Capcom is looking to burst into the action-RPG scene with their newest IP, Dragon’s Dogma. The company’s answer to franchises like The Witcher and The Elder Scrolls, Dragon’s Dogma seeks to stake a claim in the genre with this gritty, visceral interpretation.
Handing out wearable cardboard shields to attendees, Capcom has been looking to make the presence of Dragon’s Dogma known at PAX East this weekend. I got my hands on the demonstration version of the game while attending the show, but unfortunately, this build simply raised more questions about the title than anything else.
The demo for Dragon’s Dogma starts out dark… very dark. So dark, in fact, that you’ll be prompted to light a lantern. With your surroundings lit at last, you’ll make your way forward through a linear series of caverns, doing battle with monsters such as goblins and harpies.
Right off the bat, you’ll find that the aesthetic for Dragon’s Dogma is quite familiar; you wouldn’t be faulted for being reminded of BioWare’s Dragon Age. The game really seems to lack any sort of visual identity. If you didn’t know what you were looking at, you could easily confuse Dragon’s Dogma for one of many other dark fantasy games.
Basic combat is performed through a series of light and heavy attacks. There didn’t appear to be any sort of depth with regards to chaining together light attacks into heavy ones as you’d find in some action games – light attacks simply let you unleash a flurry of blows, while heavy attacks let loose a single, powerful blow. Holding down either shoulder button gives you access to a set of special attacks with different properties. These abilities seem to be tied to your equipped items, meaning you could utilize a series of sword maneuvers with one button and perform shield-based skills with the other.
One element of combat that does help differentiate Dragon’s Dogma is the grab mechanic. Performed through the right trigger, grabbing a basic enemy will let you grapple with it or perform a unique move based on the scenario, such as ripping annoying harpies out of the sky. This especially comes into play against larger enemies like hulking bosses, which can be climbed and mounted in order to reach more vital spots. It definitely beats simply slashing away at the ankles of giant creatures.
Partway through the demo, you encounter the game’s woefully under-explained “pawns” system. Pawns are AI controlled NPCs which follow you around and assist you in combat. You can give incredibly basic orders to them with the d-pad, but other than that, there didn’t seem to be much tactical application of them. Occasionally, one of them will land a strong blow or other impressive feat, which causes the camera to cut away to a slow-motion look at their accomplishment. However, these moments don’t carry the dramatic weight they perhaps should – you have no direct control over how they act, so it’s hard to get invested in their personal successes. Pawns also seem to be devoid of any sort of character or personality, simply doling out canned, generic lines in and out of combat. It feels as if there must be more to this system, but from what was shown on the floor, pawns seem like little more than generic henchmen.
The demo concluded with a battle against a fierce chimera, which was at least a clever boss. As you might expect, the chimera comes equipped with three heads, each capable of its own attacks. By aiming attacks and strikes precisely, you can actually kill specific parts of the chimera, letting you prioritize which of the nasty threats you wish to neutralize first. This is accomplished by proper placement of blows and using the grab mechanic to climb along its back and reach the parts higher up.
All in all, it’s really difficult to judge what Dragon’s Dogma really is based on what Capcom decided to show off. The game is supposed to be an open-world RPG with strong emphasis on character customization, but this demo shows precisely none of that. Instead, the game presents itself as a rather bland dungeon crawler with mediocre combat mechanics and an all-too-familiar visual style. Here’s hoping that the actual game has far more to offer.