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Page 2 of 2Pawns and Chaos
Speaking of battles, it's worth noting that their outcome depends in large part on pawns, and delving into their role for a little bit. Pawns are the title's accompanying NPCs, otherwordly beings that respond to the Arisen commands for reasons that I imagine will be elaborated in the full game's plot. In practice, they act as henchmen, and they're extremely efficient ones too, as they constantly heal you, buff you, keep enemies at bay and inform you of the their weak spots.
In fact, pawns might well be too effective. Playing with a full party made pretty much every encounter in the demo trivial, to the point where I've been able to complete the griffon fight with the HUD turned off and without ever consuming an healing item, despite the fact that I'm hardly a pro action game player. It's possible that in the full game this will be offset by the fact that you get less experience points the more pawns you have, or it might just have been a result of the party being overleveled in the demo, but it's still worth mentioning. Also, in a small move to limit the pawn's effectiveness, getting damaged not only reduces health, but also the amount of health that can be regenerated with healing spells. However, at least in the demo, healing items seemed to be plentiful, making this mechanic nothing more than an interesting detail.
Another side effect of playing with a full party is that battles tend to become chaotic, with pawns constantly shouting, casting spells and moving across the battlefield, which can make tactical planning extremely difficult and will probably convince most players to ignore the pawns and concentrate solely on their character. The game features a cinematic camera option that is supposed to help with that, underlining the moments where an enemy is vulnerable or a pawn offers an additional option like throwing you against an enemy, but unfortunately it's very clumsy at best, since it breaks the flow of the battles and ends up often obscured by the various characters and monster present on screen, so I ended up turning it off quickly.
Presentation and Writing
Considering the demo focuses almost exclusively on combat and doesn't offer much to judge when it comes to environments, quests, plotting, etc. I'll keep this section pretty short. Those who have been following Dragon's Dogma so far, should be familiar with the game's early Dungeons & Dragons fantasy aesthetic. While the title could well be used as a textbook example of "generic", I have to admit I find the straightforward non-parodic attitude towards this kind of aesthetic almost refreshing, and its execution actually rather competent.
On the other hand, the few examples of writing available were cringe-worthy at best, and chock-full of faux-Shakespearian English one-liners that have never really managed to convince anyone. It doesn't help that the voice acting often doesn't sound too convincing, with plenty of lines delivered in an uninterested deadpan. Obviously there's very little to judge, but what I've been able to see of the game so far between footage and promotional videos, hasn't been exactly promising on this side either.
Options and Performance
Judging by the demo, Dragon's Dogma offers a robust amount of options, including the possibility to turn off almost every element of the HUD, but also doesn't include a couple of what should be no-brainers, like multiple difficulty options, and most importantly rebindable controls. The game does offer multiple preset control schemes, so I'm puzzled as to why the team didn't just give the players the chance to complete customize their controls.
As far as technical issues go, I didn't encounter any bugs besides a few technical oddities like slightly jerky animations and less than optimal camera tracking during the most hectic moments of my fight with the chimera in the prologue quest. Unfortunately, the game's framerate suffers under the weight of its own ambition, and at least on the PlayStation 3 version, struggled to keep a stable 30 fps. While by no means unplayable, it can certainly be a problem for some people, so my hope is that the code is old and that it will be ironed out by release. Feedback from forums and the footage available so far points to a whole different set of problems with the Xbox 360 version; it seems to offer a superior framerate but struggles with screen tearing.
Truth be told, I had many doubts about Dragon's Dogma's depth as a role-playing game before trying the demo, and I came away from it with the same exact doubts. As it is, it's difficult to gauge how interesting the experience as a whole will be, whether the game will hold up when exploring its promised vast world map, or just playing through its allegedly 30-40 hours long critical path. What I can say is that the demo provided an enjoyable experience and points to a game with undoubted potential. Arguably, it won't please those that found Skyrim too action-focused, or frowned at Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and its God of War-like combat, but for those that don't mind fast-paced action in their RPGs, Dragon's Dogma is a title worth keeping an eye on.
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