Pimped out

The Dogma

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 | 01:53 AM | by

When I downloaded the demo for Dragon's Dogma yesterday, I was fully prepared to hate the game.

I didn't start out wanting to hate Dragon's Dogma. In fact, when it was first announced it was being thrown around with phrases such as "similar to Monster Hunter", which made me very hopeful and excited to see how the game would turn out.

Then somehow over the course of a few trailers and some screenshot releases, I started to get very skeptical about the game. It wasn't that it looked terrible, but it did look fairly... generic. And a little sloppy around the edges. It was looking less like a cross between Monster Hunter and Demon's Souls, and more like a watered down Elder Scrolls. My enthusiasm for the game had started to wane, and I'd all but written it off as a day one purchase. I downloaded the demo yesterday hoping it would be bad enough that I could get a comic out of it.

And while I did indeed get a comic out of the game, it was not born of any sort of dislike of the experience. Quite to the contrary, I found myself playing the second portion of the demo, the Griffin hunt, three more times because I was having so much fun with it (and it was so short).

Sitting here writing this blog post, I still feel like it's a game I shouldn't be as suddenly excited about as I am. The demo was a little rough around the edges. The menu music is unbelievably silly. I've seen early previews talk about how glitchy the game can be.

And yet I'm now seriously considering preordering it. In an attempt to elucidate my sudden change of heart, let me walk through the individual components that I enjoyed so much.

First of all, the game greets you with a surprisingly versatile character creator. I know that for some people this is of little interest, but for me, a robust character creator is always a very good first impression. Dragon's Dogma not only lets you alter and adjust every aspect of your character, but it also lets you build your main Pawn (the primary NPC adventurer you'll have at your side for the entire game). All of the standard options are featured, hair, noses, scars, makeup. Dragon's Dogma takes it up a notch in a couple of places. It lets you choose your body type, from nearly a dozen different options. This is an option that many games, most noteably Skyrim, overlook.

Sure, in Skyrim you can create an old person, or a lizard person. But they're going to have the exact same body as everyone else. In the entire game. You can't make a lizard person in Dragon's Dogma, but if you want to make an old person, they'll actually look frail and old. The ability to mix and match proportions will undoubtedly make for some ridiculous looking characters, but it also gives you a lot of flexibility to create unique players. You aren't locked into one perfectly proportioned body.

I also enjoyed that there were dozens and dozens of hairstyles, and that they were all available to both men and women. Sure, it leans towards the silly, but a successful character creator (in my opinion) removes as many restrictions as possible. Who is the game to tell you that your hulking barbarian male can't wear pigtails? Or that your hot warrior princess can't sport a mowhawk?

So that was the first little bit of "Dragma" that started to turn my opinion around. I didn't expect what I had perceived to be a generic game to allow you to make such a variety of different characters.

The surprises continued in the short demo itself. While the combat is a little hectic, and a little sloppy at times, it was undeniably fun. You have two attacks, along with two modifier buttons that open a whole slew of special attacks (apparently depending on what kind of weapon you have equipped).

My Pawn and I encountered a band of goblins, and as we fought them, I was legitimately amazed to see my NPC companion actually helping. He was fighting alongside me, and not just in that totally derpshit, braindead way that they do in other games. He would even go so far as to grapple a struggling goblin, trying to hold it still so that I could line up a perfect sword thrust to finish it off.

The enjoyment doubled when I came across my first big monster, a Chimera. This battle (and later against the Griffin) are where I got my first taste of "similar to Monster Hunter". It was really more like a cross between MH and the bigger bosses in Demon's Souls, with a little bit of Kingdoms of Amalur thrown in. And this was also the first time I tried out the game's grab mechanic.

If you've ever played Shadow of the Colossus, then you already have an idea what I'm talking about. Dragon's Dogma lets you grab, pretty much any time you want. During the fight with the Chimera, after it charged past me, I grabbed onto its fur, scrambling my way up onto its back where I hacked away at the giant snake that passed for its tail as the beast thrashed about trying to dislodge me.

Later during the Griffin fight, I perched on a rock and waited for it to fly low enough, jumping and grabbing on as it passed. Then fifty feet above the ground I clung to the flying best as it whipped around the skies trying to get rid of me, while my companions fired arrows at (and at me, now that I think about it...).

The grappling can be a little buggy, I noticed... at least in the animation department. Still, that didn't matter. It was outright fun. It was the proverbial cherry on top of what was already a decently solid combat system (the somewhat awkward button layout not withstanding).

Grabbing isn't just for climbing monsters either. Once I found the grab button I would occasionally grab my companions, hoisting them up over my shoulder and carrying them around for a bit. Why? I dunno. Because it was amusing. I also found that I could grab goblins and hurl them at rock. That was amusing as well.

Unfortunately the demo doesn't give you much in the way of non-combat gameplay... by that I mean you don't interect with any NPC questgivers, there's no real cause to mess much with your inventory or loot, etc. And while I found I was having a lot of fun with the demo, that's not to say there weren't some annoyances.

First and foremost, your companions never shut up. They are always chattering away in the background. Worse than that, for some reason Capcom decided that everything they say needed to be immortalized in text, and so the left half of your screen is always cluttered with the stupid, random, pointless shit your Pawns are saying. So do yourself a favor, before you play the demo, go into the options and turn off "pawn subtitles." You'll thank me. Actually on second thought, play the demo with them on, back out and then turn them off so you know exactly how much you'll be thanking me.

As I mentioned above the controller layout is a little wonky. I didn't notice if you can change the buttons. It isn't terrible, but it takes a little getting used to.

The graphics are... good. They aren't really cutting edge... I think Dark Souls looked crisper. But everything is solid enough, and there are quite a few little touches I noticed that really impressed me.

The Pawn system is very intriguing, another thing the demo only momentarily glances over. I think that's a shame since the Pawn system is really clever, and a feature people should be aware of. It's basically the next evolution of Demon/Dark Souls message system. Everyone who plays the game creates their character, and their one main Pawn.

Your main Pawn adventurers with you at all times, but you can add up to two more Pawns to your party. Where do you get these Pawns? From other players.

You can make your main Pawn available online in "the rift", where other players will be able to hire them to join their party. While adventuring with another player, your Pawn goes stronger and collects knowledge and tips about the dungeons and monsters it faced. Knowledge and tips that they'll pass on to you.

Apparently you can also rate Pawns, give them presents, and teach them things. I loved the way Demon/Dark Souls was a solitary experience, but still made you feel connected to all the other people playing the game. I'm excited to see the Pawn system in action.

With TERA launching this weekend, and Diablo 3 a couple of weeks after that, I certainly had not anticipated needing to find time for yet another fantasy dungeon crawler in my schedule. Yet I'm finding myself cautiously optimistic that Dragon's Dogma will be one of those games that is just inexplicably fun despite its flaws (and I am under no illusion that Dragma won't have its fair share).

I wish the demo were longer, so that I could get a better grasp of the game, but I will say that as short as it was, it accomplished something that the trailers could not. It made me want to play Dragon's Dogma.