TGS 2013: Crimson Dragon Preview - Rent-a-Dragon
Written Wednesday, September 25, 2013 By John Robertson
It has now been more than two years since Project Draco was announced, during which time a lot has happened. The Project Draco working title has been dropped, with the Crimson Dragon name taking its place, and the original plan to release as a Kinect-exclusive on Xbox 360 has been scrapped in favour of the Xbox One. If expectation wasn't high already, such big upheavals mean that they are now. They've kept us waiting long enough, after all.
Crimson Dragon's showing at TGS 2013 was split into two parts; a private hands-off demonstration driven by game director Yukio Futatsugi and a quick romp through a small stage at Microsoft's booth on the main show floor. Given the extremely limited nature of the hands-on session, it was the hands-off time that provided the most information.
By scrapping the Kinect-only angle, gameplay in Crimson Dragon now falls into two distinct components - on-rails and off-rails. The bulk of each stage follows the on-rails approach, with your dragon following a set path as you dodge incoming attacks and fire off your own. Free-flight is activated whenever you come up against a boss, the added complexity of such encounters requiring you to take full control of avoiding damage and taking advantage of weak spots.
Indeed, complexity and challenge was the general theme of Crimson Dragon's behind-closed-doors TGS presentation. Futatsugi describes the gameplay as "3D shooting with RPG elements", conjuring up images of upgradable attacks, items slots and a levelling up system. All three are present and correct, along with the promise that - despite its Kinect origins - this is a game that will lock away its best secrets to all but those possessing exceptional flight skills.
There will be six dragons to choose from, with a special seventh unlocking if you do happen to be one of those players gifted enough to beat the game's most arduous trials. Each of these concoctions of scales, teeth and fire come with three stages of evolution triggered by levelling up and equipping items found and earned throughout stages. It was explained that it will be impossible to fully upgrade any of the six dragons in a single run of the main campaign, giving you extra incentive to replay missions and embark on multiplayer sorties.
It's in multiplayer where the most precious and powerful of items will be found. Co-op missions support up to three players, with the promise that even the best trios will have their skills tested severely. The difficulty scales up depending on how many human-controlled dragons have taken to the sky, meaning (in theory) hard mode in single player is not comparable to hard mode in multiplayer.
If you identify yourself as a loot whore, then you could be in for a lengthy ride. Rare items are not only awarded by beating the most difficult tasks, some are awarded only a certain percentage of the time no matter what you do. Of course, this means you may have to replay certain missions multiple times before you get lucky and the game decides to drop you an item.
The most interesting feature of the day, though, is the ability to rent out your dragons to other players. If you've nurtured a particularly impressive specimen, you can upload your creation for others to use in their single player games. Rented dragons cannot be controlled directly by the leaser, instead they fly alongside you during missions and react to commands you shout at them via Kinect's voice recognition. You can order them to attack, retreat and change their flight speed in a bid to assist you with missions that you're struggling with.
Payment for renting a dragon is taken from your pool of in-game currency which you earn by completing missions and achieving bonus goals along the way - kill a certain percentage of enemies in a stage or beat a certain time limit, for example. On the other end, players that have their dragons rented receive credits as a reward. To what value credits are exchanged is still a mystery, although price will presumably be set by the dragon's level and the quality/rarity of the items applied to it.
Undoubtedly it's an interesting idea, and one that should create further incentive for players to assign skills and items to their dragons intelligently. However, given the fact that the most precious loot is reserved for online play, it's unclear how worthwhile this feature will be once you've finished single player.
Hands-on time at TGS didn't show any of the aforementioned online or RPG features in action, it's sole benefit being to experience how movement feels. In truth, things feel a little sluggish. Your dragon is surprisingly unresponsive considering the speed at which some of the enemies move, which begs questions as to just how difficult the developers can realistically make things without making the game feel unfair.
Hopefully, either movement will be sharpened up or the lack of oomph was the result of being put in charge of a base-level dragon that hadn't seen anything in the way of upgrades or item assigning.
Really, though, that was the only negative on what was otherwise a very reassuring and impressive session with Crimson Dragon. Considering that it has a confirmed price point of $20 - and the dev team consists of fewer than 30 people - there's very little to be critical of from what has been shown thus far.
What will be interesting to see come release is just how diverse the experience is. How different will the six 'regular' dragons be? Will stages be so difficult that online players will need to create teams of different dragons with complementary skills? How many high-powered items will there be and how strongly will their impact be felt? Can I really stack up credits in a big way by renting out my dragon? Will Crimson Dragon offer enough variety in its stages to entice players to team up and go on item 'raids' together?
Let's hope the answers are satisfactory.
Crimson Dragon is coming to Xbox One at launch on November 22nd.