Review: Dragon’s Dogma 2 (Sony PlayStation 5)

Settle in for one heck of a ride...

13 mins read

Given the almost fearsome reputation that Dragon’s Dogma has as a cult favourite (that actually sold better than most people realise), it’s easy to forget that the game wasn’t all that well received at first, and that its Metacritic rating is “only” 78/100. It was a fair analysis however, for a game that was so incredibly ambitious and expansive that inevitably some things were going to go wrong with it. Also, it had a really terrible narrative, and in an RPG that does matter. On paper, it is not an upper-echelon title, but its raw ambition and quirks gave it an X-factor that was also hard to deny. What’s impressive about Dragon’s Dogma 2 is that, rather than try and refine the vision of the first or “fix” the errors that critics identified in it, the team at Capcom instead doubled down. This is an even more ambitious, spectacularly beautiful vision. It’s also even more broken in some ways… but it’s somehow even more charming because of that.

Dragon’s Dogma 2 takes place in an absolutely massive world that truly feels both alive and incredibly dangerous, and this is because across the entire world things are in constant motion and, if not random, then the routines of every character, enemy and monster is very complex in being so dynamic. What this means is that the game is totally happy to throw deadly monsters, well beyond the character’s ability at the time, in their pathway right from the start. Most open world RPGs do have areas where players can run into obscenely powerful monsters “too early,” but those are typically off the beaten track and designed as an incentive to come back later on in the game. They’re easy to avoid when you’re low level and looking to make progress through the game.

Meanwhile, here’s an example of what happened to me in Dragon’s Dogma: After an extended tutorial and opening quest, which sees you escape from a mine where you’re being held captive, find your way to a small village and then dragon-destroyed town, and jump on a caravan to the first major city (fighting a cyclops boss battle along the way), the world essentially opens up and you’re told that you’re to explore it. The first major quest sends you on lengthy journeys – on foot – in different directions from that city.

A screenshot from Dragon's Dogma 2

So off I went, and within a minute of leaving the city, while I was still wandering through the wheat farms just outside the castle gates, I almost crashed into a monstrous griffin that had decided to snack on some livestock and/or people. Naturally, out of concern for the city’s BBQ supply, I drew my weapon.

It ended very quickly level 10 me. There was no way I was going to be able to fight this thing for quite some time. It splattered me. So I reloaded and went to take the long way around… only there was no griffin this time (or perhaps it was on the other side of a hill or something? I wasn’t testing my luck by actively looking for it). What that early experience did do, though, was instil in me a healthy understanding that I could run into anything at any time on my adventures. I’d see a shadow overhead (often griffin-shaped) and immediately look for an escape route. I saved frequently and often, and when I did see a hulking monster somewhere, I would attack it, most likely die, and then file that away in my memory as something to get revenge on much later on. If I could track it down while it went through its routines, at any rate.

It really is amazing just how alive the world is, and that makes exploring it fundamentally interesting, because no matter how frequently you visit an area, there’s every chance that you’ll have a different experience of it. This has consequences, though. One is that the game does feel like it’s too ambitious for its engine sometimes (if not often) and the gorgeous art direction and scope gets let down a little because of it. It also means that weird things can happen at times and I wasn’t always sure if that was intended by the developers, an outright bug, or a quirk that they left in there because it keeps things interesting and fit the theme. Dragon’s Dogma 2 has such scope and such a “living open world” feel that it provides the same sense of wonder as loading up The Witcher 3 for the first time (remember when we all did that)? Coming off the more static but infinitely more carefully designed Final Fantasy VII Rebirth or Like a Dragon, Dragon’s Dogma is a big, beautiful mess.

A screenshot from Dragon's Dogma 2

The thing that did the most damage to break my immersion into the experience is also one of the more petty issues – AI pathfinding in this game is terrible, perhaps because there is so much AI doing pathfinding in such a dynamic environment. While Dragon’s Dogma 2 is a single-player game, it’s possible to recruit pawns – avatars that other players around the world have uploaded to the servers. These pawns will often helpfully offer to lead you to objectives and other key locations… and will then proceed to stutter about, crash into the scenery, and run in truly random directions. It’s never broken (in the sense that the AI will indeed lead you where you want to go), but it’s often nonsense to look at, and really breaks with the fantasy.

All is forgiven once the swords and bows come out, however, because the beautiful chaos that is Dragon’s Dogma’s combat system is unparalleled. Fights often involve not just my small team of pawns, but also the caravan guards nearby that get dragged into it. And then, frequently, more monsters would just appear on the scrap and join in on the fun. I played an archer and so tried to hang back, and the sheer chaotic energy in watching the combination of skirmishes on the fringe and pack attacks to gang up on powerful enemies never grew old.

And, of course, the bosses were something else again. In Dragon’s Dogma, you can climb all over these enemies, looking for vulnerable places to stick your weapon into. Environmental effects can come into play too, and given that the big beasties can be fought in several places, this helps keep things interesting. It is perhaps a little less outright challenging than the original Dragon’s Dogma (at least, what I remember of it), but it can still punish the unwary or those who can’t approach the action tactically. Even if you are careful, however, you’re still going to die a lot. Especially when running into big monsters for the first time. This is a game that does the “Game Over” screen rather than the Elden Ring-like bonfire resurrections, so be prepared for a lot of “old school” reloads.

A screenshot from Dragon's Dogma 2

Speaking of “old school” Dragon’s Dogma does embrace that a lot. The quest system can be maddeningly obtuse, both in terms of figuring out who will give you quests and then how to complete them. It’s a source of tension within the game because many of the quests have strict time limits, and there were more than a few I failed because time ran out. The only fast travel is from city to city (and it costs money), so you’ll need to hike your way back after doing something. This is because Capcom wants you to explore and, remember, the dynamic nature of the world means that the journey back is often as interesting as the journey to the destination. But that lack of fast travel in a world this big does give the game a laborious pacing at times.

Finally, the storytelling still sucks. Just like the first game, you’ve bonded with a Dragon as the “Arisen” and… well, that’s as coherent as things get. All the NPCs that do chat with you use such an array of archaic words that they come across as a bad parody of Shakespeare, and what thin narrative the game has is paced utterly dismally because you’ll be spending so much time being distracted by other things.

On the other hand, Capcom probably didn’t feel the need to write something of the standard of a Final Fantasy XVI, because Dragon’s Dogma 2 is filled with very high-quality and spontaneous emergent storytelling moments. I shared one in this review alone. Much like the first game, people are going to hang on to their most amusing deaths and the most surprising delights that they find while exploring and forging their own paths through the world. In that way, the “story” of Dragon’s Dogma 2 is much more memorable and personal than almost any other game out there.

A screenshot from Dragon's Dogma 2

Dragon’s Dogma 2 is going to be the most ambitious game that you play for quite some time. It’s truly spectacular for its scope and the many multifaceted dynamics that ensure that nothing about it, at any point, becomes routine or rote. It’s also frustrating, archaic, and a mess in so many other ways, but the developers left nothing on the table in making this, and it’s hard not to admire such brazen creativity.

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Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

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