Capcom's upcoming fantasy role-playing game Dragon's Dogma isn't interesting at all. It might not even be good.
Writers in the gaming press have a tendency to go easy on in-development games. Readers love jumping to conspiracy-theory conclusions about our positivity but, the truth is, we want games to be good and interesting just as much as you do. And so we give them the benefit of the doubt when we write our previews. So what's different with Dragon's Dogma?
Producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi's presentation at Capcom's recent press event set off several red flags for me. Kobayashi kicked things off by stating that you can, in fact, customize your character's appearance in Dragon's Dogma. That's right: In 2011, in an RPG that takes obvious inspiration from big-ticket competitors like Elder Scrolls and Dragon Age, you can futz with myriad sliders that change everything from height to eye color to bust size. And you can even repeat it with a long-term A.I. partner character.
Character customization is an odd bullet point to linger on ... especially without anything striking or unique on display, and especially when we all rightly assume these sorts of status-quo features in any RPG worth its salt. Had this been the only awkward slice of the Dragon's Dogma demo, I might have passed it off as misplaced developer pride in a thoroughly average-looking character creation system. But then Kobayashi started telling us about quests.
Get this: You can accept quests in Dragon's Dogma -- both from town bulletin boards, and from non-player characters sporting exclamation marks over their heads. Novel, right? And if that's not enough, the NPCs go about living their lives, carrying out their daily tasks, and chattering amongst themselves, regardless of what you happen to be doing. By this point, the aforementioned customization spiel looked less and less like an isolated oddity; this was an intentionally padded demo, and it showed.
Today, based on Capcom's stunningly average presentation, I feel confident in asserting that this game is truly something that exists.
The Dragon's Dogma presentation then moved into combat territory, as Kobayashi's adventuring party engaged a lumbering golem. I unfortunately wasn't keeping close track of time, but what unfolded next was probably about 15 excruciating minutes of an adventuring party whacking on said golem. While Kobayashi later assured me that Capcom stretched the fight's alarming length for the purpose of demonstrating various game mechanics, that didn't do much to curb my unbridled apathy. The "innovative" mechanics in question included targeting glowing weak points, minding a finite stamina gauge, managing NPC teammates who respond to basic attack/defend commands, and using mounted crossbows to pepper enemies with arrows. It's like nothing we've ever seen before, right?
If I learned anything from this demo, it's that Dragon's Dogma is a video game. What's more: It's a video game with the kinds of things you expect video games to have in them. Whether you want to make a guy, do a quest, or kill a thing, Dragon's Dogma has you covered. Today, based on Capcom's stunningly average presentation, I feel confident in asserting that this game is truly something that exists.
But if Capcom wants to turn this curiously titled game (I still have no grasp on these mysterious dragons' religious principles) into something interesting, or good, it needs to do more than that.