Dragon’s Dogma 2 Review (PS5) – An Elder Dragon Arises

It’s been a long twelve years since Dragon’s Dogma first released. The Capcom developed and published cult classic that inspired avid RPG fans and bewildered more than just a handful of players. A strange yet compelling melding of ideas, the 2012 original was off-putting to newcomers, but immensely layered and rewarding for those who worked through its quirks.

Fans had long clamoured for a sequel, the idea of which always seemed fanciful. Despite selling about 8 million copies and the well-received Dark Arisen edition in 2016, it was somewhat left in the ether as a series. With 2024 now Arisen, we can rejoice as Dragon’s Dogma 2 has woken from a dragonesque slumber, ready to devour our hearts (literally) and send us on a new adventure.

As an enthusiastic fan of the first game, Dragon’s Dogma 2 had a lot of hope to live up to. Twelve years is a long time, so have Capcom managed to make the Arisen’s story a compelling one in the modern era? Has it sacrificed its heart of quirky systems to the ever-more consuming world of gaming handholding and streamlined gameplay?

Take up your sword and leap onto the back of a Griffin, it’s time to find out if Dragon’s Dogma 2 soars or sinks.

Set Forth, Arisen!

If you’re unfamiliar with the first Dragon’s Dogma then fear not, for the second entry is surprisingly welcoming to fresh faces. No catch-up or recap is required, thankfully. In essence, you are the Arisen, a figure selected by the dragon of this world. Your quest is built around the retrieval of your heart, which said dragon forcibly removed from you, leading you on a journey across the lands of Vermund and Battahl.

Dragon’s Dogma 2 therefore follows the same core thread as the first game, but it’s a new story within the same universe. The journey to reclaim your beating centrepiece is only the tipping point of this fantasy iceberg, however. Before long, I became embroiled in political schemes, faced a myriad of complicated choices and discovered a world brimming with individual stories.

Think of a slightly stripped-down Game of Thrones plot and you’ll be on the right track. I quickly found myself engrossed in the various narratives and high court schemes. Characters have underpinning motivations and trust is hard to come by, in most cases. You’ll accrue ally and foe alike, with some even returning following what seemed to be a relatively unimportant quest.

While there are cutscenes and a decent chunk of dialogue, Dragon’s Dogma 2 won’t burden you with overzealous storytelling, instead letting the world and atmosphere speak for itself. It’s an enjoyable romp and the embracing of various themes like fate and destiny provide a fertile backdrop to deliver interesting quests.

Dragon's Dogma 2 review

Making A Dogma’s Dinner Out Of This

Quest design was a significant part of the original game’s vision, and so it is with the sequel, too. I stumbled into many a mission simply by roaming the towns, cities and makeshift roads of this kingdom. You can hail any NPC in the world, most of whom are simply going about their lives, but many of them will have jobs for you.

One of my favourite parts of Dragon’s Dogma 2 is listening out for random NPC dialogue and deciphering if they may present a quest. You can entirely miss fantastic missions if you choose or are ignorant of the world existing around you. Some will love this, and some will cower at the thought of missing out on content, but it makes the world that much more holistic. You’re the protagonist, but you’re not anyone else’s main character.

Oftentimes, missions will have multiple outcomes for you to navigate or have time constraints which make them entirely missable. There’s a certain impressive layer of complexity to quests that goes beyond your typical RPG fare.

Say two people request the same item from you, you may simply hand it over to one. You may make a forgery and decide who deserves the fake, only for them to authenticate it. You may never encounter the second person at all. None of this is told to you – it’s of your own intuition and understanding of the game.

Dragon’s Dogma 2’s world feels alive and responsive. More so than the skeletons that reanimate at night, anyway. It’s frustrating when a quest ends in relative disaster or you betray the trust of a noteworthy NPC, but that’s all part of building the stakes. Dragon’s Dogma 2 excels in its mission design as a result, becoming more than a simple fetch quest or map icon tick box.

Dragon's Dogma 2 review

Pawn Stars

Accompanying you on your successes and failures throughout the world are Pawns, characters created by the community. As an Arisen, you have a natural affinity and command over Pawns, allowing you to create one of your own and swap out up to two others. In the Pawn mechanic, Dragon’s Dogma 2’s collective spirit comes alive.

The original system has been expanded to some degree. Acquire a Pawn from a player who’s already completed a quest, and they can offer you advice, guide you to the objective or even point out locations or chests. Your own Pawn will join other Arisen on their journeys, accumulating knowledge, appreciation and even gifts.

Pawns are essential to combat too, capable of taking up most (but not all) of the same classes available to the player. Composition, inventories, levels and equipment all come into play. It’s a wonderful system, maintaining the solo nature of the game while fostering a cooperative energy. There’s a satisfaction that comes from seeing your Pawn return from a long trip with another Arisen, with a special item gift in tow.

They’re not perfect, however, as in my playthrough, they were liable to fall off of cliffs or dive into bodies of water. Both of which are lethal, and remove them from your party. While I didn’t mind the idle chatter they often partake in, it may grate on players who want a more quiet experience, too. What did impress me, was the abundance of voice lines and the sheer ridiculous feat of wizardry that went into making them so adaptable to each player’s game.

I wouldn’t say they’ve revolutionised the role of Pawns in the sequel, but they’ve certainly been expanded and made that much more impressive.

Dragon's Dogma 2 review

A Summer Vocation

Upon leaving one of the many villages or living areas of the world, you’ll rapidly find yourself accosted by the bloodthirsty creatures of its universe. The roads are positively bristling with all manner of foes, from goblins and wolves to larger, more mythical beings. To that end, you’ll be engaging in combat, a lot of it.

Classes in Dragon’s Dogma 2 are called Vocations. They range from your basic soldier, mage or thief and eventually expand into hybrid melds and other unique variations. Each comes with its own weapon type, abilities, buffs and equipment. It’s a comprehensive class system, made even better by how you can swap between them at any time.

I mastered a couple of Vocations (thief and warrior) and dabbled in others. Whether you’re laying the smackdown with a greatsword or pinging off incantations as a sorcerer, it all blends superbly. It’s not as precise as something like a Devil May Cry, instead, it opts for more of a Monster Hunter feel. For the record, I didn’t get on with Monster Hunter, but the flow of combat here feels wonderful.

There’s a definite “floatiness” to the animations, which is difficult to get used to at first. Moreover, enemies are punishing, to say the least. My first foray into a pack of goblins saw me mauled like a scrap of meat in a pride of lions. Once you overcome the initial hurdles, however, it simply clicks into place and that’s where the real fun only just begins.

Dragon's Dogma 2 review

Bring Them To Heel, Or Heal

Much like the first Dragon’s Dogma, the sequel won’t be doing you any favours when it comes to learning the ropes. Sure, there’s a few text boxes explaining the basics and readable entries, but they’re a fraction of what’s needed to overcome this rather brutal land. From the missable quests to the rough onboarding and tutorialisation, Dragon’s Dogma 2 won’t hold your hand as you get to grips with everything.

Even simple concepts like grappling bigger foes to target weak points, using momentum to knock enemies down and how best to specialise your party are left to your own experimentation. I imagine for many players, the first 5 or so hours will be the true test of whether this game will enamour you or curb your enthusiasm, hard.

However, I cannot overstate just how goddamn gratifying it is when you mount a powerful beast and unleash blow after blow into its face. As it folds under the weight of your onslaught and smashes into the ground, you’ll have won. Powerful foes aren’t relegated to bosses either, you’ll literally stumble across them often just traversing from place to place.

The flow of combat and tinkering with your playstyle means Dragon’s Dogma 2 holds up for dozens upon dozens of hours of playtime. The thrill and spectacle of the battles you’ll face will never cease to lose its lustre. That the game is so challenging only serves to push you into ever more compelling scenarios. You don’t get good in this game through meaningless grinding, you get good through practice.

Dragon's Dogma 2 review

A Monster Hunting World

Trust me when I say, you’ll be getting plenty of practice in when it comes to slaying beasts. Both regions of Vermund and Battahl are host to all manner of garish, aggressive foes. Much of this is accentuated by some very deliberate design choices. First and foremost, fast travel is extremely limited. While you can utilise a specific one-use item to warp to specific stones (fast travel points), they’re rather scarce.

Dragon’s Dogma 2 and its director Hideaki Itsuno made a statement prior to the release, imploring players to venture out and explore, rather than skip the lands around them. There’s no denying this will frustrate some, as it often means long-haul trips and backtracking the rather dangerous roads. What I found though, was that it kept me even more hooked in my adventures.

A few hours in, I strode out with a quest in hand, determined to go and polish it off. Three hours later, I was on the other side of the region, I’d battled half an army, cleared multiple caves and completed three other quests. My original objective mocked me from the other side of the world as I sheepishly returned to the main city to restock and start again.

Never mind the fact that as you’re going about your business, you may end up in the middle of a fight between other massive creatures. Or even during a battle, a large foe may swoop in out of nowhere and join the fray. Dragon’s Dogma 2’s highest, most memorable moments come in these emergent moments of unplanned genius. The scary thing is, they happen far more often than you’d expect.

So, even if the lack of fast travel, tutorialisation and brutal difficulty can be off-putting, they’re implemented all in the name of immersion. By the dragons themselves does it work phenomenally too.

Dragon's Dogma 2 review

Drag-on Your Packs

My earlier comparison to Monster Hunter also figures in the game’s approach to inventory management and gathering resources. You will be spending a lot of time in the inventory screen, either moving items between your Pawn’s stashes and your own, buying and selling equipment or dumping everything into a loot container.

There were moments when I felt like this dragged on my desire to get back out into the rip-roaring carnage of battle, but it’s a worthwhile endeavour. Dragon’s Dogma 2 rewards the prepared and forward-thinking player. Refuse to manage your inventory and you’ll end up drained of stamina faster than you can be hounded by wolves.

Additionally, while you can save whenever, there’s only one slot, so save-scumming is limited, which further plays into the high stakes of your decision-making. Be felled by creatures, and your maximum health will continue to drop. To remedy this, you can either A) camp outside or B) rest at an inn or home, which also acts as a second save. If you choose to camp, you’ll also be treated to some of the best campfire cooking graphics you’ve ever seen.

If all of this sounds like a lot of work and effort. Well, it kind of is. It’s another element of Dragon’s Dogma 2’s dual personality. All of these features engage and celebrate those who get on board while punishing those who don’t. Yet, I never felt like punishment was the intention. The world of Dragon’s Dogma, like the sea, is simply indifferent towards you. You may chance it and luck out, but most of the time, you’ll be chewed up and spat out if you choose not to heed its warnings.

Battahl-ing The Elements

Thankfully, the world of Dragon’s Dogma 2 is wonderful to behold. Every settlement I came across had a unique atmosphere, with the high-class society city hubs juxtaposed against the backdrop of peasants and slums. Caverns are intimidating with their winding corridors and fearsome creatures lurk in every corner, just waiting to bring a swift end to your quest.

The draw distance is fantastic, offering a plethora of stunning locales to take in as you journey across the land. Cutscenes continue to look sensational in the RE Engine and the multitude of monsters you’ll do lethal battle with are grand in scale. Battles feel epic thanks to the intense sound design and levels of verticality that’ll have you gawking as you cling on to a flying beast in mid-air.

However, due to the nature of how all of this is built and runs seamlessly (there are no loading screens anywhere), there are some concessions. NPC pop-in is rampant, as in, they can pop into existence literally feet away from you. Pawns can regularly get stuck in geometry or will just refuse to move. There’s also a certain blurriness that becomes noticeable if you pay close attention.

Much like the first game, Dragon’s Dogma 2 is more focused on creating a finely crafted, immersive experience. This isn’t a graphical powerhouse akin to something like Horizon, but with the complete absence of loading screens and the fact that all NPCs are tracked beings with an affinity gauge, it’s mightily impressive that it all holds up.

I had the occasional framerate dip when in massively intense battles, but for the most part, Dragon’s Dogma 2 runs great. The integration of Pawns is quick and easy, demonstrating some expert knowledge in merging online features with an offline-based title. You’ll stay for the endless battling, but it’s worth coming to see the sights just as much.

Born of Dragon Fire

So, how do you sum up a sequel to a cult classic that came out 12 years ago? Pretty straightforwardly, truth be told. For veterans of the first game, this is an absolute no-brainer. Dragon’s Dogma 2 is everything you loved from the original, spruced up, amplified and overflowing with an abundance of RPG glut to sink your swords into.

For newer players, the early game experience will be off-putting, obtuse and even obnoxious. However, I’d implore you not to fade away or lose heart. Once you start working with Dragon’s Dogma, instead of playing it like a typical RPG, you’ll be whisked away into a fantasy universe unlike any other. This dragon will humble and break you initially, but you’ll be all the better an Arisen for it.

What would typically frustrate or annoy me in other games is what ends up making this title so special. After 25 hours, all I want to do is try out more Vocations, hunt even more gargantuan creatures and screw up yet another quest through poor choices. It’s hard to adequately explain just how alluring this game can truly be, once it sinks its hooks into you.

Whether it’s better than the first will come down to personal taste. I’d wager that for the community of people who choose to take on the mantle of the Arisen, they’ll be hard-pressed to find a more compelling, unique or satisfying game this year. There are certainly flaws, but they pale in the grander scheme of what is a massive, bewildering and utterly spellbinding video game.

Dragon’s Dogma 2 is true to the spirit of the original in all the ways a sequel should be. Simultaneously obtuse yet immersive, brutal yet rewarding and handsomely engaging yet hands-off. The struggle in the early hours gives way to what is one of this year’s best RPG experiences, with an incredible amount to discover, overcome and master. It’s been a long 12 years, but the Arisen’s return is one of a burning heart, begging for you to get lost in its weird and wonderful world.

Dragon’s Dogma 2 is available March 22nd on PlayStation 5 (review platform), Xbox Series X|S and PC.

Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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