Capcom is known for being a risk-taker among Japanese publishers, but the newly announced Dragon’s Dogma is pushing the company out of its comfort zone even further. The RPG blends party management and action with an ambitiously large open-world setting and impressive boss encounters. I was able to play through one such encounter, against a griffin.
There wasn’t much context to the demo, aside from knowing that players start the game off after having their heart stolen by a dragon. The dragon then instructs players to follow a series of quests. That’s all I knew as my party of four descended a hill toward a cluster of goblins. They’ve either killed a large animal or stumbled upon its corpse, and they’re celebrating the occasion with dancing and hooting. Unfortunately, the festivities are about to come to a brutal end.
My AI companions (or pawns, as Capcom calls them) begin the attack, with melee fighters closing in and bashing the goblins with swords. Meanwhile, the mage holds back, taking on a supporting role. As a strider, my character is equipped with a bow and daggers. I fire off a few arrows before moving in for a more personal attack. My character is equipped with a few specialized dagger skills, such as one that propels me closer to a targeted enemy and another than lets me unleash a volley of quick slashes. The goblins are weak, and they fall quickly. A few times, my teammates manage to grab an enemy from behind, temporarily incapacitating it. They signal for me to finish them off, which I do with a slow-motion flourish.
Even though I’m playing the game by myself, the constant chatter and feedback from my companions makes it feel as though I’m accompanied by a competent party. “They’ll learn things during the fight; they may figure out its weak point before you or figure out what types of weapons work better against it,” says Hiroyuki Kobayashi, the game’s producer. “They’ll pass that information to you.”
I get a better sense of that when we’re attacked by a massive griffin. It circles above, and one of the pawns tells me to look overhead. Pressing the circle button on the PS3 controller focuses the camera in on such points of interest. The creature swoops down, knocking a few of the pawns over in its wake. It circles back and then hovers. Realizing a potential vulnerability, the mage buffs my weapons with a fire enhancement, which makes my arrows particularly effective against its feathery head. A few arrows later, and the griffin skids to the ground, writhing in pain.
As I rush in and slash at its feathery crest with my blade, its snowy white crest becomes increasingly disheveled and bloody. Eventually it rises up, stomping at nearby attackers with its fearsome claws and snapping with its beak. We pull back, and the mage begins a round of healing spells. While I can use the d-pad to issue general commands such as “help” “attack” or “come here,” the pawns seem to be doing a great job by themselves. When one gets knocked down, it calls for help and a nearby ally stops what he was doing and revives his fallen partner.
The griffin begins its hovering cycle again, but this time a pawn positions herself beneath the monster. Braving the gusts generated by the flapping wings, she calls to me and says I should use her to jump onto the beast. I follow her advice, and I’m soon scrambling up its leg, onto its back, and then finally near its neck. From there, I pound on the gryphon with my daggers. Capcom says that these climbing elements are going to be a large part of the game’s action.
“There’s no set point where you can grab and climb up onto these big bosses,” says Kobayashi. “You can grab them anywhere they have an appendage thrown out. A lot of action games where they do big boss fights, a lot of times they’ll only let you attack the shins or the ankles of the boss. They don’t really give you the feel of the size of that creature. So we’ve made it so you can climb up anywhere and attack any part of their body.”
After getting in a few more stabs, I drop down and pull out my bow. Once again, I’m given a fire buff and I use a specialized bow attack, which creates a raining fusillade of arrows. That’s enough to knock the griffin down for the last time. With only a sliver of health remaining, I rush in and finish it off with a few flourishing blows.
I played the demo a few more times after that, and it was surprising to see how much variety the battle offered. I tried things like using goblin corpses to lure the beast to certain areas, and even took a support role myself as the pawns took over. Parts of the game are a little rough still—some of the audio clips are repeated a bit too frequently, for instance—but it’s definitely an ambitious project that shows some very real potential.
Look for the game in early 2012 on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.