Dragon's Dogma Demo Spotlight
Recently Capcom released the Dragon's Dogma demo to both the XBL Marketplace and the Playstation Network. We've had Dragon's Dogma on our radar for some time and the demo was the best excuse for one of us to sit down and take a good look at some of the mechanics on offer in the game. We can tell you right now, Dragon's Dogma is something special and that's just from the demo.

Whilst the demo is short and quite replayable, it offers an interesting tasty glimpse into Capcom's third person open-world epic action rpg due to come out late May. (25th in the UK) Anyone on the fence about the game needs to play the demo and decide for themselves if this taster (and we mean taster) of the game is enough to whet their appetite. Yet it does not show off the true scope of Dragon's Dogma or the unique and very innovative Pawn sharing system that is prevalent in the retail game.

The demo allows you to use the full suite of character customisation tools to craft your main Arisen, and their support Pawn: the side-kick that will follow you throughout your whole Dragon's Dogma story. It is worth noting right now that you can spend hours on this character and the Pawn, because you can import these into the retail game when it launches - thus being able to dive right into the action without losing a cool character you might have made in the demo.

The character customisation options are massive, there are tons of things to customise and best of all...it feeds into game mechanics. With body type and weight all dovetailing into the game itself, so depending on how thin/fat you are, your strength and weight carried/stamina bar will change.

The demo gives you a premade character for the prologue quest, which sees your Arisen of the past trying to face down a giant red dragon. Pits you against some weaker enemies and has a mighty mythical beast at the end that provides a beautifully tactical fight. For this battle you're given access to the fighter, a sword and board kind of guy with some pretty solid abilities.

Then there's the countryside quest where you must fight against a paltry sum of goblins, all the time attempting to battle a furiously persistent and clever griffin that uses a variety of different battle tactics each time you play.

For this quest you can get a taste of your main Arisen's powers, since you're given a Strider (the game's rogue like character) for the purposes of the fight. You can't change equipment at all in this demo, but that doesn't bother us at all. Because the combat is superbly done and the weapons you are given are just powerful enough to make the battle fun/interesting.

Dragon's Dogma's combat system shines for the sheer physicality of the moves, the battles have weight to them and the blows actually affect the enemies (and you) in a variety of ways. If you're caught off guard by even the smallest goblin and in the wrong place, you can get knocked over as you're bowled off your feet. If you are struck by a large enemy, they might send you rolling over and over across the floor until you slide to a stop.

That's not all. If a stunned enemy is nearby, you can grab them, pick them up and throw them at their friends, off the edge of cliffs or into explosive hazards. The grab function is the best thing yet, because now Dragon's Dogma becomes like Shadow of the Colossus allowing you to scale enemies and climb around on them. Your battle tactics can shift at a moment's notice and it's not just a matter of being able to latch on.

You have stamina to consider, and a lot of moves drain stamina. You're going to need that if you're clambering around SotC on these big guys/monsters. Try it, just grab onto that griffin and start looking to exploit a weak point. Don't worry if it takes off, just attack the wings to bring it down to the ground again.

The AI won't sit still as you climb on though, it will attempt to slam you off, rising high into the air and trying to dislodge you as the pesky interloper you are.

The AI is another feature of Dragon's Dogma that looks to be different from other games, especially in terms of party interaction. Your Pawns are pretty good partners in crime, they will support you and even though you can order them around on the d-pad to go, come and help you, they do fine on their own. Pawns will also use magic to heal you, each other, cast elemental upgrades to the party weapons and more.

In the retail game they learn organically and can also be taught via a simple conversation system at 'armrests' in taverns and camps. You can teach them a variety of approaches to various things and in-game as you battle, they will pick up info and quest knowledge, monster tactics and even more. If you recruit a friend's Pawn or even another player's Pawn, they will take that knowledge back to their own world and be able to assist their Arisen with new information and tactics.

You can also rate Pawns; send them back with goodies and so on.

It's pretty cool, only not in the demo.

The enemy AI is also pretty great and has a variety of attack patterns, organic learning patterns and each fight even in the demo turns out differently. The griffin can be a mean customer and spend a lot of time in the air. It executes bombing-run style swooping raids and retreats to a safe distance and has some other nasty tricks.

Even goblins can prove tough if you make mistakes.

Fortunately the combat controls are intuitive and easy to pick up. With the right bumper held down the skill list changes to allow for a rolling dodge (as the Strider) for example, or a set of brutally effective combat skills with dual daggers. Without it, there are light and heavy attacks, which can be combined for a nice set of combo attacks.

The left bumper brings up the bow and allows you to attack from range as the Strider. There are some nice skills on offer here too, including a vicious tri-shot and a rain of arrows.

Again the sense of physicality comes through as the battle progresses; the creature gets bloody and tattered. It may also get set on fire and the fire effects are some of the best we've seen yet. When it finally crashes to the floor dead, you can really feel as though you had a fight worthy of that character.

There's not enough in the demo to see the other systems on offer, such as equipment and crafting as well as a few other things. What there is however is a great taster for the game and what we can expect when we finally get it come May!

It might not be the best looking game on the market, the graphics are certainly not terrible by any means...and the animation is fantastic and extremely physical. The character customisation is robust, complex and allows for a variety of physical features, as well as skin colours and body type. It is possible with some fiddling to make yourself in the game if you want.

So yeah, Dragon's Dogma is one to watch for certain!

Images not taken from demo!