Dragon's Dogma hands-on preview

The first look at Capcom's open-world slay-em-up

Without a doubt, Capcom knows how to craft a great linear experience. Hits like Devil May Cry and Resident Evil place you on a collision course with inescapable enemies and inevitable plot points, rarely allowing you to deviate from their well-structured (but predetermined) paths. With Dragon’s Dogma, Capcom hopes to repeat the same fervor and atmosphere those games are known for, but in an open-world medieval landscape bustling with side quests and, most importantly, titanic mythological monsters.

The odd name is actually quite literal – an ancient dragon has returned, and it’s chosen you as its pupil to fill with arcane dogma. What those teachings will be and why the dragon chose you, however, remain a mystery for now; instead, our first look focused on combat, specifically a battle involving your three AI teammates (called pawns) and a really pissy griffin.

Grabbing foes, even those as large as a griffin, is one of the key combat features in Dogma. Any enemy, regardless of size, can be latched onto by holding the right trigger. When grappling small monsters, you merely restrain them; against large creatures like the griffin, you can nab any point of the body and crawl all over the bastard, stabbing it until it either dies, crashes to the ground or bucks you off.


It sounds a bit like Shadow of the Colossus or God of War III, except it’s all free flowing – no prompts, no specific path, just a giant obstacle you can grab at will. This made the ensuing battle with the griffin feel much more involved and strenuous than typical boss fights, where you’re usually hacking away at their heels, or the boss continues to act out its pre-programmed attacks even though you’re slashing it in the face. Holding down RT, desperately clinging to a flying beast as it thrashes dirt and debris everywhere, was a thrilling moment – we can’t wait to see how it works with other, larger monsters.

The battle is not yours alone though – you have three customizable AI partners (called pawns) that come in three flavors: fighter, strider and mage. Interestingly, mages do not have magic points or limitations on their spells; instead, the power and duration of a spell is determined by how long the mage chants, replicating how a “real” mage would presumably handle a powerful spell. Spend more time preparing a fireball, for instance, and it erupts into a wall of flame. As for the other two, striders use daggers up close and arrows from a distance, while fighters… fight. With swords and stuff.

Above: The Strider main character, with a mage pawn in the distance casting a fire spell

Each pawn can be also ordered to attack, defend or gather around your location. Standard team controls, sure, but what sets the pawns apart is how integral they are to the action. While you’re busy diving out of the way of the griffin’s swoop attacks, the pawns may notice a weak point or even offer specific assistance. In one case, a pawn motioned for us to come over so he could alley-oop us into the sky, where we grabbed the griffin mid-air and dragged his beaky ass back to earth, sinking flaming daggers into his back the whole way down. Cool stuff.

The pawns played an even more important role in our second round with the griffin. Instead of assisting us into the air, one found his way onto the griffin’s back and called for us to shoot its wings with arrows. Doing so sent the monster back to the ground, where our mage conjured a massive explosion that rattled the screen and set the whole damn griffin ablaze. Boom, quest complete.

Above: Truly, riding on the back of the griffin was the highlight

Granted, when the pawns had all the fun, it did kind of feel like all the best stuff happened without us. But we can’t deny how chaotic and exciting the experience was, even when we didn’t deliver the final blow. Now, if the pawns were co-op friends instead of AI, that’d be another story, but Capcom withheld multiplayer talk, stating Dragon’s Dogma would have a “spin” on traditional multiplayer.

Next page: A look at the towering hydra boss, plus more details and screens

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