Let's be honest. We've never asked ourselves, what if Capcom's Devil May Cry team employed its action expertise to create a game which could be described as Monster Hunter meets Oblivion? But then we're not in the business of making games. Capcom is, and that's exactly what it's done. Say hello to Dragon's Dogma.
It sounds like a crazy combination, and it is. But the more Devil May Cry creators Hideaki Itsuno (director) and Hiroyuki Kobayashi (producer) talk about Dragon's Dogma at Capcom's Captivate event, the more the Monster Hunter meets Oblivion description makes sense.
Here we have medieval fantasy at its most clichéd: swords, shields, daggers, mages, giant griffins and, as you'd expect, dragons. It's all set in an open-world environment (Capcom's first) packed with quests, NPCs and a day/night cycle.
You can travel as far as you can see. If you spot a giant creature attacking a village in the distance, you're welcome to stray from the main path and fight it. The game world is full of huge fantasy cities in which you can power up your weapons, buy bits and bobs from shops and replenish your health. One of the biggest cities is home to over 200 NPCs - each fully voiced, each living on a 24-hour time scale.
And Dragon's Dogma has a story. A silly one, but a story nonetheless. The game opens with the rebirth of the dragon. It takes over the heart and mind of the main character – i.e., you. It talks to you, asking you to seek it out and help it with something. Why does it call to you? Why does it send you on quests? Unknown.
The dogma bit, that's the dragon passing on its teaching to you as you get on with the game. Hardly War and Peace, but for a Capcom game it's progress, and it's very Oblivion.
On top of the fantasy role-playing there's third-person combat and a party system that sees you fighting alongside three "pawns". These get on with the business of slaying horrible beasties as you dish out commands. This is the Monster Hunter bit.
Surprisingly for a game so far from launch, Capcom is already allowing the press to play Dragon's Dogma. Specifically, to take part in a simple boss fight set on a wide open field of green grass.
We're locked in to the strider class, one of three in the game. The strider seems to be a fusion of the rogue and archer fantasy archetypes. He's got two daggers for melee and a bow and arrows for ranged damage. The other two classes are the fighter and the mage. Fighters are designed to soak up damage in true tank style, and mages, as you'd expect, do ranged damage and healing.
Using the d-pad you can command your pawns. Nothing fancy, just "go" and "help" and the like. Pawns communicate with the player, too. When Itsuno says they're fully voiced, he's not kidding. In fact they never shut up.
The fight begins with a scrap against a goblin pack. "Goblin pack!" one of your pawns screams. Yes, I see that. "Goblin pack!" "Goblin pack!" Yes, I get it. I can see them. They're right there. "GOBLIN PACK!"
The goblins don't like fire, nor do they like rear attacks. We know this because one of the pawns keeps pointing it out. "Goblins hate fire!" "Goblins hate fire!" "GOBLINS HATE FIRE!"
Adding insult to injury, everything that's said shows up in a text box set on the left hand side of the screen, obscuring much of the action. It's easy to see what Capcom's going for here: it wants communication between player and pawn to be clear and concise. It wants to aid the player with audible clues. But this is going too far. Here's hoping the design team tones down the pawn VO spamming and tweaks the giant text box so it's less... Giant.
So: fighters, striders and mages. Dagger skills and bow skills. Revival spells and fire enchantments. But Dragon's Dogma's action roots are keenly felt. Mages, for example, do not cast spells with magic points. Instead a chanting system is used. The longer a mage chants a spell, the more powerful it is. Strider abilities work in the same way. They do not consume points, and only a cooldown limits their use.
Mashing the attack button is all it takes to slice and dice with your daggers. An occasional press of the other face buttons triggers special abilities when they're available. Firing arrows is slightly more challenging. Aiming brings up a targeting reticule. You then need to prepare the type of shot you wish to make, be it the Charge Shot or the area of effect Arrow Storm. Both dagger and arrow attacks are fast, responsive and make simple work of dispatching goblins.
Fighting the GOBLIN PACKS!, you feel as if Dragon's Dogma is a pretty, MT Framework-fuelled fantasy game with OK combat – and little more. But then the giant griffin turns up and things get interesting.