Capcom’s upcoming action RPG, Dragon’s Dogma, is a slightly unusual beast. As I’m sure that many of you have tried the recently released demo, you’ve probably started to make your own conclusions about the game, but you may be surprised to discover that there’s more to it than you’d think. After playing the demo myself, I was left feeling a little unsure about the game, but thanks to the awesome folks at THQ, I was able to get some hands-on time with a more complete build of the game on Wednesday. The preview version that I played was the same as the one that was shown at Capcom’s Captivate event three weeks ago. In terms of how close it is to the final version, I was told that it is comparable to the demo.
Once the controller was in my hands, I found myself standing in a large village area, with NPCs walking by as they went about their daily business. Turning the camera to see behind my character, I could see three party members who were following me around. One of these, a lady named Abby, was my very own pawn. For those not familiar with Dragon’s Dogma‘s pawn system, it’s one of the game’s main innovations, and a big part of the gameplay. In fact, your pawn will often prove to be more important than your main character, and here’s why. The pawn system is something you’ll be using from the second you start up the game, as you will be asked to create your own custom character before you get started. This is where the game’s surprisingly robust character creator comes in, and you can modify pretty much every aspect of your character that you can think of. Gender, height, weight, proportions, muscle mass, hair style and colour, eye shape and colour, nose, ears, scars, makeup, mouth, it’s all here. Most interestingly though, you can also choose your character’s base body type, something that’s not seen often. There’s lots of different options, ranging from skinny to fat, wrinkled or young, down to the point that you can create a frail looking old lady if you so desire. Another interesting note is that choosing a gender doesn’t lock out the opposite gender’s hairstyles, so your warrior lady can have a mohawk if you like. This kind of detailed control means that there will be plenty of unique characters running around.
Once you’ve created your pawn, they will follow your main character wherever they go as you explore the game’s huge open world. You can have two additional pawns in your party, but where do you get them from? The Rift. Accessing the Rift is as simple as visiting one of the many Rift Stones scattered throughout the world, and once inside, you’ll be able to summon new pawns. The most interesting part is that, if you’re connected to the internet, these pawns will come straight from other people’s games. You’re able to offer up your main pawn for hire at any time, and if chosen by another player, they will literally travel to their game and join them on their quest. As they travel with another player, they will continue to level up and grow stronger, as well as learn new things about enemies. I’ll go into that part a bit later. Once inside the Rift, you’ll be able to search through a huge list of pawns (if you’re offline, the game still has a large range of pawns to choose from on the disc), and when you select one, they will appear before you. You’ll be able to view lots of info about it, such as what equipment in currently has as its stats and health. If you don’t like it, you can send it back. If you choose it though, you’ll hire it by paying a certain number of Rift Crystals, one of the game’s currencies. The higher the level of the pawn you want to hire, the more Rift Crystals it will cost you. You can earn Rift Crystals by hiring out your own pawn, and the more he/she gets hired, the more you will earn. As such, building up your pawn and giving it a unique look is rather important. You can also earn some extra Rift Crystals as you travel, with a chance of getting them off all enemy kills, especially from the bigger and tougher ones. You’ll also sometimes get them as quest rewards. While recruiting, you can narrow down your search for pawns, and even search by name, so you’ll be able to hire your friends’ pawns if you wish.
Getting back to what I was doing, I left the village by using a ferrystone, an item that allow you to instantly warp to various locations. You’ll only have a limited supply of these, but they will definitely come in handy when you really need them. After a few seconds, I found myself in an open plains area, with a few hills visible in the distance. Heading for the nearest one, I passed by a group of goblins, who were standing around in a group. They quickly attacked my party. My character was equipped with a short sword, and by pressing the left bumper on the Xbox controller, I was able to raise my shield and block their first attack. Pressing the X button repeatedly allowed me to execute a series of light slashes, while the Y button made my character draw back his blade and perform a much heavier strike which sent the goblin stumbling backwards. As in Demon’s Souls, there’s a good amount of weight to your character, and his movements felt quite natural. While you’ve only got two attacks to choose from, there are a couple of modifier buttons which allow you to execute special attacks, depending on the weapon you have equipped. My pawns held their own during the battle, defending well and striking aggressively when they had the chance. At one point, a pawn even managed to get behind one of the goblins and restrain it, allowing me to step in and deal a heavy blow. With the goblin corpses laying at our feet (Dragon’s Dogma features a largely persistant world, so there’s no dissapearing enemies), we picked up the items they’d dropped, and moved on. Dragon’s Dogma has a robust loot system, with each defeated enemy dropping materials (which can be used for a couple of purposes), items, or money.
Heading to the top of the hill, we quickly spotted a much larger new enemy. A huge rock golem was standing there, and he didn’t look happy as he started to advance on us. The golem took a few swings at my pawns, sending a couple of them flying, and so I decided not to get too close when it came to attacking. Opening up the inventory screen, I looked through the various items, and then equipped my character with a bow. After a brief pause for loading, my warrior had the bow in his hand, with a quiver full of arrows now on his back. Holding the left trigger on the controller made him take aim, with a targeting reticule appearing in the middle of the sceen as my view zoomed in a little. Pressing the right trigger loosed an arrow, which proceeded to hit the golem and simply bounce off. Darn. My pawns were trying to fight the golem in the meantime, and having limited success. One of them called out to me, telling me to aim for the circular discs on the golem’s body. Taking a closer look, I could see several small discs, and quickly fired an arrow at once of them. A small piece of the golem’s health, which was displayed at the top of the screen, disappeared.
The pawn’s advice was good, and I was able to quickly deal heavy damage to golem, even being able to stop some of its attacks by hitting the discs at the right time. After taking a certain amount of damage, the golem froze in place for a few seconds, and then went on a rampage. Charging at my party and swinging its arms wildly, I had to run in order to avoid its assault. Clearly, my bow was not going to be so useful now, so I switched back to my sword. Another interesting feature of Dragon’s Dogma is the grabbing system. Pressing the right trigger while walking or running will allow your character to grab a nearby object or enemy, and that’s exactly what I did with the golem. As it charged past, I managed to grab on to one of its legs, then climb further up its body. It’s a system that is highly reminiscent of the PlayStation 2 game Shadow Of The Colossus, both in terms of appearance and mechanics. As you climb, you have the option to attack the various body parts of your enemy, and in this case I went straight for the discs. Pressing the X button repeatedly, I stabbed the nearest disc again and again, dealing heavy damage as the golem continued to flail around and try to throw me off. It eventually succeeded, but not before I’d knocked off a fair chunk of health. On the ground, my three pawns were continuing to attack the golem as well as they could, and I noticed that over time they were managing to hit the discs more and more often. They shouted out that they’d learned something new about the enemy as they did so, and this is where another interesting pawn mechanic comes in.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, one of the rather clever things about Dragon’s Dogma‘s pawn AI is that they’re able to learn from their experiences. Repeatedly fighting the same monster will teach them about its weaknesses, and they will go to strike them faster the next time you fight. This makes them increasingly effective in battle, and I have to say that it’s a really great idea. I could see this process going on in realtime as we fought, and all of this knowledge will accompany a pawn as it travels to other players’ games, where it will continue to learn. When it returns, it will retain any new knowledge, and may bring back items with it – some of which can be quite rare.
With the combined effort of my main character and pawns, the golem soon fell. The whole party was rewarded with a large amount of experience points, as well as some useful items. The act of defeating the golem also fulfilled the requirements for one of the game’s many quests, and so we made our way back to the village to pick up the reward. I had to stop there, but overall, my experience with the game was very positive. Controls are tight and responsive, your character has a good amount of weight to it, the pawn system is very clever, there’s a solid looting system, and a huge world to explore. The graphics are nothing to get excited about, but are functional, and certainly not ugly. Dragon’s Dogma will give you the option of installing the full game onto the PS3/Xbox 360 hard drive, which (according to THQ) will improve load times, draw distance, and texture quality. The final game looks like it’ll be an enjoyable entry into the RPG genre.
Dragon’s Dogma will be released on the 24th of May in Australia for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. If you pre-order it at EB Games, you’ll receive 2000 bonus Rift Crystals, as well as early access to Capcom’s Resident Evil 6 demo.