April 12, 2024

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Review: Dragon’s Dogma 2 | The Nexus

10 min read

Dragon’s Dogma 2 is, by and large, a massive step up from the original 2012 RPG that also adopts its less traditional approach to open-world role-playing games. The sequel bravely goes against the tide and removes the training wheels, so to speak, delivering an RPG that’s as ambitiously brazen as it is rebellious in its game design. The results mostly speak for itself – by taking a few necessary steps back, Dragon’s Dogma 2 attempts to push the genre forward.

Dragon’s Dogma 2 is an open-world fantasy RPG where a custom-created character called the Arisen must journey across monster-infested lands to slay a mighty dragon that has stolen their heart and inadvertently, crowned them a champion of the realm. The player character awakens with no memories of themselves and must begin to piece together their memory puzzle while dealing with heavy political strife in the kingdom as a result of the Arisen’s return.

The storytelling isn’t going to win any awards but Dragon’s Dogma 2 is compelling where it really needs to be in order to move the plot forward at a steady pace. There’s an emphasis on the word “steady” here because the narrative isn’t a fast-moving one. Instead, it sort of unravels like a game of chess. Pieces need to be carefully placed on the board to really understand character motivations and there are arcs that span dozens of hours across the game. Despite mostly action-heavy quests that have you slaying all manner of monsters and exploring every inch of this gigantic and wonderfully realised world, the story wisely chooses to let you soak in its intricacies, creating some immensely satisfying world-building in the process.

With the RE Engine, Capcom is able to add so much more detail into the creation process of your Arisen.

The first step on your journey is the character creator and I’m sure you’ve heard it before or played the free demo, but it’s excellent. With the RE Engine, Capcom is able to add so much more detail into the creation process of your Arisen with thousands of possible combinations and customisation options to play around with. This extends to your main pawn as well, who is also a custom-created NPC that accompanies you on your journey. From there, you choose one of four starting vocations (or classes): Mage, Fighter, Archer and Thief, each offering unique playstyles. You can unlock more vocations later on that branch off the starters, but for now, you’re given just enough flexibility with your starter to fine-tune as you play.

As you level up, you gain experience points that you can use to unlock various skills and abilities specific to your vocation. Archers, for example, unlock spread-shots for taking care of enemy mobs, a charged shot that deals devastating damage, and an awesome barrage of arrows that rapid-fire in quick succession. On that note, archery just feels amazing in Dragon’s Dogma 2 with Capcom clearly taking a few creative cues from Monster Hunter World, and it became my primary vocation for the majority of my playthrough. Thanks to the variety of class-based specialities, each vocation feels rewarding in its own right, encouraging experimentation while never tying you down to any one playstyle until you’re satisfied with your build. There are opportunities to change your vocation at any point should you feel that one isn’t working for you, which is a nice touch.

All the marketing and trailers for Dragon’s Dogma 2 prepare you for a monster-slaying romp through a magical world and while that is true to an extent, it doesn’t convey everything. In between slaying smaller hordes of goblins, harpies and fantastical beasts, you’ll also randomly stumble into these spectacle battles against larger and far more intimidating foes like ogres, griffins, dragons and many others that I won’t spoil. Best of all, they’re treated like world events – unexpected and almost scary encounters that may or may not happen to you depending on a number of circumstances.

This is what gives the world of Dragon’s Dogma 2 its most distinguishable quality. It often reminded me of the randomness of the Grand Theft Auto games, only here, you’re running into fantasy monsters, bandits and strange, completely out-of-left-field encounters. I was talking to an NPC woman in a bar when all of a sudden, our conversation was interrupted by another woman who strolls in and initiates a violent, Mortal Kombat-esque slap fight with her. What the hell happened here? What’s the story? Why is this happening? No one knows, but it’s these small moments that just add to the exceptionally lively nature of the world – that the world exists and moves forward without you.

All the marketing and trailers for Dragon’s Dogma 2 prepare you for a monster-slaying romp through a magical world and while that is true to an extent, it doesn’t convey everything.

Pawns have returned in Dragon’s Dogma 2 but Capcom have taken this concept one step further. Apart from your main pawn which is always by your side on your adventure, you can recruit pawns using Riftstones, magical totems that tap into a sort of multiversal realm. Hired pawns can’t be levelled up like your main pawn, so you’ll likely be visiting this place a lot to constantly swap out and recruit new, more capable companions. This feature also opens up plenty of opportunities for players to share their pawns online, which others can then use in their game. Pawns can also literally be found on the road and walking around towns and villages, so it’s up to you who you recruit and how their talents best synergise with your squad of merry misfits.

Pawns in Dragon’s Dogma 2 also ensure that you’re never truly playing alone, giving off the feeling of being in an MMO party (even though it’s a single-player game). While you can easily choose to ignore them, they’re such an integral part of exploration and combat. For example, some pawns have tracking abilities that lead you to quest objectives or points of interest on the map, while others come equipped with powerful combat skills that can hastily turn the tide of a difficult battle. Struggling with a dragon? Seek out a Warrior pawn that can mount and daze it. Dealing with pesky harpies that won’t stop flying? Find an Archer pawn that can knock them out of the sky with arrows. The level of versatility here in how beneficial different pawns are is unreal and I have to applaud Capcom for going that far.

All of this sounds great until you realise that most of these significant gameplay elements, you’ll simply have to learn as you go because Dragon’s Dogma 2 absolutely does not hold your hand. In an age where RPGs are constantly guiding the player with endless quest markers, tutorials, easy travel options and side activities to bloat your time, Dragon’s Dogma 2 takes a very hands-off approach to all of that. Sure, there’s a small tutorial section in the beginning but it only serves to warm you up to the fundamentals before it pats you on the back and tells you to just go out there and explore, talk to NPCs, engage with the world and kind of figure things out for yourself.

It becomes obvious fairly early on that Capcom wants you to be guided by your sense of discovery and adventure without relying on anything else. Quest markers are highlighted on your map but how you get there and tackle that quest is a different story entirely. Many quests are even time-limited, meaning if you’re the compulsive type to take on too many quests at once to fill out your checklist of activities, you’re bound to fail a few of them because you simply ran out of time or progressed past a certain point. Dragon’s Dogma 2 is an RPG that demands patience; you’ll have to play it at its pace instead of your own.

Fans of the first game might already be familiar with this steep consequence system, but newcomers might find it quite harsh and unforgiving.

Missed or incomplete quests also have an impact on your role-playing experience. Some quests are more important than others but again, the game does not outright tell you this. If you miss that opportunity, it’s pretty much gone forever (or until your next playthrough) because Capcom intentionally limited the number of save slots to just one. Fans of the first game might already be familiar with this steep consequence system, but newcomers might find it quite harsh and unforgiving. To that end, it’s not an RPG I can easily recommend unless you know for certain what you’re getting into.

As soon as I wrapped my head around this structure after blindly fumbling some quests, I realised just how rewarding it is too. Once you get on the same rhythm of the game, this is something you’ll never need to worry about. Dragon’s Dogma 2 restricts these tools for a good reason – Capcom is leaving choice entirely up to the player. Where you go, what you do, how you get there and who you meet feels incredibly organic in this world.

For instance, while journeying to one of the main quest locations, I got sidetracked on a whirlwind adventure trekking through caves, climbing over mountains and across new villages, culminating in an incredibly epic battle with a foe I was clearly ill-prepared to fight yet, but I stubbornly did anyway – a 10-hour detour before I even returned to the main path. But when I did, I brought that experience with me. I don’t just mean skills and gear, but rather a wiser understanding of the world and my own strengths and limitations within it. If that sounds like your flavour of RPG, then you’re going to love all that Dragon’s Dogma 2 has to offer.

The decision to limit fast travel might not sit well with some players. Technically, there are methods in the game to initiate fast travel, but they’re either to going to be very costly endeavours or have you travel on the back of an ox wagon that can randomly be interrupted by surprise enemy attacks or even a griffin swooping in. Basically, you’re better off walking. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it’s clearly an effort by Capcom to get you to engage with the world on a deeper level than just treating it as locations you can teleport to, because you’re probably going to miss a lot.

Thanks to the exciting random world encounters and events constantly shifting and changing on the map, going down the same paths almost never felt tedious.

The world is gigantic and at least on my first playthrough, this wasn’t an issue. Thanks to the exciting random world encounters and events constantly shifting and changing on the map, going down the same paths almost never felt tedious. You can pass an ogre corpse that has NPCs gathered around it – an ogre that you killed 20 hours ago – and feel a great sense of satisfaction and progression on your journey. Maybe that strange castle ruins you passed through ages ago now has a tough enemy patrolling the surroundings, trying to keep travelers away from something you might’ve missed in the ruins. Again, I cannot commend how masterfully Capcom handled this world design. Eventually, you won’t mind walking because they somehow made that the most exciting part.

Getting into the technical nitty-gritty of Dragon’s Dogma 2, this is where I can see players being very hesitant. Right now, there aren’t any graphical modes in the game. Capcom says it all runs at an unlocked framerate targeting 60FPS. On PS5, it’s mostly consistent except for occasions where frames would dip in busy combat moments or entering Riftstones. It would’ve been nice to at least have an option though, which I’m sure Capcom can rectify in a later update. For now, the experience may vary depending on the player and I can’t say for certain how much it’s going to impact your enjoyment of the game.

The visuals are mostly terrific. The world itself looks phenomenal – fauna is dense, mountains in the distance look amazing, and it’s just a stunning game in terms of its scope and scale. However, there are some blemishes too, particularly facial animations. Outside of pre-rendered cutscenes, faces tend to appear really stiff and inexpressive with mouth movements not syncing at all with the voice acting. Maybe this was a technical shortcut to get the game running more smoothly, I don’t know, but it doesn’t look great. Nonetheless, it’s a very small problem in an otherwise prestinely polished package.

Dragon’s Dogma 2 is a different kind of RPG that I’m not sure will cater to everyone, but for fans of the first game and role-playing games that refuse to hold your hand while giving you almost boundless freedom, you can’t ask for anything better or more unique in the genre. Minor hiccups like the framerate and facial animations aside, this is an incredibly ambitious game – demanding and rewarding in equal measure, Dragon’s Dogma 2 goes above and beyond its predecessor and even most of Capcom’s library to deliver a masterful role-playing adventure.

*PS5 Review code provided by Capcom

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