Dragon's Dogma Gets a Second Chance to Make a First Impression - shootist2600 Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Dragon's Dogma Gets a Second Chance to Make a First Impression

Despite conventional wisdom, I did give Dragon's Dogma a second chance to make a good first impression. Not that my initial impression was poor, but more on that later. Both fledgling attempts revealed some interesting takeaways on Capcom's foray into the action RPG genre, which is marked by some inspired choices despite the relatively unfamiliar territory for this developer. 

A confession: I spent WAY too much time staging screenshots instead of actually playing. Sure, par for the course with this phlogger, however, this title's built in ability to pause the game and take screenshots for saving to a hard drive is welcome indeed. Like Skyrim's pause screen, you get a terrific view of the action and a reason to pause often. And with a presentation that can reveal detailed textures, elaborate particle effects and fluid animation, it's often a treat.

It also means you can capture moments otherwise lost to time, like my idiocy driving God to impale me with His Holy Arrow of Antioch. Despite my usual shenanigans, this prologue does a decent job of acquainting gamers with the basic controls, no doubt leaving more complex combos for later. Typical heavy and light attacks, as well as a defend posture, provide a standard but capable suite of action moves.

Yes, Salde, a fall here would mean certain death; if only falling were certain. I'm surprisingly light on my feet. Indeed it's somewhat annoying to be warned incessantly of the danger of falling when it's impossible to. Just one of the litany of repeated dialog you'll hear from companions on your journey. If children accompanied you, you'd be guaranteed to hear "Are we there, yet?" repeated ad nauseum.

"The dragon will pay for this, sure as you draw breath," I think to myself as I examine a corpse. Only, he doesn't draw breath, so ... the dragon won't pay for this? Or, when I say "you" do I mean "me?" Like the royal "we?" I'm confused, by my own thoughts. Aging sucks. That said, the dialog, even when internal, sometimes can confound if not also amuse.

Why don't YOU touch that stone gateway to the otherworldly rift, Salde? Coward. I'm beginning to reconsider having you accompany me. Who invited you anyway? Truly, I wonder sometimes whether Capcom is having fun at gamers' expense.

Despite my better judgement I touch the stone, and these ladies appear. It's kind of unclear why this literal touchstone rains women down upon me, but beggars can't be choosers, and with Salde by my side I'll take any help I can get. In truth, pawns prove their value in short order. While I haven't progressed far enough to test drive other gamers' pawns, I like the idea of benefiting from their experience in others' games as well as your own pawn's upon returning from such adventures (despite never leaving your side).

Harpies and goblins are some of the early enemies you'll face and require different attacks. Although I didn't use my arrows against the harpies, there is an upward slice that served its purpose. A welcome feature is how companions will momentarily restrain, distract or injure foes long enough for you or others to inflict some damage. Turns out Salde isn't as helpless as his banter suggested.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that I chose an inopportune time for my nap, but the chimera has several attacks, one of which instills slumber. Really. I didn't just fall asleep, like I did last night at the computer while writing this blog.

This possible mid-level foe provided a good introduction to the grab feature that allows striders to mount larger enemies. Such a tactic enables repeat blows virtually unscathed at least until your adversary can knock you off. It's a fun option in combat and, dare I say, necessary to take down stubborn foes. However, it also points out the limits of a camera that sometimes loses perspective in combat. For instance, when the chimera would sometimes fall and roll over on me(!) the camera would zoom so close as to obscure the action.

While this battle was relatively short lived it did show off the cooperative element of gameplay. Whether random companions such as knights or your chosen pawns, they seemed to handle themselves reasonably well in a fight. Even though I forgot to issue any of the very basic commands, they did perform moves such as attack, grab/mount, cast (spells), heal, etc. on a regular basis. Indeed, I was kept alive throughout despite getting pwnd pretty soundly, as is my way. My biggest surprise was how some would mount the chimera like I did.

I'm not the brightest bulb, but this quote was kind of lost on me. Is it a self referential stab at playing video games, or at the vocation of the character I was playing as in the prologue, or the one to come in the main part of the story? Oh and why the French? So I can likewise feel inferior? I think Capcom's calling me a waste of human being. Ah, they know me too well.

SPOILER ALERT! The cutscene that follows the prologue is a beautiful sequence depicting a cataclysmic, and apparently cosmic, event. The birth or at least appearance of a celestial dragon. The ominous tone and setting reminded me of id's Rage opening of a planet killing asteroid hurtling toward the planet. And as in the latter title, that's about all the story you're given at the beginning. It's threadbare, but this is an action RPG after all, hold the story arc.

At this point you're sent to the character creation tool. Thankfully Capcom saw fit to allow gamers to load the character they created in the demo. But I chose to alter mine somewhat. In fact this tool is a joy to use and one of the most intuitive as well as comprehensive ones you'll find. Heck it even allows you to see how your creation appears in various stances or facial expressions. But the real draw is the depth of customization related to physical appearance. If you're like me, expect to spend a long time experimenting with this feature.

Despite my considerable efforts, my creation seemed to resemble a drag queen version of Molly Ringwald. Dragon Slayer? I think not.

SPOILER ALERT! You might not know it to look at this shot, but evil cosmic dragon beastie has just bested me, plucked my beating heart out of my chest and is about to snack on it. Later, a voice calls to you, the legendary Arisen, to, ahem, arise! Whereupon one can assume you're fated to retrieve your heart from the belly of said bad scaly guy. Not an epic storyline but then I'm only an hour or so into the game.

Here's my biggest beef with the game so far. I go to a great deal of trouble (in the demo at least) to create a character exactly as I want only to find that, although in cutscenes it kind of resembles my handiwork, the context the character appears in is irrespective of its gender. More precisely, I made a woman whom the game puts in fisherman's clothes and apparently with a wife and child by her side. Hey, same sex marriage is topical and I could care less about her home life, but it's more than a little jarring to experience such a disconnect.

A similar experience transpired in Dragon Age: Origins (cursed dragons!), where my grizzled older warrior creation turned out in the game to be the younger brother of a young character. Cue restart. Likewise in Dragon's Dogma I chose to start over. Now I actually didn't care that her companion was female, but more that the clothing made her seem androgynous, which was not my intent. So back to the virtual drawing board to create a more feminine variation of my character Lhyria.

This pitiful character took the words right out of my mouth. That said, I didn't expect to find Colonel Kurtz hiding out in Gransys. "The horror!" indeed.

The breadth of customization options meant I could adjust seemingly every variable to tweak my character just so. Starting with preset design elements, the game allows one to manipulate those further to their satisfaction. Of course this came in especially handy when remaking my character from scratch. From body type to facial features to stance and posture I had to overcome the game's seeming choice of an otherwise male role.

I think Lhyria 2.0 is at times more suggestive, however unintentionally, of Tyra Banks or Beyonce, which I'll take over drag queen Ringwald anyday.

At least the Fisherman's Tatters don't wear Lhyria 2.0 like they did her predecessor. She also complements her partner better.

Much has been made of the strider class and its ability to scale creatures when bringing the fight to them. Indeed it IS reminiscent of Team Ico's excellent Shadow of the Colossus and is always a welcome option whether here or in games like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. It does seem more challenging to maintain one's hold in Dragon's Dogma, however, it is not the core gameplay element that it is in the former title. But it is helpful.

Truth be told the first time I played through this sequence I might have struck at the dragon once before being struck down. I didn't realize I could actually climb it till my second playthrough so in that sense I'm grateful for the Fisherman's Tatters. If this was a harbinger of things to come in the gameplay department, I'm a happy camper.

One can choose from standard classes Fighter, Strider and Mage. Normally I would opt for a warrior class, however, knowing that Strider is the only one with the ability to scale creatures made this an easy choice. That said, the ranged combat seemed unintuitive in the demo, though with practice that learning curve should straighten.

I'm excited to get beyond this point in my playthrough FINALLY. I'm curious to try the online pawn exchange not to mention see how the reported nighttime survival horror element works. This so far is a promising RPG with some unique aspects thrown in by Capcom. It is quirky in parts though that's not always a bad thing, but whether they more grate in the long run than not I'll find out. In the meantime, I hope to share more progress next time.

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