Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Dragon’s Dogma 2 Review — An Epic Fantasy

Dragon’s Dogma 2 doesn’t care whether you like it or not.

Now, let’s be clear: I know that video games do not have feelings or just one intention. Despite what big names may imply on big stages during big shows, video games are not made by one person. There are no real auteurs, and to argue otherwise shows a complete misunderstanding of the development of video games.

But Dragon’s Dogma 2 is aware of its rough edges, and doesn’t look to sand them down. In many ways, it is an inaccessible game — and I’ll let smarter people than me talk about how inaccessible — and if you’ve played the original and thought it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t bother with the second. It looks great, it plays great (on the PS5, anyway), and it improves on its emergent gameplay in ways that make a trek down a singular road to pick up ingredients feel fun and refreshing. But it is still very much a Dragon’s Dogma game, and Capcom leans into its clunk and jank with glee.

Much like its predecessor, Dragon’s Dogma 2 starts with you, the Arisen, being thrust into a new and exciting fantasy world with one mission: seize your destiny. As an Arisen, your goal is to slay the infernal dragon that plagues this world and its inhabitants. You’re helped along the way by a group of Pawns, a barely-there group of fighters, thieves, archers, mages, and everything else in between, who exist to live and serve the Arisen. You’ll only have one main Pawn however, with the other two that you choose to join, you coming from other Pawns you find either in the Rift, an ethereal other-place that straddles the line between different worlds, or Pawns you meet on the road.

dragon's dogma 2
Image Source: Capcom

You’ll meet various people throughout your adventure in Dragon’s Dogma 2, but your main Pawn is your true companion, your ride-or-die, if you will. They’re your one true ally from start to finish, and despite their minimal capacity for emotions, it’s hard not to get attached to them. It helps that they truly feel useful this time around. There was one incident where I’d run out of stamina, and couldn’t stop the ogre from tossing me to the ground a few feet away. With a quick press of a button, I asked for help, and my Mage Pawn raced over to my side to haul me onto my feet. In a matter of moments, we were both ready to go and kick some ogre tail. And, after all that fighting? We even high-fived. Hell yeah.

It’s small moments shared between your Arisen and your Pawns that add some much-needed weight to your journey. Narrative depth has never been Dragon’s Dogma’s strong point, and as someone who craves character-driven stories, I’ve always felt a little bit of an outsider looking in. There are a few NPCs that stick out among the sea of bland beige, but these are far-and-few between. There’s Captain Brant, who acts as one of the people who guide you, the kind-hearted leader of Melve, Ulrika, and the sinister Queen-Regent of Vernworth. But even they feel like standees or, in certain cases, one-note and stereotypical. That’s because, whether I like it or not, the Arisen is the most important character in this world. Does that mean everyone else has to be as compelling as a moldy sandwich for lunch, though?

My gripe with characters aside, the lackluster NPCs do have a positive side. They only help enhance the emergent gameplay, and the stories you make while simply playing the game are much more vivid and exciting than the actual story itself. It’s not a boring narrative by any means, but let’s be honest. Does it compare to coming across an ogre fighting a drake, all while a helpless oxcart tries to push on through to the next town? Not really.

Combat in the original Dragon’s Dogma was the game’s selling point for many, and that tradition continues with the sequel. 80% of what you’ll be doing in Dragon’s Dogma 2 has to do with combat in some way, and so it makes sense that getting from place to place — a luxurious stroll in some RPGs — feels a little like you’re a contestant in Takeshi’s Castle. When you think you’ve dealt with one problem, you find that there’s a huge minotaur around the corner, and he’s more than willing to turn you into a paste. And, because vocations, which are akin to traditional pen-and-paper RPG classes like ‘fighter,’ ‘rogue,’ ‘mage,’ etc., are much more succinct and lean this time around, you’re able to slot into whatever role is required of you with ease.

Dragon's Dogma 2
Image Source: Capcom

As someone who doesn’t like to think too hard, I decided to go with Fighter. A sword-and-shield vocation, my job was to help clear up enemies, while defending the squishier Pawns in the back. However, as my level progressed, I decided that I wanted something a little more dangerous and ended up swapping to Warrior, a 2-handed sword build that has you slashing foes clean in half, but at the cost of speed and maneuverability. This worked for a time, but I quickly found that I wasn’t feeling it, and quickly changed back to the familiar. This level of customization and choice, to allow you to change your vocation and not punish you for doing so or force you to grind your way to it, was really a game-changer for me and only further emphasized Dragon’s Dogma 2’s intention of your game being unique and special to you.

More importantly, Dragon’s Dogma 2 did something I didn’t think possible: It made me enjoy open world games again. For a long time, I’ve practically hissed at the thought of an open world, having remembered how soulless so many have felt throughout the years. Dragon’s Dogma 2 though? Each time I turned my PS5 off and went up to bed for the night, the Guerco Mountains, Vernworth, and those long, winding roads and deep, monster-ridden forests clawed at the front of my mind. What would have happened if I’d gone right, instead of left? Maybe I shouldn’t have closed off so soon, because who knows what I might have missed?

Dragon’s Dogma 2 is a masterpiece because it captures that illusion of choice that gamers desire in video games, and uses it to influence the world they’ve so lovingly curated. Each choice, from something as simple as choosing to buy an NPC an ornate box instead of letting them do it themself to losing a friend because you took too long to finish their quest, feels substantial. Dragon’s Dogma 2 doesn’t want to waste your time, it wants you to to think about it and get lost in the joy of that decision, and I think that, without a single doubt, makes it one of the most compelling games of 2024 so far.

Score: 4/5

A copy of Dragon’s Dogma 2 for PS5 was provided via Capcom to Gayming Magazine for review.

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