all paths in between. And some monsters will be happy to take the fight you, as evidenced by a fight against the hydra we showcased in past videos. Other RPGs would save this kind of foe as a mid-boss or even a final boss. In Dragon’s Dogma, you get to take on the hydra 30 minutes after the prologue.
Whatever your role, the controls keep to the familiar move set where new options open up with the face buttons when the triggers or bumpers are held. For instance, the Mage can either heal or go on the offense depending on which bumper is held; no need to access menus or assign spells to buttons. Same goes for the Strider, who can seamlessly switch from close quarters dual dagger attacks to his bow and arrow. It was doubly pleasing to see the potential of depth in the variety of arrow attacks where stronger options are available provided you can find room and time to charge up your respective special ability. And in regards to commanding the pawns, Dragon’s Dogma goes with the familiar d-pad mapping: left/right for “Help!”, up for “Go!”, and down for “Come!”
With Reckoning, The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, and The Witcher 2: Assassin's of Kings, no one can complain we’re currently short of open-world fantasy RPG experiences. So it will be bittersweet news to genre fans and their wallets that I’m very optimistic about Dragon’s Dogma. If all goes well, the game could find a positive middle ground in offering a social experience without needing to be an MMO. And the monster mounting is more than a nice touch; I sure as heck hope there’ll be a hefty supply of dragons to climb.