GameCentral gets an hour of hands-on time with Capcom’s long-awaited sequel to Dragon’s Dogma, and its AI-simulated co-op action.
We don’t often get caught out by the age of video games but realising that it’s now been 11 years since the original Dragon’s Dogma is a bit a shock. It’s probably stuck in our mind as being a new franchise because it was the fastest-selling new IP of the Xbox 360 era in Japan. That probably says more about the other contenders (or the lack of them) than it does about Dragon’s Dogma but despite that apparent success all it got was an extended edition, a Japanese-only free-to-play spin-off and, much more recently, a Netflix anime tie-in.
Why it’s taken so long to get a proper sequel is a mystery but, as ever, it’s a case of better late than never. The game debuted a nine minute gameplay trailer at the Tokyo Game Show last week, where it was also playable as a 15 minute demo. However, we got to play the same build of the game for a whole hour. It wasn’t the entire game map but despite Capcom reps hovering nearby, to make sure we didn’t go anywhere we weren’t supposed to, the map is so big it would’ve taken too long to walk where we shouldn’t.
Although it was released on Switch in 2019, it’s a long time since we’ve played Dragon’s Dogma and our memory was fuzzy on a lot of the details (including why it has such a terrible name). The basic set-up is as an open world action role-player that works like a four-player co-op title without any actual co-op. Instead, the other three characters are all computer-controller ‘pawns’, one of which you get to customise as much as your main character, with the other two being more interchangeable.
That’s all exactly the same for the sequel, with your allies chatting to you and each other as if they were real people. There’s impressively little repetition in what they say but while the dialogue itself is relatively unremarkable, even with its pseudo-medieval lexicon, the voice-acting is very cheesy. Everyone has a British accent, so it’s hard to tell how much of it is intentional – since it’s doubtful anyone British was involved in the development – but one of our pawns was hamming it up so much we’re surprised you couldn’t see the bite marks in the scenery.
Perhaps it’s just our love for Resident Evil, but we actually liked the character this gave the game, as pawns give you a high five at the end of a battle or criticise you for getting lost. Importantly, their AI seemed pretty good and they’re all useful in a fight, and in terms of more than just melee combat. The magic users were good at using buffs on themselves and others, as well as being sensible enough to try and keep back and out of range, and everyone tries to help if you’re injured.
Although we were told that recruiting additional pawns works in the same general way as the first game, by visiting a portal and making a selection – potentially including pawns created by and shared by other online players – we didn’t get to see that but there are lots of neutral characters wandering around that will also fight monsters and can be recruited into your party if you want.
A lot of the cannon fodder opponents are typical goblins and wildmen but one of the game’s big selling points is the large, almost Shadow Of The Colossus style creatures. Some of these are bosses but there’s also a lot of them just wandering about and the first one we ran into was a giant cyclops who announced itself by crashing through the forest behind us, toppling trees as it went. Hacking away at its legs works (and creates some nasty looking wounds, rather than just blandly decreasing the health bar) but the big trick with all the larger creatures is jumping on them to hack at their head or other vulnerable body parts.
This is particularly key when fighting a gryphon, which can easily fly away with you still on it. We knew this trick of old and felt our caution was justified when it suddenly flew off with one of our pawns still attached to it, who hung on for a bit before losing their grip and plummeting to the ground with perfect comic timing (they were dead, but we got to them in time to revive them).
The other gameplay elements are largely as you’d expect of a modern action role-player, with multiple classes to choose between when you start (archer, fighter, thief, and a mage planned for the final game) and additional ones available in combinations as you progress, such as a magic archer. There’s also a fairly involved crafting system, where pawns help to collect ingredients. You seem to have to figure out the recipes yourself but since one of the more powerful health items was essentially a mince pie it already has our immediate approval.
Even beyond the pawns, the first thing that strikes you about the game is how good the graphics are. Everything we played was in thick woodland and it’s some of the most realistic and beautiful scenery we’ve ever seen in a game. Although not being able to go in the water, because there’s an invisible tentacle monster in every river, seems a very odd choice. It was that way in the original but that’s definitely something that should’ve been dropped in the sequel.
In fact, the whole game feels almost more like a remake than a sequel, with very little that seems completely new – even if the relative uniqueness of the first game means that’s less of a problem than it might have been. It is new – the map is four times bigger than the original – but because it’s years since we last played it, the memory of the first game ends up keeping pace with the reality of the new game, which is a common problem with remakes.
We don’t want to understate what a beautiful game this is though, and no more so than at night. Whereas in most open world games a day/night cycle simply results in the colour palette shifting a bit, in Dragon’s Dogma it’s much more realistic. Night in a forest, far away from civilisation, is pitch black and if you don’t turn on a lamp you’ll quick end up tipping over the edge of a cliff or running into the back of a giant monster.
This is also true of caves and while you can simply set-up camp and sleep till morning, exploring at night is a real thrill, that we hope is built on with some specific horror elements. There’re already ghosts wandering around at night, that aren’t there during the day, as every point of light you spy through the trees becomes either a hope for salvation or another nameless horror to be fought.
Hopefully extended play will reveal more deviations from the original but the only other negative from the demo is that it’s obviously very early on, with a very skittish feel to the movement and a lot of problems with collision detection. Climbing monsters often didn’t work and the camera felt very wobbly on its feet, especially as there’s no manual lock-on.
We don’t want to criticise Capcom for that though as it’s now very rare for any publisher to show off a game before it’s almost complete – because they know the internet will tear it apart, as if it’s a finished product. Dragon’s Dogma is clearly not that, but we can’t wait to play it again when it is, as while it doesn’t seem a major departure from the original, that was unique enough that even after all these years the sequel still feels surprisingly fresh.
Formats: Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, and PC
Release Date: TBA
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