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"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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Dragon's Dogma

Breathe fire, eat sheep.

You've got to feel sorry for new IP: we bleat for it all the time, then Capcom whips the covers off its first-ever open world game, a titan-slaying adventure of breathtaking scope. And then people say "Monster Hunter meets Demon's Souls, innit."

The comparisons aren't without basis: many games - Monster Hunter, Oblivion, Demon's Souls, and Shadow of the Colossus - are influences here. But Dragon's Dogma is no patchwork, and casting it as a simple blend of what's gone before doesn't illuminate a game that plays differently from any of them.

On offer in this latest hands-on is a dungeon section from near the game's beginning, and a Griffin boss fight, each played with a different class - the warrior for the former (sword and shield) and the strider for the latter (bow and daggers). You play a character called Arisen – urgh – trying to hunt down the dragon who's bound to his heart: this eponymous sod gives Arisen instructions throughout the game, hence the title, but at this point you're just chasing it down.

The setting is a castle filled with goblins, harpies and various other nasties, but before any of that there's a shrine that can be used to summon 'Pawns' - teammates with a twist. Three AI-controlled Pawns follow you around, and though they have moments of idiocy there are far more where their teamwork is helpful and smart. With Arisen a warrior class, the game auto-selected a mage, warrior and strider to battle alongside.

The mage Pawn was constantly healing the party, and applying the appropriate buffs and debuffs to weapons and armour (all of which are represented visually) mid-battle. The second warrior, meanwhile, made himself useful by constantly taunting larger enemies, leaving Arisen free to do the damage. Left on autopilot the Pawns work well, and you can issue general commands to control their aggression: at the moment they're basically an automatic assist, but the depth of combat Dragon's Dogma aspires to suggests there's much more to come.

I asked the Capcom man during the demo if you could ride dragons, and he claimed not to know. ZOMG CONFIRMED, amirite?

Including multiplayer, perhaps, though there's no firm news on co-operative play. But the Pawns have an interesting role to play online - each is persistent, and can be levelled up and equipped. Specific Pawns 'owned' by you can be summoned into another player's game, and adventure with that player - and they'll learn from what they see on their travels.

This means a player might take them somewhere hidden or new: and the next time you play with that Pawn and near the same spot, they'll remember and tell you about it, warning of traps and leading you to secrets the other player found. The Pawn will also level up while playing in the other game, and return to you with a share of the loot - which is surely the most lip-licking prospect.

Combat is built around weak and heavy attacks, which can be modified with the right trigger, and Arisen's grab move. The Monster Hunter comparison is shallow: Dragon's Dogma's fights are quicker affairs, much more chaotic, and the cannon fodder enemies are a bigger deal here. In Monster Hunter the smaller monsters are irrelevant scenery the vast majority of the time: here Arisen's band moves from fight to fight, barrelling into hefty groups of goblins that at least put up a resistance before the inevitable.

Anyone who plays a ranged character in games like this is a craven and a jessie, fact.

The grab can be used to toss pots and exploding barrels (yes, really) at packs of goblins, or in the thick of things you can hold an enemy while a buddy slashes away. But by far its most exciting application comes with the bigger monsters - which Arisen can grab onto and climb around. And for 'bigger,' best read 'gigantic'.

The focal points of Dragon's Dogma are these boss creatures. The trailers released so far have crammed in a dizzying number, from a town-dwarfing hydra to the scarlet dragon of the title. There's a glimpse of the latter at the start of our demo - a hulking, crouched mass in a cavern that, on approach, shatters the silence with an earth-rending scream and incinerates a spot too close for comfort. It's just a tease, but the muscular grace and sheer bulk of this beast makes Rathalos look like a terrier.