Dragon's Dogma Preview – Hardcore Pawn!
Written Thursday, November 03, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
It's a relatively busy period for the free-roaming open-world fantasy genre, what with Skyrim looming on the horizon like a big dragon and EA's Kingdom's of Amalur: Reckoning looking to make a name for itself early next year. Arriving at roughly the same time as Amalur is Capcom's foray into open-world high fantasy pastures, with its monster-slaying adventure, Dragon's Dogma. Seemingly taking its cue from Lost Planet 2 with monsters to be slain, Dogma goes one better with a seamless world to explore, in which you create a hero from scratch before embarking upon your epic quest with two ever-faithful pawns at your side, who you also create and customise yourself.
This was the focus for our latest preview presentation at Capcom's Gamers Day last week, as Producer, Hiroyuki Kobayashi took us through the deep customisation features, which like any action RPG worth its salt has an unfathomable range of options, with sliders to tweak, numbers to adjust and all manner of tiny details to agonise over. So, whether it's the depth of wrinkles, the size of your character's ears, their hairstyle, their posture, stance or their voice, you'll be able to while away loads of time simply getting the look of your bespoke hero and your two accompanying pawns just right. There's also face paints, scars and a whole lot more to fiddle with, and when you're finished, you'll have some questions to answer about your pawns, which helps shape their AI, personality and inclinations.
Sticking with the pawns for a bit, these non-human beings – who look like humans anyway – fall under the occupations of either mage, strider or fighter, which also dictates their characteristics and fighting style. So, the mage is a ranged attacker able to provide healing support for your party, making them nigh on essential, the strider is a speedy rogue-like class and the fighter is more of a straight up warrior and your typically aggressive, offensive, attacking character type. Once you've dispensed with all of the options, stats and customisation screens, you leap headfirst into the game as your character wanders out into the world, using rift stones to summon forth your pawns. You have a main pawn and a secondary and tertiary pawn, the latter two of which can be both be downloaded from another player or generated using offline presets.
You can also train your pawns and push them in the direction you want them to develop, and if you want to hire additional pawns, you'll find them hanging out on the streets looking for adventure. For our eyes-on preview, Kobayashi takes the female magic archer he's created into a town where there's NPCs walking around, running their daily errands and going about their regular business on a 24-hour clock, while characters with green question marks above their heads denote quests that you can undertake. Approaching a man named Steffan, we're presented with a quest to obtain a grimoire for him, but we've bigger fish to fry. Using ferrystones, you're able to leave markers lying around the rolling landscapes to fast travel between, and being an expansive open-world, you'll definitely need to fast travel in Dragon's Dogma. We can return to Steffan's quest whenever we want, but for now we Fast travel to a port crystal set by a ferrystone (bear with us here) on the map, where we take our band of heroes out into a small green valley near a place called Cutlass Cape. Here, there's a Golem to take down.
With our pawns, Ravenn, Nissa and Vergil in tow, it's entirely possible to evade the Golem if we want to, but we're here to do battle, and so battle we shall. Fighting the Golem is a long-winded war of attrition, as our hero and her pawns chip away at its health bar with the protagonist and Nissa using their magic archery talents to paint crosshairs all over the target aimed at the Golem's glowing purple runes. Unleashing an arrow rain to hit multiple weak spots, we order our pawns to “Go” moving them forward to attack, and climb all over the Golem to slash at the runes directly. “Tis gone mad!” yells one of our pawns as the Golem thrashes around. “Stand clear!” There's a column on the left hand side of the screen that keeps track of all these in-battle conversation tidbits, so you can keep tabs on everything that's playing out on the battlefield. If you find it too intrusive however, you can turn it off, and the same goes for the rest of the HUD.
Keeping an eye on our own green health and orange stamina bars, the Golem's energy gradually dwindles away, turning his glowing runes red, temporarily immobilising the beast for an all out flurry of strikes. Meanwhile, on an overhang looking down into the valley, there's a ballista that you can commandeer to fire bolts from a safe distance. You have infinite regular bolts and a small consignment of explosive shots you can fire, but the Golem is still far from falling at this point, so it's time to resort to something a little more drastic.
The magic archer has an ability that enables them to set themselves on fire, turning them into a living weapon that damages whatever they come into contact with, but there's a downside. While you have the ability active, your life steadily ebbs away, so you'll need to keep an eye on your health bar to know when to switch it off. You can unlock more unique skills like this as you progress, with different ones available for each of Dragon's Dogma's nine changeable character classes. For instance, Ravenn has the power of flight using his giant feathered wings, so he's able to stave off the harpies circling the arena of battle, by taking to the sky. It looks every bit as chaotic as it sounds with the Golem marauding as the harpies provide an aerial annoyance, but using your commands, you're able to manage everything that's going on. And if things get too overwhelming, you can always flee and come back later when you're more powerful or better equipped to take on the challenge.
Dragon's Dogma is certainly looking like an ambitious open-world fantasy, with a great deal of flexibility and depth in both its customisation and classes. It's disappointing that the game will be resolutely single-player, as the pawn system seems tailor-made for multiplayer, and goodness knows, slaying a monster with a buddy would be all kinds of fun. But alas, it's not to be. There's a genuine, palpable sense of immersion in Dragon's Dogma though, and with such a vast and interesting world, it should help in providing another high fantasy realm to escape into, once you've finished with Skyrim and Kingdoms of Amalur. There are a lot of great ideas in Dragon's Dogma, and we can't wait to explore them even further and in greater detail as it marches towards its release next year.
Dragon's Dogma is out on March 27th, 2012.