There are some games we at Kotaku love writing about. Skyrim's one. Assassin's Creed. Whatever Atlus game our Mike Fahey's obsessed with this month.
And then there are games like Dragon's Dogma which we pass around coverage duties of like soldiers passing around the hand grenade that just fell into their foxhole.
There's something about Capcom's Dragon's Dogma that just doesn't click with a lot of Team Kotaku. It might be the game's awkward name, but if we hated games for their weird names, we would never have written a nice thing about Mass Effect. It might be all the brown in Dragon's Dogma. There hasn't been a Japanese game with this many earth tones in it since Dig Dug. It might be because the game seems dreary, but so did Demon's Souls and one of our crew nominated that for 2009 Game of the Year.
There's a good chance, though, that the game is really suffering from the "Why Bother?" problem. Dragon's Dogma is supposed to be the biggest game in Capcom history with more developers on it than Capcom has ever thrown onto one game. It's an open-world action role-playing adventure about a hero who is being taught the philosophy of a dragon. And yet who can look at the game and not think about how it will compare to the Elder Scrolls series or The Witcher or any of the many other accomplished swords-and-sorcery epics being made by experienced game creators already?
I'm the first person on Kotaku who saw Dragon's Dogma, back at Capcom's Captivate event in the spring. I initially took the game for a mash-up of Oblivion and God of War and thought I was looking at another case of Japanese developers desperately trying to succeed by aping Western gaming styles. It was not the kind of game I was hoping Capcom would surprise us with, nor was it the kind of game I figured Capcom would be good at. Capcom does action games well—top Devil May Cry people are running this project—but open-world games are hard. Studios that make their first open-world game often create underpopulated, dull worlds that can't compete with the richness crafted by teams on their second or third iteration of the form. And.... combat with dragons? Unless Skyrim fumbled this fall, why bother?
The thing is, I also happen to be the first person from Kotaku who played it. I'm the first person who felt how clunky it can be, how difficult it can be to maintain focus while the game creates a commotion around you. When I played it, my epiphany was that Dragon's Dogma is actually a sort of medieval single-player Monster Hunter. You play it solo, but your hero has a band of companions who all take to the fields of battle with you and assist you in group combat. It's like having a fellowship with you, I realized. They've got arrows and spells and all sorts of assist moves that don't just allow them to thin a crowd of enemy goblins. They'll also set our main hero up for special attacks on rampaging mythological, winged beasts. In Monster Hunter you have other people controlling those kinds of allies, but in Dragon's Dogma you rely on artificial intelligence. The problem is that, in early demos for the game, the computer-controlled allies were too involved in the action. They talked too much, called for attention to much and made combat seem like confused chaos. The game's signature mechanic—you can grab a giant enemy anywhere on its body, scale it and stab it—wasn't as interesting as it was in Shadow of the Colossus nor as enjoyable as the enhanced grapple moves of Devil May Cry 4, the last game made by the heads of the Dogma team.
I left my first session with Dragon's Dogma bewildered that Capcom was trying to scale a mountain with this project, especially since others have summited similar heights. But I'm an optimist and at least want to see what comes of this, wary as I am. The fact that my tempered optimism is the most positive sentiment about Dragon's Dogma speaks to how little the game's subsequent showings at E3 and Gamescom have impressed my colleagues.
We've got a new Dragon's Dogma Gamescom trailer in today. That's what prompted this post. And, again, we passed it around like a hot grenade. I took it. I wanted to see who out there cares about this game. It seems bland enough not to even inspire hate right now, just apathy or shrugs. Let's see how interested in it you are. How odd, I think, that Capcom's biggest game ever should inspire such limited excitement.
Dragon's Dogma is scheduled for an early 2012 release on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.