Dragon's Dogma Preview
Eventually, we found out more and confirmed that, somewhere within the mire of Generic Fantasy Land, there are actually a handful of interesting ideas that are worth discussing.
First among these is the way that NPC party characters are introduced in the game; as other-dimensional creatures who, though they look human, aren't. Called Pawns, these otherworldly warriors are viewed with suspicion by most of the beings in the Dragon's Dogma universe, but are mysteriously willing to pledge themselves to your service when you summon them from their extra-planar home.
The Pawns will kill for you, die for you and follow you everywhere, no matter how you behave or who you betray. This in itself fosters a closeness between you and them, as you must accept absolute responsibility for their well-being even though you know so little about them.
Who are they? Why will they follow you? Why do they keep calling you 'Arisen'? These are the questions which will prove central to the Dragon's Dogma plot, according to Capcom, and the mystery wrapped up in the answers is one of the game's draws, in our opinion.
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Even then, though, the Pawns don't seem to be implemented perfectly. You're only able to control them in the most rudimentary fashion from what we saw of Dragon's Dogma and, beyond that, their behaviour is littered with annoyances. The Pawns insist on narrating all of their own actions, for example, both in and out of combat. Our battle with the golem was no less a cacophony of status updates than the walk to the castle - 'I'm going here!'
, 'I'll attack with my bow!'
- these limited lines repeat over and over.
The presence of the Pawns also makes it hard to determine where the focus of Dragon's Dogma lies. While the presence of party members, stats and character customisation imply a full-on RPG experience, much of what we saw seemed closer to the third-person hack and slash genre, especially since you can't control NPCs as you would in other Western RPGs.
The ability to grapple with enemies also supports this idea that Dragon's Dogma is at least half an action game; players can clamber over larger enemies to strike at their (usually glowing) weak points from up close. It's a mechanic more often seen in brawlers or fighting games than in RPGs, and it could be taken to indicate that Capcom isn't as comfortable with the Western RPG mould as it may otherwise appear.
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It's possible that we've got the wrong end of the stick with Dragon's Dogma; it's entirely foreseeable that an unfocused presentation has cast the game in an unfair light. Dragon's Dogma may not be as generic-bordering-on-dull as we've seen it to be. At the same time though, we can only comment on what we've seen and heard, which is a developer fascinated with the standards of a new genre and a battle that waged far too long and too dully for no reward.
The concept behind the Pawns and some of the deeper story elements are certainly interesting and, as a singleplayer RPG, these will carry great weight. At the same time however, we've not seen anything anywhere else around the game to suggest that this is an RPG with anything new or exciting to offer.
Dragon's Dogma is due out in March 2012 and will be published by Capcom on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.