This is a hard game to explain. I’m going to start with the cheapest method I can think of to get your attention. Then, we can grow from the experience together, arm in arm, learning from one another in perfect harmony.
is an action game from the creators of Devil May Cry
which is structurally similar to Skyrim
and has massive Shadow of the Colossus
Do I have you attention?
We’re being faced here with yet another hidden gem of 2012 – a game which deserves a place on everyone’s radar, yet is barely audible amongst the white noise of impending Creeds, Calls, Paynes and Shocks.
Dragon’s Dogma has one of the most engaging RPG environments coming out this year, through a remarkable use of restraint on the part of the developers. No bombastic colours parade around your screen, hyper-saturating the world as if to presume the need to raise your attention-deficit blood-sugar levels at all times.
The landscape is bleak, subtle and a bit next-gen brown. Ordinarily, this may be a bad thing, but it has a purpose – juxtaposing the magic. Spells and enchanted weapons in the world cast brightly lit glows in very specific ways. The absence of such rich colours from the standard game-world makes such elements stand out and feel, well, magical.
As the ranger in my hands-off demo sprinted away from a pack of goblins which had descended on our party, the soft purple shimmer of his dual-blades cast an aura of power without resorting to overdone pomp and show to achieve it. Violent yet mortal, your character must be protected, is subject to the whims of the environment, yet is also cast as a deadly warrior – a balancing act seemingly perfected in the balance of gameplay and aesthetic direction.
The developers aren’t afraid to buck some recent RPG trends either, limiting fast-travel to being possible only through rarely acquired gemstones and making the night times very, very dark. Even during daylight, a shadow cast from a nearby pine onto a marauding brigand can render them little more than a silhouette. A lack of helpful nametags and other pieces of intra-diegetic crap can turn otherwise benign monsters into perceived genuine threats. This is the first RPG I’ve seen really use colour and shadow to have the element of surprise mean something to the player. It’s not all stats and labels here.
Ascending from the shoals at one point, a towering golem crumbles up from a supposed pile of mere rocks, thrashing about in an epic battle against our party for a battle which took the entire of an afternoon, dusk and into the early evening – for one creature. The contrast between the naturalistic setting sun over the shore, the loud purples emanating from the creature’s pores and the light show demonstrated by my ‘pawns’ as they corral to attack the beast were a sight to behold, and were only enhanced by the Shadow of the Colossus weak-point mechanic and the ability to hurl yourself onto the beasts back, climb around it freely and desperately stab at it while it tries to fling you off.
As the lumbering aberration falls slowly to its knees and its lights go out as it is eventually defeated, it finally dawns on us (no pun intended) that it’s now midnight. The aforementioned darkness is used to great effect: it’s almost pitch black. The same sense of dread Minecraft has nailed with its omnipresent threats in the cold dark of night are exemplified here. Our hero lights a lantern, which illuminates only the immediate surrounds – we can’t see the canopy or shore. Cautiously, we press in the direction we believe the nearest town to be, only to be met by the thunderous roar of an unseen Cyclops.
The game arose not out of a desire for the DMC creators to try a new genre, but out of an idea for socially integrated gaming. The members of your party (the aforementioned ‘pawns’), are slaves to your will, barely more than puppet warriors from a netherrealm. The unique twist with these guys is that you can submit your pawns to be ‘hired’ by other players online, going so far as to take cool screenshots of your best pawns and posting them to Facebook and Twitter to advertise their usefulness. When other players do hire your guys, all the experience and loot they return with (you can still play with them while others have them ‘hired’; they’re cloned not loaned), with none of the risk associated with their potentially being robbed or killed while under the protection of others.
The result? If you take care of your pawns and keep them alive, others will borrow them (to complete high level quests just out of reach of their own skill level, for example) and upgrade them for you while you sleep.
You’ll be able to search by function, level, have favourites lists and even search for pawns which your pawns have gone questing with in the past, whether you were there or not. It’s a very neat system, and has the potential to really help the community self-proliferate.
The kicker is that these pawns gain experience relevant to certain creatures, locations or quests, rather than activities. Have a pawn which knows hydras well? Watch them manoeuvre around the fiends with ease as they seek out the weak spots. Have a pawn who’s never seen a wolf before? They’ll have no idea their packs are vulnerable to fire spells and will flail about randomly. Have a pawn which knows the area you’re in? They’ll actually call out to you which are the best and safest routes through certain treacherous areas, offering all manner of useful advice in your travels – a very cool feature indeed!
Make no mistake, Western gamers, this is a mixture unseen in gaming to date, and the developers aren’t pull punches. Fast-travel is limited because it’s perilous to adventure. Night time is deadly because they want you to plan your game and not rely on get-out-of-jail free cards. This game, if nothing else, will be one of the most unique genre-blending experiences of the year when it comes out in May.
By Leigh Harris - Tweet @leighformayor