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Dragon’s Dogma hands-on preview

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Capcom, a company known for fighting games, infernally difficult platformers and bizarre Japanese action games that boast epic cutscenes (also, a little-known series called Resident Evil), is stepping into the larger world of a Western-style open-world action/RPG, though one that’s admittedly heavy on the action. Springing from the mind of  Devil May Cry director Hideaki Itsuno, Capcom first announced Dragon’s Dogma at its annual Captivate media gathering earlier this year and we had the chance to go hands-on with a new portion of it last week during the publisher’s post-E3 tour through New York City.

Dragon’s Dogma is set in a completely open fantasy world. It isn’t based on any one franchise or legend, but it does pull inspiration from a range of sources. As such, it looks like the game will give players a taste of everything from Greek myth to Dungeons & Dragons. Both influences were on display in last week’s demo, some portion of a quest through a broken-down castle. In addition to encountering harpies and a chimera boss at the end, there were also goblin-like creatures and a mammoth dragon. The latter just popped up in a cutscene, but there’s little doubt you’ll be fighting it at some point in the game.

The focus of this particular demo was the game’s fighter class, which comes equipped with your fairly standard sword & shield combo; there’s also the Strider (ranged plus dual-wielded blades) class and an as-yet-unseen mage class. The basic combat controls give you light and heavy attacks, but each of your two class-specific weapons — sword and shield, in this case — each have their own special attacks which can be used by holding down LB or RB (on an Xbox 360 controller) as a modifier.

Also key to Dragon’s Dogma are your pawns. Few details have been revealed about these characters–adventurers with various skills that can be brought in to aid you in your journey (up to three at a time). You can issue basic go/stop/help orders, but they generally act independently, using their range of skills, and learning in the process which ones are more or less effective against the enemies you’re facing. In battle, the action will occasionally pause while a brief cutscene plays, in which one pawn or another tells you what s/he is about to do and how you can take advantage of it. A simple example is, a mage pawn might imbue your weapons with fire because that’s the element a particular foe is more vulnerable to.

The demo starts with just one pawn at your side, but it’s not long before you come across some kind of magical stone that you can interact with. More pawns are summoned here–automatically in the demo but presumably through a wider range of options in the final game. Capcom’s not saying at present, but it seems like pawns might be a collection-worthy feature in Dragon’s Dogma.

The party now assembled, we venture further into the rundown castle, first encountering a small group of those goblin-beast-things and eventually coming across a swarm of harpies. The fighter class is pretty much at the mercy of his pawns with the harpies, since he has no ranged attack to bring down the fliers with. There doesn’t seem to be a way to lock onto a target either, so fighting the harpies mostly consisted of swirling the camera around until one was spotted close to the ground.

The demo culminated in a boss fight with a chimera, a beast from Greek myth that is part-lioness, part-snake and part-goat. Here the game’s grab feature becomes very useful. Pressing and holding the right trigger near an enemy will allow you to grab it; with larger foes, that literally means climbing onto the thing’s body, where you can proceed to hack and slash away at it. You can shimmy around too, since different creatures have different weak points. The chimera made quick work of our fighter unfortunately, but not before a few well-placed blade strikes went into its stupid lion head.

Here’s a handy pro-tip for future Dragon’s Dogma players: beware the chimera’s tail.