Last year, Dragon's Dogma was announced and I didn't have very nice things to say about it. Looking at the situation in its context, when I started hearing about it, we still had yet to see Skyrim, Mass Effect 3, Amalur, Final Fantasy 13-2, Dark Souls, The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition, Xenoblade Chronicles, and plenty other huge games people were excited about. This past fall, winter, and spring we have been spoiled with a bounty of great games to pick from, not just RPGs but just games in general. So when I heard that Capcom was designing their own take on the open-world-fantasy-action-RPG, I thought to myself, "Really? Why? Do they even know how to make this kind of game?". When people think about Capcom they think about fighting games and action games like Street Fighter and Devil May Cry, they don't think about open world fantasy RPGs.
There's so many other developers out there doing this type of game and doing it quite well, so Capcom's effort seemed like a waste of time to me. I wrote it off and didn't look back. Now, Dragon's Dogma is about 13 days from launch and I've completely changed my attitude towards it as I've been doing my research.
Director Hideaki Itsuno claimed that his influences when making this game ranged from Dragon Quest, to Elder Scrolls, and Fable. The game is a Frakenstein of influences and even shows elements from Dark Souls, Breath of Fire, Resident Evil, Monster Hunter, and Shadow of The Collossus. With so many inspirations pouring into the design team's brains, and the fact that they're not known for making open world RPG games, I was worried that this would be a mess. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the game is apparently turning out more polished, well thought out, and fun than I ever expected it to. I've seen the developer diaries, played the demo, and even though I have some issues with it, the game still gets me very excited and hyped.
I'm a big fan of character personalization, open world games (open level design and quest design), and I'm also a big fan of action RPGs (where your character's progression is geared towards making him or her a better fighter). Everybody has their own stories about how they got into RPGs. I got into RPGs at large because of Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance, Champions of Norrath, and Gauntlet. Ever since those games got me into this genre, I've been looking for newer games to take up that mantle and give me similar experiences. I really enjoyed LotR: War in the North, but it wasn't exactly what I was looking for.
There's always a catch with these kind of RPGs. War in the North has great co-op, brutal combat, and loot collecting (most satisfying combat system I've played in a Snowblind game), but the campaign is short and the story sucks more or less. Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath had great co-op play, interesting game worlds, and amazing item crafting, but the combat in each of those games doesn't hold up anymore. Walking up to each enemy, mashing the attack button, seeing the same two animations play over and over, and beating bosses by only hacking at their shins worked for me back in those older games but I expect more exciting and diverse combat in 2012. If you're going to charge full price for a game, you better be ambitious and put full price effort into it. I'm not going to go soft on these types of games just because I'm nostalgic for them and love them.
Dragon's Dogma appears to have some of that ambition I'm looking for
When I played the demo the first thing I was impressed by was the character creator. I love creating characters and personalizing them. Oblivion, Fallout 3, Mass Effect, Fable, and Dragon Age 2 have had pretty okay (at best) character creators and personalization options, but they were much more limited. Many times in RPGs you can only personalize your face and nothing else, which sucks. In Dragon's Dogma you can tinker with your height, weight, face, head, torso, arms, legs, hair, eyes, scars, makeup, level of musculature, masculinity/femininity, imposing/meek stance, and even the size of your BOOBS (hooray for boobies) just to name a few things. I for one love all these options because it makes me feel like I have more ownership over my character. The size and build of your character is also said to have an effect on their statistics, so it's not just a superficial aesthetic preference.
The combat was the next thing I wanted to check out, and it was a mixed bag. My character had some pretty good weight and speed. All the small things like the speed you swing weapons, the hit detection, sound design, and the animation of the various movement and combat actions are pretty solid. The button layout is easy to get a hang of and the controls are pretty responsive. The game will offer melee, magic casting, and ranged combats but I spent the demo using just melee and it was fun. All games are repetitive regardless of what style and genre they are, but if you do all the small things well enough, it can make the repetition fun for people and nobody will use the term as a detractor. Repetition doesn't make games boring, boring gameplay makes games boring, and Dragon's Dogma has pretty fun and exciting gameplay so it would seem. However, the demo is also pretty rough in some areas. Most of all the level design, AI, UI, and the Chimera boss battle.
Amazing character model and concept, but the Chimera didn't make for a convincing beast. I ended up feeling sorry for the poor thing, and I'll explain why. Make sure Sarah Mclachlan doesn't see this
In the demo there were a lot of small things that add up to being uncomfortable or annoying. The level design in the crypt leading up to the Chimera was claustrophobic and didn't mesh well with the camera perspective, level of action, and amount of characters on screen. There's no point in making an "open-world" game if the dungeons are too claustrophobic and provide inferior exploration. The tight hallways always had a gang of people (My Pawns and myself) trying to scurry through them and exploration itself felt way too busy, let alone when a battle had to occur in those tight spaces. We got attacked by some giant white bird at one point and it was a goddamn mess trying to get the camera to find the bird and maneuver around while my party members were shooting spells at it and everybody was talking constantly.
The AI was a problem because everybody talks way, way too much. They all talk at the same time, and each line of dialogue from NPCs registers its own text box in the middle of the user interface. To make matters worse the text boxes look too much like a quest update or objective update from other games so everytime somebody said something and their respective text box showed up with a colored bullet next to it I thought a new objective was popping up or maybe I had collected something interesting as I was exploring. Nope, just constant NPC banter. The NPCs in Fable are notorious for how talkative and annoying they can be, I don't want Capcom to program themselves into the same situation with Dragon's Dogma. The AI speech wasn't only distracting from an auditory perspective, but visually as well. It detracted from the gameplay and bothered me when I should be watching the on-screen action and environment.
Once we finally got to the Chimera, the messy aspects of that particular boss encounter were blatant and couldn't be missed. It was a clusterfuck in that boss room if I've ever seen one. The Shadow of The Collossus influence plays out in boss battles because the bosses are very large and you can use the Grab button to climb up onto various body parts of the boss and hack away at it if you choose to (you don't have to). Well, everybody in my lynch mob was literally crawling on this poor Chimera the entire time like a bunch of baby pigs crawling around a mother pig to get a piece of the nipple action. The beast didn't really get to do it's thing, at all. The majority of the time it was bogged down with people riding it and hacking it. It was made up of a lion head, snake tail, and goat section on its back. My buddies slayed each section of the Chimera on their own and I was left trying to deal with the thing fair-and-square (i.e. head on). It got pillaged and never put up much of a fight. This isn't indicative of all the boss battles in the game, as I'll get to in a second, but when it comes to these smaller bosses, the "battle" seems to become a tragedy. The difficulty suffered, the animations seemed to suffer, the AI suffered, and I ended up feeling bad for the dead Chimera.
This is a much better boss battle than the Chimera. Falcon Punch!
A second boss battle comes with the demo seperate from the Chimera's crypt and it's much better. You get dropped into an open field (much appreciated after the claustrophobic, overly-busy crypt prior), you get to dominate some goblins, and then a giant Griffin shows up and regulates the shit out of everybody.
The Griffin battle was much more difficult, epic, and dynamic. The beast would fly around out of reach of melee weapons, and often swoop down to unleash a variety of attacks on your party and you all happen to be scattered. You could use ranged attacks while it was airborne, but when it came and landed temporarily to attack, you really needed to fight to keep it grounded by shooting the wings, or you could go all out and climb onto the beast itself and hack away at it. I quickly became afraid of the Griffin (as it should be in a boss battle), it engaged my survival instincts, and it was a bit chaotic at first. The Griffin was dominating my Pawns and myself and I was hiding behind rocks, running desperately, and trying to figure out a strategy. Some of my Pawns would die occassionally and I would run to revive them before the beast swooped down again.
Eventually, after many failed attempts, many health herbs, many revives, and grinding the bird's health bar down, I got lucky and was close enough to climb onto the Griffin's body before it took off. As I held on for dear life and hacked at him with my sword, the bird flew up and we both lifted into the sky like Icarus. My Pawns were below, shooting at it and scrambling around, it was pure shenanigans everywhere. I was suprised at how epic things got, how special the little moments were, and how cool this game felt. Games are nothing if they aren't fun, and that was pretty fun.
Will I buy it or not?
As I said, in the demo there are some pretty annoying issues with some core design elements (level design, AI, and UI). Demos aren't indicative of final quality, but the game is 13 days from launch, will anything be different by the time the retail build is in my hands? Do other people even have the same gripes as me, did my issues ever come up in playtesting? I can't know, but considering what I do know: This game looks pretty fun. It came out of nowhere, and was developed by a company I didn't think would ever make a game like it. I wrote it off at first only to become incredibly interested in it. I love my action RPGs and open worlds as well, maybe this will be perfect for me.
Capcom's suddenly made an open world fantasy RPG? It's looking pretty fun? It pulls influence from a baker's-dozen other cool games? I get to customize my character to no end? I get to climb all over huge beasts and slay them hard? Pre-ordering it gives me access to the Resident Evil 6 demo? I could've had a V8?
Even if this game turns out to be a mixed bag and it's not so perfect (which is likely), it's still worth checking out, and I don't think I can miss this. I have to play this crazy thing at some point, I have to see what they did. I don't where this game will fit in on my priority list, but I want to play this before too long.
What do you guys think of the game? Yay or Nay? Did you play the demo, did you see your own pros and cons with it?