Dragon's Dogma Is The Devil May Cry Team's Next Big Gamble

The first time I saw Dragon's Dogma, I thought that the creators of the recent Devil May Cry sequels were making a mash-up of God of War and The Elder Scrolls. And I thought that that was a bad idea, a bad use of the labour of the largest development team to ever create a game for Capcom.

The first time I played Dragon's Dogma, about four or five hours after I first saw it, weathering the dreary slowdown of a brief, rough demo, I discovered a game that feels fresh, that feels like a wonderful risk.

The game's top creators call it, "the greatest action game we've ever made" and "the type of game I've been wanting to make since I was in junior high".

It felt to me like the game that could make me feel like a great warrior-boss, the leader of a sword-and-sorcery fellowship, the captain of a crew of Dungeons and Dragons heroes, a man whose minions can help him topple great mythological beasts.

Dragon's Dogma is an early 2012 epic from director Hideaki Itsuno and producer Jiroyuki Kobayashi, who both led development on Devil May Cry 3 and 4. They've been planning the game for three years, making it for the last two, trying to create an open-world action game that Kobayashi believes is the best action game Capcom has ever created.

Capcom set up a countdown clock for the game last week, a clock that counts down to today. But last week in Miami Kobayashi and Itsuno were already showing the game in advance to reporters like me, who had to hold our impressions until now.

Their new game puts players in control of a male or female medieval hero who can be a strider, mage or fighter. The strider, who we were shown and who I later played, uses daggers for close combat and arrows at range. The hero gets four party members, all computer-controlled, who go to battle with him. Their adventure occurs in the rolling hills and amid the grand castles of a fantasy world full of ogres, dragons and cities full of merchants. At the beginning of the game, a dragon is reborn and forms some sort of bond with the lead character. That dragon is "whispering to his heart," Itsuno said through a translator, "'I need you to come to me. I need your services.'"

"[This is]the type of game I've been wanting to make since I was in junior high."

We didn't see the dragon in the interactive part of Dragon's Dogma on display in Miami. We got to see a fight against a griffin, a massive lion with the head and wings of an eagle. First, I saw the developers fight it. They started out in the countryside, briskly using their hero to kill a bunch of human-sized ogre enemies before the griffin swooped in for an attack.

Kobayashi is right to call this an action game and downplay any visual similarity it may have to fantasy role-playing games such as Oblivion. There is no evident math to the combat; it's all real-time swinging of sword, aiming of bow and casting of spells. You have heavy and light attacks and a grab move good for restraining an enemy or climbing onto a giant beast in order to crawl over it stab its weakest spots. The longer you prepare your attacks and spells, the more potent they are, he explained. Each character has special moves, such as the archer's charged arrow shot and his or her ability to rain arrows on one spot a few yards ahead. So in this one Dragon's Dogma fight shown in Miami, the strider hero, aided by a trio of computer-controlled minions, or "pawns", fought as a crew. The mage set up a healing spell limited to those standing inside a ring of magic encircling him. One of the other minions lifted an ogre enemy's carcass to use it as bait for the griffin.

The player can give some directions to the pawns, but they mostly do stuff for themselves — and they like to shout suggestions. Those suggestions are shouted through the TV's speakers and filled the left-hand side of the TV during the demo. As the developers played and the griffin battle intensified, I transcribed each shouted pawn comment, which you'd best read vigorously aloud without pausing, to get the full effect:

"Fall still!"' "Take the offensive!" "Don't let them surround you." "Fall still! "I'll draw it near." "Aim for their backs." "Take the offensive." "Slay them one by one!" "Be healed." "Take the offensive." "I'll draw it near." "Fall still." "I'll aim for its wings." "I'll aid you at once."

It was at the moment when I completed those notes that my optimism for this game reached its nadir.

I would have to play that griffin battle to understand its potential. When you're in control, the pawns' words are annoying - due to be dialled back, a Capcom rep said - but they are also helpful. The fight against the ogres, which turns into the fight against the griffin is hectic. There are ogres everywhere and your allies, as best they can, are trying to help set up the best strategies to win the fight. The shouting mage is alerting you that he just cast a healing spell and that you can rush to him for a recharge. The pawn yelling that you should "aim for their backs" is wrestling with an ogre and ready for you to rush up behind and level a killing blow. The sense I got was that this was my team, that these people worked for me and were doing their best to support me to victory. They identified the griffin's weakness - its wings - and then started trying to toss fire at it. They held up an ogre body to draw the griffin to them. One of the pawns crouched down and exhorted me to run to her so she could launch me in the air, and, at the height of my jump, I just barely missed grabbing the griffin's foot. It would have been great if I did.

I envy the millions of people in Japan who enjoy Monster Hunter. These people know the pleasure of teaming up with just a few friends to slay a big monster. It struck me that the griffin battle in Dragon's Dogma was a single-player simulation of that. It's faster paced than a Monster Hunter, but it is designed to evoke the same thrill of a band of heroes slaying a larger foe.

The game isn't all monster-fighting. We're not always tackling the biggest beasts. Itsuno told me that the pawn system is the biggest new thing in Dragon's Dogma. It's a more complex element than simply having a trio of partner characters. You can recruit the best ones from town and send them on missions to gather intelligence, affecting what you'll know. They're also the feature I'm most optimistic about. They declined to say how, if at all, the pawn system will support multiplayer, but it doesn't appear that players can band together in Dragon's Dogma for co-op. Itsuno promised some other "spin" on multiplayer.

Dragon's Dogma includes more conventional elements. It has a town full of up to 200 non-player characters, some of whom will improve your weapons or revive your health. Beyond the town the game is supposed to be open-world, which means that just as you run your way to one mission you may be distracted by an enemy attack on some other town and run to it to be the savior there instead. The game's got a day-night cycle, with new enemies showing up when it gets dark. I'm not sure how grand the game will actually be. The developers boasted that any place you see on the game world's horizon is a place you can visit, but when they zoomed out above the game's castle town, for example, it appeared to be maybe twice as big as Ezio's villa in Assassin's Creed II, the full game world we were shown grander than that but not, say, as vast as the terrain of Red Dead Redemption.

While many action games are about being a hero or anti-hero, Dragon's Dogma appears to be a stab at creating a game that lets the player feel like a leader. It doesn't seem like it's intended to make us feel like a king but rather like the best knight in a band of chatty monster-slayers. That's an experience worth watching develop, especially if it's the biggest game Capcom's ever made.


Comments

    DMC3 is the game I measure all action games against so I'll definately be picking this up.

    This looks appealing... but I'm confused.

    Early in the piece there are 4AI party members, but later there are only 3.

    Which is it?

      Ok, this article is awful at explaining it. You have a party of 4- you, your pawn (that you create yourself), and then two other pawns, who are either pre-built in the game, or ones that you download off the internet from other players. In the same way, a copy of your pawn will be uploaded to the net, where other people can hire it, and in exchange it'll gain experience, knowledge, maybe items etc that it will deliver to you when you rest at an inn.

      Watch the OXM youtube videos on the game, they explain it far, far better than this article.

    I'll keep on watching out for info on this. So far it's sounding right up my alley!

    Lots great! Any chance of a PC port please Capcom? :)

    But no single player co-op?.. Im dying for a game like this to have "true" co-op so its worth adventuring and playing through it.

      Can't remember which site it was on, but the producer said he didn't want multiplayer because it'd basically take away the adventuring and exploration element from it, you'd have to stand around waiting waiting for people to come online, you wouldn't get into the mood of the game etc. This way the game is yours and yours alone to explore.

    *Flaps arms like Yatzy*
    I WANT IT!
    *Someone calls me gay*
    YOU SUCK!

    This will be my reaction of this game when it update's it's graphics, gives me a half decent story & lets me have fun with the game play. Blow my mind Hiroyuki Kobayashi & Hideaki Itsuno and make it as ground breaking as Devil May Cry 1 or 3. Hear that Capcom, amuse me with your Asian fantasy story telling and game play genius -__-

      P.S don't get me wrong I have faith in this but the trailer is horrid and stale I just want some game play and some back story, perhaps at E3...

        There are quite literally hours of gameplay videos on youtube, Capcom have done several multi-hour playthrough videos along with a dozen video game news sites doing their own videos (the best are by OXM). Kotaku has done an awful job covering this game, that doesn't mean others have.

    Demon's Souls + Capcom-style arcade-y gameplay.
    I'll keep an eye on this.

    'Nadir' is the bottom, right? The following paragraph makes it sound like you meant 'zenith'.

    "They started out in the countryside, briskly using their hero to kill a bunch of human-sized ogre enemies before the griffin swooped in for an attack."

    Maybe instead of noting down what your pawns say, you could've noticed the half a dozen times the game clearly refers to them as goblins, not ogres...

    Anyone who wants information about this game, skip this weak article, go watch the OXM Dragon's Dogma videos on youtube. You'll learn a ton more about the game from them.

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