"Legends call this place the Witchwood." Rook’s whisper barely carries beyond the thickset carpet of trees surrounding us. "'Tis a cursed fog that imperils our sight."
I stop in my tracks. Not only did Rook’s Shakespearean diction catch me off guard, it also insinuates coming here was an immediately regretful decision on my part. Had I not heeded the villagers’ pleadings to stay on the road? Sure, I had quests to complete, prophecies to fulfill, but the gnarled, faded dirt track twisting away from the road I traveled earlier today begged for exploration. And now I’m in the Witchwood. Sounds like something a heavy metal band would yell right before a cord-crunching chorus.
I start forward, my brief flicker of hesitancy already forgotten. I’m not afraid. I have arrows at the ready and a pair of daggers for wetwork. During character creation, I zeroed in on the Strider class: a quick and agile hybrid of ranged and melee combatants akin to the standard Rogue archetype. If I couldn’t dice whatever came at me in the forest, I could easily outmaneuver them and worry about my reputation later.
That’s when my lantern guttered out.
Darkness. I quickly realize developer Capcom did its homework on the subject of "pitch-black forests and you." I can’t see beyond my nose — trees and dense foliage reduce themselves to blobby smudges on my screen. I await the appearance of the ghostly light-circle trope found in similarly structured games. Nothing. The blackness smothers me like an inkblot pillow. That’s strike two — I hastily remember suppressing a slight sneer when the villagers advised I pack plenty of lantern oil. I should listen to villagers more often.
I curse under my breath. Moments later, another kind of curse: "This is fucking awesome."
Surprisingly, the lack of visibility actually heightens my remaining senses as I vainly strain my eyes. Reality became snippets of invisible, auditory perceptions: the wind moaning between the sentinel trunks, the metal-on-metal scrapes when my companions shifted in their armor, the soft rustling of grass whenever I took another step. My ears amplify every noise into crystal clarity…which explains why I almost jump through my ceiling when I hear the wolves' hunting howl piercing my headphones.
My companions swing into action. Wulfric — he’s the quieter one — drums his shield with his sword in a taunting gesture. Rook swirls his staff in an incantation before crying, "Fire, lend thy kiss!" I pause a moment and grin in glee; I probably said something similar during my childhood Dungeons and Dragons sessions. My daggers shine with an orange glow, and I know I’ve received a fire-damage buff to my attacks.
The wolf pack descends upon us in a rabid frenzy. Fangs glisten and blood flows as we leap upon the snarling beasts. They’re fast, darting in and sinking teeth into exposed flesh before retreating and regrouping. In a stroke of luck, Wulfric pins a hulking alpha wolf with his shield. "Now, Master! Strike true!" he calls. I sprint over and plunge my daggers into the tangle of fur and chainmail. A loud whine rings out; the wolf quivers once and lays still.
I check Rook’s position. As a mage, he’s the only source of illumination due to his magical attacks and spells. I breathe a sigh of relief — Rook wisely perched himself atop a small hill off the path’s shoulder. His fireballs trail a faint red light in the air before igniting any wolves coming too close. I almost applaud Capcom right there for its impressive squad A.I., but my fingers busy themselves mashing buttons instead.
Left alone, Striders become whirling dervishes with rapid dagger attacks and timely knockdowns. My current ability setup provides a one-two punch for most enemies: I open with an Ensnare, which sends thin cords from my palm to wrap around the legs of the nearest enemy before I yank them to the ground. My follow-up is the Helm-Splitter, an aerial attack with a Sonic spin-like component that launches the victim aloft. As soon as they land, I go to town with a flurry of dagger strikes.
Soon enough, the pack’s corpses litter the path. I rummage through my inventory and, in true Capcom fashion, use some green herbs to fix up my wounds. Sheathing my daggers, I take the time to liberate the wolves of their pelts; I needed some way to show my newfound appreciation for the villagers.
"Strength in numbers, Master," Rook says triumphantly. Wulfric keeps his mouth shut. I’m glad Capcom handed me the medieval equivalent of Penn and Teller for companionship. Using the wolf corpses as a series of bloody landmarks, I carefully retrace my steps out of the forest and back to civilization. When I’m back in the village, I’m buying everyone a round of lantern oil before the next adventure.
Dragon’s Dogma releases on May 22 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.