In this demo the boss enemy is a Chimera, and though it's ten times the size of Arisen it's a small enemy after the size of that dragon. The Chimera has the head of a goat, the head of a lion, and a serpent's head for a tail, each with a different attack and it's all climbable. The developers feign innocence when asked about the obvious Shadow of the Colossus comparison, but it isn't a surprise they've lifted such a great idea from Team Ico's masterpiece: but what is surprising is that no-one's done it this well before. Whatever else there is to say about SotC, it makes killing things - the heat of the moment, the blade plunging into flesh - feel amazing, and the biggest part of that is the clambering you had to do to get there.
Dragon's Dogma's system is, in these early stages at least, more back-and-forth than sustained clinging - circling the Chimera, it's all about waiting for the instant to jump in, grab hold, stab like a madman as it thrashes around, and then get away fast. A second part of the demo showcased a fight against a Griffin (already dispatched by Wesley) where grabbing would see it take flight, a much more dangerous game and reminiscent of one of SotC's very finest battles.
The animations here are the best in Dragon's Dogma, the creature's lithe and snarling form writhing to get an angle to strike at you, while Arisen clutches grimly at its hide and balances for the next strike. Though there's a stamina metre in play, it drains and refills at a faster rate than that of SotC, encouraging you to find quick purchase and attack rather than fine-tuning a position.
As in Monster Hunter, these larger beasts have limbs and armour that can be broken off or damaged, enraging the creature but narrowing their potency. In the case of the Chimera its snake-headed tail, which poisons on hit, is a bit of a bore so - clinging grimly to its furry bumhole - I severed it. The thing went nuts but, after weathering that storm by bravely running away, the offense it had left was much poorer. Its mane could also be 'shattered', which noticeably increased the number values ticking up after each blow (and lopping off the goat's head locked its magic).
Numbers: Dragon's Dogma has a few. Every time you hit an enemy, a numerical damage value pops out of their body and floats upwards for a second or two. In this dank and serious environment it's a very gamey touch, but a great tool for a player it instantly communicates what your equipment and spell changes are doing in battle (the magic types in particular are polarised dramatically), and in the case of the larger fights lets you quickly work out where best to concentrate fire.
It's a reminder that, for all the swordplay and monster wrestling, Dragon's Dogma is an RPG - and an open world one at that. Judging by the menu screens, both in-game and at the point where Pawns were summoned, there's a bevvy of loot waiting to be dropped, and a brief glance of branching skilltrees suggests the currently three classes will have plenty of ways to diverge even further.
There are bits of the game that don't look great: the characters too often seem to float on surfaces, especially on inclines, and at the moment everything clips through everything. Dragon's Dogma also has camera problems: it's not terrible, but it's far too prone to flicking sideways randomly during battles. This is especially true when using the lock-on in tight spaces, but such rough edges will surely be smoothed away by the time of a 2012 release. Or to put it a less kind way, if they're not then Dragon's Dogma will be stillborn.
For a while, I wouldn't read A Song of Ice and Fire because the books looked a bit like The Lord of the Rings, and I've always found those a potent sleeping draught. Never judge a book by its cover. Dragon's Dogma looks a bit like Monster Hunter and Demon's Souls and all those other games - but it doesn't play like them. How its combination of giant boss fights and open-world adventuring work together remains to be seen, but it deserves to be thought of as more than a casserole. With at least a year till release, what Capcom's largest-ever development team are building on these solid foundations is a mouth-watering prospect. "Never laugh at dragons," said Tolkien, and he could have added 'lest ye get burned.'