Demo Time - Dragon's Dogma edition
Posted by Alex at 12:23 on 08 May 2012
Role Pairing Game
Here's an odd thing from the outset. Dragon's Dogma lets you create not just a main character from the ground up, but also a buddy for them. A pawn, as the game calls it, who you can even share out with other players for a while.Then they'll come back with some extra knowledge and goodies for you. Something something, extra joke about downloading pawn.
Typically I only think about vague traits when making an RPG character - maybe just what kind of person they are, not really any backstory or history. What I didn't anticipate from Dragon Dogma's pawn idea was to start thinking about the relationship between the two characters I had created - considering not just basic notions of personality but how they came to be together and why. So that's nice.
What's it to be? An old husband and wife who get the chance to reignite the passion that burned between them in their adventuring days? Two young clerks from the monster bank who shared a secret kiss after one too many flagons of ale and ran away together?
In the end, I decided to make the pawn in my own image:
And make the main character in the image of my lovely wife, who I met at the job centre last week. She has a condition okay.
A serious condition of beautiful. So now I'll be able to control her and make her control me. It is a lesson in compassion and understanding, key to building a healthy relationship. Also I will make her pick me up and throw me off a cliff. I'm not sure what kind of lesson that is, but I will enjoy it. Incidentally, I am called Keelah and she is called Se-lai (you're not allowed apostrophes) so this is all awesome, obviously.
The character creator is great as you can see. The more weird options the better if you ask me, and being able to control height, build, musculature and posture independently is much better than having a dozen sliders for jaw shape. If only there was a hormones slider like in the two Souls games it'd be just about perfect.
There's a line, I think, before which it is easy have disparaging thoughts about a game and beyond which it's easy to have defensive thoughts. Especially when the game conforms pretty tightly to genre standards as Dragon's Dogma seems to. So - it's easy for some to dismiss the game at a glance at the setting or the various familiar tropes of the genre, and that's fair enough maybe. But on the other side of the line, the setting and everything can be dismissed as a given and focus immediately jumps to see if there's anything different here beyond that. And that's where excitement starts to grow with this type of game - for me at least.
Dragon's Dogma reminded me a little bit of Resonance of Fate during the demo because of this. Where at a glance the game seems to fit perfectly within expectations of its own type of RPG, but looking a little deeper, every system holds a neat surprise. A little twist or dose of imagination that piques the interest, shows great promise.
Grabbing onto stuff in DD, for example. Such a simple, stupid thing. And yet so good - not only jumping onto big enemies, but smaller ones getting restrained for an easy attack and picked up and chucked towards your strongest fighter. Throwing explosives around, throwing NPCs in lakes, getting launched into the air by your pawn pal. For all the fireworks and flashy animations and speed and movement added to the genre over the years, it still typically defers to its roots during combat. Which is a good guy and a bad guy standing next to each other and doing actions until one of them dies.
All the jumping and grabbing in Dragon's Dogma adds physicality to the fights. I don't want to say realism but it gives everything a certain presence - certainly helped along by how the game controls, where just swinging a sword around normally feels nice and hefty - and the interactions seem natural, fitting and really engaging with it.
Probably the first time a fight in a game has made me feel feelings just based on how it played out - how it was to be a part of. The first bit of the demo ends with four of you fighting against a chimera, and it is at first kind of hilarious. Your companions are all so eager to help, running in, jumping on the back of this creature and stabbing it in the head. Getting thrown off and running right back in again, shouting advice and tactics and encouragement. It was kind of exhilarating and a bit silly - a slight mob mentality going on, happy to be part of the crowd.
But then you've chopped off the chimera's snake tail and when his goat head dies and it just kind of flops around there on its back like a big sad sock. And it doesn't feel like fair combat any more, an honourable quest - it feels like four vicious adventurers just beating the shit out of a wounded animal for the hell of it. All of Shadow of the Colossus's forced regret but entirely without subtlety and grubbier for it.
I am not without concern - for the combat especially. As the fights are manic, intense bundles of action they're also rather lacking in tactics and nuance. The only control you have over your three companions is to tell them to attack or hang back or help you out. There's no fine-tuning their tactics or asking to be healed or buffed, you just have to let them get on with it really and chip in yourself.
It might be a bit better in the full game where you can choose your group a bit more carefully - their equipment and abilities and everything - but control is always going to exist just at that high level, never down in the moment-to-moment action. Which is slightly off-putting, but something to just get used to and hope it doesn't become a problem. I am really looking forward to this one now anyway. In the other part of the demo you can grab onto a griffin and go flying and - if you wait it out - experience just how startlingly pitch black the night becomes.
But mostly I just want to throw NPCs around like I said to be honest. And jump around everywhere. I fucking love jumping.
Hello. Here some other demos I have played:
Blades of Time More like blades of ... crime. Fashion crime, because, come on now with this. There's a few interesting ideas to the gameplay, especially the time mechanic which allows you to create copies of yourself to help in battle. But ... I couldn't quite get a decent handle on it, partly because the controls are all a bit wonky. Otherwise - it's a forgettable character action game. Slice a man. Shoot another man. Heal a health bar. Do a combo. Unlock an ability. Sigh a sigh, gurgling up from the other dimension they've had to burrow into to store your exponentially swelling apathy.
Birds of Steel - I quite enjoyed this for a little while. If only because if you put all the controls and everything on realistic your ancient little flying machine becomes a wild, twitchy thing. It feels vulnerable and I was drawn into trying to keep it under control, learn the limits of manoeuvres and the subtlety required just to go where you want. I did a few missions and it was all fine, but then I suddenly lost interest during a dogfight and flew my plane straight into the sea. No interest in playing any more. Just like a real war.
Sniper of Elite V2 - This is not a good game. But ... it is also kind of the best game? Everything seems middling and well-worn, stalking around bombed out buildings during WWII. Then you shoot someone in the head and, shit, they've nailed it. Slow-motion camera follows your bullet as it flies through the air and into some poor guy's skull, shown in x-ray vision with a severity which made me cringe. It is shameless, glorifying headshot porn and I feel like I should be stern and disapproving but the feedback is so perfect I'm just quite impressed.
Shoot Many of Robots - Well it is a XBLA trial but you know. That's almost the same thing. I thought it was super boring anyway. Maybe it's better if you play it with friends but - what isn't? Move right, shoot the robots as you'd expect. Unlock new weapons, do it some more. I don't know ... pass.
There was also Ninja Gaiden 3 and a couple of driving games. Driving around in the dirt kind of games. But I took one look at all of those and wanted to get into a plane and fly it into the sea again. There's no room in my head for anything more, please, just let me go. All these demo thoughts have started overriding my memories, my conceptual understandings. What is ... love? Where is friend? Who am butt?