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Page 1 of 2Dragon's Dogma is Capcom's first attempt at producing a fantasy open-world action RPG in the vein of recent blockbusters such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but also promises to set itself apart with some unique mechanics such as its multiplayer-oriented "pawn" system. Unfortunately few of these unique mechanics are shown in the title's demo, which is limited to two narrow combat sections and a character editor, making it difficult to gauge its depth and potential for RPG aficionados.
The demo's title screen offers the chance to play a "prologue quest", toy with the character editor, play a "countryside quest" or change the game settings. The "prologue quest" puts you in the shoes of a premade Fighter character in an assault to a dragon's stronghold, and has you fighting goblins, harpies and also a respectably-sized chimera. While there is a chance to play it solo if you so desire, a pawn is assigned to help you from the beginning, and soon an option to summon two more additional pawns at a rift stone is presented, giving the player the chance to form a full-fledged four man party.
The character editor gives you the chance to customize your countryside quest's main character and main pawn's appearances, and has a negligible effect on gameplay (altering the character's weight alters their run speed, but in my limited experience the effect was hardly dramatic). Those who enjoy spending hours editing their character will find themselves at home here, as the range of options offered by Capcom is quite robust and allows for an impressive variety of faces and physical builds.
Finally, the "countryside quest" drops you with three pawns in a small section of the game's world to complete a simple quest: slaying a griffon. Unfortunately, there is practically no chance to explore since the area is surrounded by invisible walls and serves the role of a simple battle arena. Additionally, customization leaves something to be desired too: while you can change the character's appearance in the editor, your can't change their vocation, which happens to be the Strider, Dragon's Dogma's thief/rogue-like.
Combat (or how I learned to stop worrying and love throwing my pawns everywhere)
Dragon's Dogma features a very action-y combat system, which doesn't come as a surprise considering recent trends and the team's pedigree (the director's previous experiences include Devil May Cry 3 and 4 among others). Both available characters can use a light and heavy attack with their primary weapon (square and triangle on the PlayStation 3 version, X and Y on the Xbox 360, respectively, by default) and string them together in a small number of combos, but by far the most interesting tactical options available come from the usage of special skills and the grab button.
Each of the controller's bumpers is by default linked to one of your weapon, and pressing it changes your moveset so that face buttons execute special skills. These can range from covering long distances with a thrusting attack to provoking enemies into attacking you to firing three arrows at once, and consume a part of your stamina bar, which, when depleted, slows you down to a crawl and leaves you unable to attack for a bit, vulnerable to enemies' attacks.
The grab button (R2/Right trigger by default), meanwhile, gives you the chance of grabbing people, smaller monsters and objects and throw them away, or climb onto larger monsters to get to a vantage point where you can damage them more at the cost of steady stamina consumption. In practice this means that while your party hacks at goblins you might decide to get away and grab an explosive barrel to throw at them, or you might climb onto a griffon's back before it starts flying again and damage its wings until it falls back to the ground, in a way reminiscent to Team ICO's Shadow of the Colossus. Or you might simply want to grab one of your pawns and throw him or her off a cliff for the amusement factor.
A few more notes: weirdly enough for a game of this type, a dodge roll move was only available for the Strider character, whereas the Fighter character has to rely solely on the stamina-consuming dash (essentially running) and his shield. Since the demo doesn't offer the chance to play with any of the other vocations, I have no idea if the Strider is the only character with that move.
The title also doesn't offer an option for hard lock-on, making fighting a little chaotic when I found myself in between a group of enemies, and keeping track of a single particularly agile one a difficult task. While it turned out to be by no means a huge impediment, it's still something that I think would have benefited the game, and not by a small margin.
Finally, the game features one of the most fear-inducing day-night cycles I've seen since the original Gothic. Simply put, during the night it's incredibly difficult to see anything, and the lantern I had in my inventory was only able to illuminate a very small area around the character. Needless to say, this has quite an impact on gameplay, and made fighting the griffon after twilight an extremely dangerous ordeal.
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