If Dragon Age II, The Witcher 2, Dark Souls, and Skyrim has shown us anything, it’s that we haven’t been short of open world fantasy experiences these past 12 months. Soon to join this merry band of games is Capcom’s Dragon’s Dogma, an adventure that promises to be as robust in size as these other titles while delivering a deep combat system that is more than just hacking away at a dragons’ ankles.

The developer/publisher certainly isn’t a newcomer to the genre. In fact, Dragon’s Dogma feels like a new sister IP to Capcom’s Monster Hunter series. The latter franchise has been a blockbuster in Japan but has seen mediocre sales in the States. Dragon’s Dogma looks to cater to more Western tastes, especially considering its open world and how it handles questing. But it also has a form of asymmetrical multiplayer that seems inspired by Demon Souls, but is technically different from From Software’s advice-based design.

It’s daunting to think that it could potentially be another 200+ hour playthrough like Skyrim, but we managed to get a headstart with an advance build. Better yet, Capcom has allowed us to capture direct-feed video of our play session, which you can check out yourself in this video slideshow.

(Please note that is footage has been taken from a PREVIEW BUILD of Dragon’s Dogma and various visible technical issues may be fixed in the retail version of this game.)

More than killing giants 

For those of you who have kept up with the older Dragon’s Dogma videos Capcom has allowed on YouTube and other video sites, you will have noticed the strong emphasis on boss fights. These battles showcase the game’s Shadow of the Colossus influence of mounting or climbing these enemies, making the direct approach more direct than ever.

The clip above shows love to the smaller adversaries in the game, with a bit of underground exploring thrown in. Capcom’s no stranger to the undead and this video shows a few of them, as well as the classic fantasy RPG mainstay, skeletons. These are certainly some of the more aggressive skeletons I’ve ever encountered, wasting no time in making bladed charges.

If you look closely, you’ll also get a hint of the combat depth, where a pawn (one of your NPC party members) will occasionally restrain an enemy from behind the back, so you can have an easier time attacking that foe.

There actually is an enemy in the end of the video that’s large enough to mount but he’s much smaller than the dragons, cyclops, and golems of the game. Yet that doesn’t mean he’s any less ferocious.

Open world is open


This clip shows the party on its first mission after visiting the main castle of the game (about three hours into my playthrough). They’re on their way to investigate a lead involving a cult.

This video gives just a hint of how expansive Dragon’s Dogma is, where veering off the beaten path increases your odds for encountering challenging enemies. It should make for some efficient opportunities to level grind, unless you’re underleveled like I was. Like some other open world fantasy games, there’s no shame in retreating. This encounter hints that Dragon’s Dogma will most likely be one of those games where taking one’s time to immerse yourself in the world and accepting every quest will minimize the need to grind.

The pawns continue to speak their mind, often with practical advice. As much as I wanted to leave the harmless grazing ox alone, one pawn did remind me of the curative benefits of cattle meat. Oh well, such is the cycle of life.

Into the catacombs

It seems cliche that a cult would take residence in an ancient catacomb, but that’s where our quest lead took us too. Conveniently, a pawn stone was found right outside the underground tomb, which gave me the opportunity to optimize my party. Being able to swap out NPCs seems to run counter to the traditional RPG notion of character attachments and allegiances, but since Dragon’s Dogma paints these party members more as loyal servants and not as actual friends, it might be ok to put the best available warriors as a priority.

The catacombs provided a very traditional assortment of challenges and traps, including more undead and cursed coffins, much of which could have been avoided had I not been so curious (but where’s the fun in keeping stuff unopened?). My party also ran into some of the more combustible enemies. I’ve played enough zombie games to know when someone is about to blow up in a harmful ball of flame; too bad my frontline pawns were clueless to the telltale signs. It might’ve helped if I were quicker with my d-pad-based party commands. If I had yelled, “Come!” sooner (pressing d-pad down), maybe my melee-centric fighters could have avoided the explosion.

Tentacle infestation 

Here’s one example of a boss too small and skinny to climb. These guys appear relatively early in the game and this fight is a perfect example of how the direct approach isn’t always the best strategy. In fact, I was surprised to learn the solution to this battle, which did run counter to some of the pawns’ comments during the fight.

Perhaps this was one of those cases where it would’ve benefitted to have the pawns take on this quest ahead of time. One of the best features of the pawns is in sharing them with your friends while you recuperate at an inn. If any of your friends happen to take your pawn on a successful mission you haven’t beaten yourself, your pawn will have a clearer picture of how to accomplish the mission since they technically have gone on that mission already.

Included in this clip is a brief glimpse into Dragon’s Dogma’s inventory system, particularly with the curative items in preparation for this boss fight. Note the ‘combine’ option, which is not unusual for a fantasy RPG, but is also reminiscent of Capcom’s item combining feature from Resident Evil.

Alright, one dragon battle

This drake isn’t intended to be one of the harder classes of dragon in the game, but he’s a tough one nonetheless. In fact, we enlisted the gameplay skills of Dragon Dogma lead designer Kento Kinoshita who ends up playing in this entire clip. This drake isn’t your standard issue fire-breathing dragon; if you watch closely, you’ll notice that it has the power to brainwash its foes.

The Dragon's Dogma free playable demo will be available April 24th on XBox Live