Capcom recently surprised us with the reveal of Dragon's Dogma: an open-world fantasy action RPG from the team behind Devil May Cry IV. Hideaki Itsuno and Hiroyuki Kobayashi pledge to merge the typically beardy fantasy world of dragons and dungeons with technical, stylised combat... and even though it's still early days for the fledgling franchise, Dragon's Dogma is already an absolute blast at this early stage. In addition to the Gryphon's Flight boss fight already demoed at their Captivate event, Capcom brought along a brand new level to show off the squad interaction and close quarters fighting in action.
Let's start with a brief recap in case you're unfamiliar with the premise. Dragon's Dogma allows players to choose from a selection of character classes and descend into a sprawling open world in pursuit of massive monsters, nuanced combat and high adventure. An armoured warrior, knife-wielding 'Strider' and a spellcaster provide markedly different fighting styles and opportunities, and the new E3 demo casts players as a durable fighter leading a team of AI 'Pawns' through a tight dungeon (typical of countless interior environments scattered throughout the game world). These followers can be freely recruited from the randomly-generated NPCs milling around the enormous game world, and level up along with you whilst augmenting your own abilities. They can also provide serious backup in battle... but more on that later.
The level starts in fine fashion, showing off a massive dragon that lands next to the party and cows them with its immense size. Luckily the hulking behemoth doesn't register them as much of a threat and leaves them to the brutal mercies of a huge squad of minions. The combat mechanics are instantly accessible, with light swipes, punishing heavy attacks, intuitive dodge rolls and blocks lying readily to hand. Feather-light responsive inputs allow attacks and combos to be chained together with ease - or cancelled mid-animation if necessary. Itsuno and Kobayashi believe that they've found a sweet spot between technical and obtusely reliant on combo memorisation, and they've absolutely found it.
The NPC pawns were more than just useless meat shields. You'll probably want a healer in your party to vigilantly cure any nasty status effects or restore some hitpoints, but fellow soldiers can grab enemies in an arm lock and prompt you to finish them off. Mages, on the other hand, can imbue your weapons with elemental damage or intelligently target enemies who are weak to particular spells. Voice prompts and occasional slow motion cinematics let you know when a teammate is pulling off a special attack, and a selection of D-Pad commands puts squad control at your fingertips. As said above, these pawns have "a degree of random generation" and can be recruited from practically anyone you meet in the game world. We're looking forward to more details on how this will work.
Some deft swordplay along with prodigious pawn backup made short work of the orcish minions, but the demo was about to show off one of the enormous boss monsters that inhabit the world. Capcom has taken the classic mythological Chimaera beast and given it a deadly new slant: an enormous slavering lion with a bleating goat grafted to its back... topped off by a poisonous serpent tail that thrashes around with a wicked intelligence of its own. As the snaked appendage gouges and poisons the party, the lion pounces, pins and gores disabled opponents, all while the goat casts powerful debilitating magic at their direction.
After dodging and rolling out of several deadly pounces, I realised (as most players eventually will) that the Snake needed to die first. The party targeted it with magic and brute steel, using blocks and dodges to flank the beast and attack its vulnerable hindquarters. Once the snake's head lay safely on the floor of the arena, it was high time to take advantage of the magic-slinging goat's vulnerability to melee damage. I charged into the fray myself; ordering my teammates to support and assist me with buffs and healing spells. It soon withered and died, allowing me to switch my team to a more aggressive stance to put the lion portion out of its misery.
In my opinion, the seamless combat and squad elements completely eclipse the likes of Dark Souls despite the early build... and the best was arguably yet to come. The second demo, Griffin's Flight, has already been unveiled at Captivate earlier this year, but it would have been extremely rude not to try it out while I was there. In contrast to the tight confines and melee-centric shenanigans of the previous dungeon, the earlier level takes place in a wide open area outside city limits. Players are cast as the versatile Strider who can deliver swift, ruinous blows as well as precise ranged attacks with his bow and arrow.
This versatility made light work of a small squad of goblin skirmishers, who were weakened at range before being carved up in close combat. The sprawling, open grasslands allowed players to cleverly pick their battles, but the flat plains soon turned into a deadly hunting ground for the airborne Griffin to prey upon!
Fighting the Griffin was a very different ordeal from taking down the Chimera. Its mighty wings allowed the monstrosity to soar above the battlefield and swoop in for devastating ground strikes, but recognising the uselessness of close-ranged combat in this situation, the squad of pawns switched to a defensive, spacious formation that prioritised adding buffs and elemental damage to my bow (the only weapon effective against the flying foe). However, the AI warrior frequently prompted me to approach her position, at which point she flung me up into the air to engage the beast in its own element. The Griffin was soon brought to earth by my anti-air barrage, at which point I ordered the pawns to hack the proud and wounded creature to pieces as it staggered across the grass. Each character class has potent and powerful abilities that can be leveraged against any enemy, and the AI pawns were as impressive a demonstration of NPC teamwork as I've ever seen.
In short, then, Dragon's Dogma will shove the best parts of Monster Hunter and Devil May Cry into a fully open dark fantasy world. You should be excited about every single part of that sentence, and we'll be watching its progress with great interest.