Dragon’s Dogma 2 Review – An Adventure That’ll Take Your Heart

But it won't hold your hand.

This is the last time I’ll rattle on about this, but it’s truly wild to think that the first Dragon’s Dogma game was released twelve years ago. The series has long been a cult classic amongst players, with many appreciating its unique take on a popular genre. Now, Dragon’s Dogma II is making an earnest effort to right all the wrongs of its predecessor. While it’s not as immense a step as expected, it does everything the first game promised before its budget was infamously slashed. Even better, it does more.

Dragon’s Dogma II takes place in a parallel world, far removed from the Sicily-inspired realm of Gransys from the original game. You play as an Arisen, somebody who has had their heart taken by a dragon and, in exchange, granted immortality. As lore dictates from the previous game, your immortality comes with a catch – you must slay the dragon who took your heart and subsequently claim the throne of your kingdom for yourself. To complicate matters, somebody has infiltrated the royal family of your kingdom, claiming to be the Arisen themselves, but we both know that’s not the case.

Dragon Dogma II 2 Review - Dragon Encounter Prologue

At a glance, the first Dragon’s Dogma had a relatively typical story you’d expect to find in any medieval adjacent, fantasy-tinged game like this. But as the story progressed, the game quickly pivoted to some unexpected places. Dragon’s Dogma II follows a similar story arc. However, I will always argue that the series has always been about the journey rather than the destination. The plot of Dragon’s Dogma II is still easily a step above the original game, but it’s not the reason I find this sequel so compelling.

That’s because the open world presented by Dragon’s Dogma II is rare. It’s not intent on bombarding you with checklists to complete, instead throwing you out into the world with minimal guidance. You’re free to explore and make your own discoveries. This is bound to be contentious, especially amongst less seasoned players, but it does give Dragon’s Dogma II a sense of discovery that we’ve previously seen in the original game, more recent Zeldas or even Elden Ring. There are options to seek guidance for those who need it, but other than that, you’re on your own.

Dragon's Dogma II 2 Review - A Golem Battles The Party

Such a design choice dovetails wonderfully with the strength and conviction of Dragon’s Dogma II’s open-world design. The best open worlds are designed to be distracting in all the right ways, and Dragon’s Dogma II is no exception. While the roads between your objectives are long and winding, there was never a moment where I was genuinely bored while exploring. Every journey felt just like a journey, and seeing what I’d discover next was always exciting. It’s just as well that the open-world design is so strong because while there are fast travel options, they’re expensive and rare opportunities that betray the intention of this rich world.

The Pawn system is undoubtedly the most unique aspect surrounding Dragon’s Dogma II. The pawns return here, and they’re much better implemented. The process is the same. You still design your own pawn, who accompanies you throughout your adventure. You can then recruit two other guest pawns to round out your party of four. Guest pawns are interesting – they are other players’ pawns pulled from online, but they don’t level up as you and your main pawn do. Instead, you’re encouraged to switch them out as you see fit or to better suit your quest.

Dragon's Dogma II 2 Review - Two Sorcerors Are Incanting A Spell

It’s an interesting system that has a clear benefit to the player in that it allows them to be creative in creating a party that’s to their preference, rather than being forced upon with party members they don’t like. But it feels like a misstep that there’s no cross platform functionality here – especially given that Capcom has their own Capcom ID system and has already implemented the functionality into games like Exoprimal previously.

Besides that, pawns are a stark improvement from what they were in the original game. You can teach them specialisations that alter their behaviour or give them perks they never had before. They can still travel to other players’ worlds to widen their knowledge and use that knowledge to provide tips on quests you’ve yet to complete. They fight better. They interact with players in a much more natural way. They’re an all-around improvement. Though there was an odd moment where the pawns would repeat the same lines to each other early on, the pawn system in Dragon’s Dogma II is a marked improvement from the original game

Of course, the question will be raised. Wouldn’t online co-op be better? Part of me says yes. I’d love to explore this world with my friends. But the pawn system is so unique and untapped that removing them completely would strip Dragon’s Dogma II of such an important and compelling part of its core identity.

Dragon's Dogma II 2 Review - The Player Casts A Holy Spell During The Night, Blinding A Group Of Goblins

The quality of the quests has seen an overall improvement, too. While some vague instructions are communicated to the player, there’s more choice in how you approach some of them. They’re not wide-reaching consequences, but they give a greater sense of weight to how you think about them. That being said, it’s a bit disappointing to see the world lack such reactive force, especially in the face of much more dated games like Bethesda’s output managing to do so, but on the upside to this you’ll rarely find yourself in a situation where you accidentally hit somebody in the face and then get locked out of a quest line because of it.

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When you’re not exploring or completing quests, you’ll be fighting with your vocation. Vocations are your class – they affect which weapons you use and which abilities you can learn. In the sequel, experience is awarded at a standard rate, but switching vocations adjusts your stats to complement whatever vocation you want. This is a significant change because it allows you to switch up your vocations regularly to find what works for you, without under-leveling others. Once again, this is a great design choice because the vocations are incredibly fun to play.

Dragon's Dogma II 2 Review - The Player Is Playing As A Mystic Spearhand And Fighting A Group Of Goblins

While some vocations are removed or completely changed from the original game, the newer additions make up for it. The Mystic Spearhand is a snappy melee class that sees your Arisen wielding a double-edged spear. Playing as them feels more like a Devil May Cry game than anything else. Trickster is an oddly passive vocation but offers a nice alternative to the tried-and-true Mage or Sorcerer vocations. Warfarer is the most interesting. It’s only available in the post-game and combines all the vocations, requiring more skill and finesse to handle but offering you all the weapon types. They’re all great fun to play around with, and while some are missing from the previous game, the new additions and changes to existing vocations more than make up for it.

The robust vocation system and improved pawns complement each other to offer a strong foundation for combat in Dragon’s Dogma II. It’s a combat system that’s easy to grasp but difficult to master. More importantly, the flexibility afforded by vocations coupled with the creativity allowed by the pawn system in building your party means that you’ll always be able to find an approach that works for you. There’s no better feeling than climbing the wings of a Griffon to bring it to the ground with a well-placed stab in the face so that your party can have at it. Or even hitting it out of the sky with a precise strike of lightning magick. The combat is fun to play, which is just as well because it forms so much of the experience.

Dragon's Dogma II 2 Review - A Griffon Battles The Party

Despite this, series veterans may be disappointed to hear that there isn’t much new regarding the bestiary in the world of Dragon’s Dogma II. While there are over twenty different types of enemies to conquer and variants of many of them, too, only a few here’ll surprise returning players. However, the number of enemies combined with the potential variants and even environmental opportunities in battle still keep things fresh. But those expecting massive surprises with the bestiary beyond what’s already been revealed will be disappointed.

That being said, Dragon’s Dogma II does its best to try and correct the errors of its predecessor in earnest. There’s not much I’m permitted to speak about in terms of post-game content, nor would I want to ruin the surprise, but take my word for it that the post-game content is much more interesting than the Everfall in the original game. Though, before you even get there, there’s much to do in Vermund, Battahl and the areas in between. My first run took around 40 hours, but I could have taken my time to do more and most definitely will in the new game plus mode that unlocks after completion. It’s a big game that’s incredibly inviting but never feels like an arduous chore to explore.

Dragon's Dogma II 2 Review - A Close-Up Of Medusa Staring Ominously

But of course, we have to address the elephant in the room – performance. Dragon’s Dogma II is the first RE Engine game to make the jump to a true open world, and with that comes many performance-related challenges. The game officially runs at an “unlocked” frame rate, but on consoles that commonly means anywhere between 20fps in cities and a more solid 30 fps when exploring the rest of the map. It’s a stark difference from Capcom’s other games and will no doubt put off some players, but the ambition and strong artistic direction more than make up for it.

In my previous preview, I addressed concerns about the voice work being flat, and in some instances, it is. But hearing all of these voices come together in a busy city often means the less interesting ones fade into the background. It’s definitely not the most compelling performance from a cast, but it’s still serviceable. The music, on the other hand, is phenomenal. The slower ambient pieces that play do great work in establishing this vast world, while the biblically-dramatic tracks that play as you hunt down monsters help make every encounter feel suitably epic.

Dragon's Dogma II 2 Review - A Beastren Warrior Takes A Huge Swing At A Goblin

Dragon’s Dogma II feels like what the original Dragon’s Dogma should have been. It’s a sprawling and inviting open world that’s just begging to be explored, peppered with dangerous creatures who owe themselves to delectable encounters. The combat is enjoyable, and the vocations are all great choices, no matter how you play. While there are bound to be some teething issues as you become accustomed to its harsh world, it’s more than worth the endurance to live the heady experience that Dragon’s Dogma II offers.

Conclusion
Dragon's Dogma II embodies the essence of what the original should have been. With its expansive open world teeming with dangerous but delightful encounters, enjoyable combat, and versatile vocations, it's an enchanting experience from beginning to end.
Positives
Incredible & Dynamic Combat Options
Unique & Improved Pawn System
Inviting & Satisfying Open-World Design
Entrancing Artistic Direction
Negatives
Errant Performance Issues
No Crossplay For Pawns
9