Despite being a new IP, Dragon’s Dogma is a game clearly influenced by the heavyweights of the third person action RPG genre which have come before it. Much like the first Darksiders did, it wears these colours with pride, showcasing some of the best aspects of the games it imitates. The storyline takes the familiar ‘chosen one’ route, the demo kicking off with the player’s goal being to traverse a fallen castle in order to destroy a dragon. There is an option to create and edit both the main character and a companion known as a ‘pawn’ using a system which provides many choices without the levels of customisation becoming overwhelming, something which never made much sense given that the hours of time spent crafting a character goes to waste once they are wearing full body armour. The demo provides two options: the Prologue Quest and Countryside Quest, highlighting the gameplay in interior situations and on the expansive overworld respectively.
The combat system is a cross between Capcom’s own Monster Hunter series and From Software’s Dark Souls, enabling the player to attack or block, with the shoulder buttons allowing various modifiers when held down. A dedicated jump button permits players to better explore the world, even if all they find is a nice view. Battles are fast paced and frenzied, with the AI counterparts attacking and casting spells as they shout recommendations and encouragement to the player. For example, players can watch their teammates climb onto a large foe and then follow up by pressing the grab button to also clamber onto the enemy’s back. While this is nothing new in gameplay terms, as Shadow of the Colossus explored the concept of climbing foes back on the PlayStation 2, the way Dragon’s Dogma implements the system is a great example of design. Rather than flat out telling players to scale the adversary through on screen prompts, it uses the old adage of ‘show, don’t tell’ to demonstrate the ability. Hopefully this is something that continues throughout the full release.
Visually Dragon’s Dogma is a dark game, literally. During night time, without a lantern equipped, it’s almost impossible to see anything more than a few feet ahead as the medieval setting means environmental light sources are scarce. The level and monster design brings to mind Dragon Age, Dark Souls and Oblivion, with settings ranging from crumbling walls and murky passageways to open fields and rolling hills. Dragon’s Dogma uses the night’s contrast of light and dark to keep players on their toes for whatever goblins, hobgoblins and other abominations might be around the next corner. This makes players decide whether it might be safer to adventure during the daytime. The control system is responsive and the lack of a lock on function sees the players constantly circling enemies looking for an opening, with the camera system only causing problems when airborn creatures enter the fray.
Dragon’s Dogma looks like it could be a fantastic entry into the genre, catering to veterans and newcomers alike. The promise of a Dark Souls inspired online element only adds to the anticipation.