Dragon’s Dogma 2 (Xbox) REVIEW – He Is Arisen

Dogma hive, arise(n).

Dragon's Dogma 2
Dragon's Dogma 2
GameDeveloperRelease DatePlatform(s)
Dragon's Dogma 2CapcomMarch 22nd, 2024PC, PS5, Xbox Series

How do you create a follow-up to a cult classic? While both the original Dragon’s Dogma and its updated port, Dark Arisen, have sold over 8 million copies combined according to Capcom themselves, with a Netflix animated series on top, it’s never been a game for everyone. Dragon’s Dogma is deliberately hardcore in its design, requiring the player to pay attention and plan ahead in order to make their journey easier, but those who could vibe with the game’s idiosyncratic nature found an RPG worth investing in.

Approaching a sequel with that kind of reputation is tough. You could either try and keep what players loved about the first game so that returning players still feel like they’re being accommodated, or you could try to address some of the issues by adding new features and content in an attempt to achieve broader appeal. The answer that Capcom chose with Dragon’s Dogma 2 is mostly the former, as veteran players will find much of the same game they loved over a decade ago, albeit with a whole new map to explore. Capcom themselves have even referred to DD2 as the game they wanted to make the first time around, and after spending 40+ hours with the game, that’s pretty accurate.

Despite that, newcomers might have more joy getting into the swing of things with Dragon’s Dogma 2, thanks to some better tutorialising when you first start the game and a more engaging opening premise. It also helps that DD2 is set in a completely different world to the first game, so even though a lot of the rules and lore remains the same regarding dragons, Pawns and the Arisen, you don’t need to have played the first game to jump into the sequel.

Dragon's Dogma 2
Yeah, he looks like a knock-off Geralt. Shut your mouth.

Like the first game, the world of Dragon’s Dogma 2 is locked in a cycle of death and rebirth due to dragons and The Arisen. Once every so often, a dragon will rip the heart out of an adventurer, branding them as The Arisen, the one fated to ultimately slay that dragon in the future. While that was most of the driving force of the first game, DD2 adds some additional wrinkles along the way to keep the story somewhat interesting.

The story is set across two countries, Vermund and Battahl, with both having fought in the past but agreeing to an uneasy stalemate. Vermund in particular follows the tradition that the Arisen must become the monarch of the whole kingdom, but during your coronation, you black out and awaken as a slave. After making your escape back to relative civilisation, it’s on you to both fulfill your destiny as the eventual dragonslayer, and uncover the plot to see you ousted as the ruler of Vermund.

It’s a decent enough premise, and certainly gives your created character a bit more agency and nuance than being a lowly schmuck who just happened to get their heart yoinked by a massive dragon, even if that’s because you’re a schmuck who’s missing a heart and yet has the inherent right to become King/Queen. As RPG main quests go, DD2’s is pretty solid, with a good range of quest types making use of the game’s various mechanics, with a couple of standout moments towards the end we’re not allowed to talk about. No, you can’t make us, stop it. You’ll just have to play it yourself.

Dragon's Dogma 2
Dragon’s Dogma 2

Aside from those moments though, it’s the adventuring and combat where Dragon’s Dogma 2 really begins to shine. Arguably most similar to an open-world RPG version of Monster Hunter, Dragon’s Dogma 2’s combat is very deliberate. You need to be careful and precise with your attacks, especially when you’re using bigger weapons/spells or you’re against bigger enemies. That being said, there’s so much room for strategy too, as you could try to climb a cyclops and take its eye out, or hack at its legs in an attempt to knock it off balance and send it tumbling down a cliff. It’s these split-second decisions that turn what could have become a fairly rote slasher into one of the most engaging combat RPGs out there. Mounting massive enemies and bashing their heads in is one of life’s simple pleasures, and DD2 offers it in spades.

You’re given a range of classes, called vocations, to choose from that specialize in some combination of melee, ranged and magic use, with more unlocking as you progress through the game, and each has their own unique playstyle that requires players to experiment to find their preferred style. DD2 even encourages you to dip your toe into everything, as you can purchase augments from one vocation to use in another to create the most broken build possible.

The true genius of Dragon’s Dogma lies in the Pawns though, which make a return here. Alongside your main character, you create an additional character who serves as your Main Pawn, who’ll follow you on your quest no matter where you go. You’re free to equip this Pawn with any weapons, armor and vocations you like, meaning you can have your Pawn focus on healing and support while you deal the damage, or have them focus on mounting the bosses while you deal damage from a distance.

Dragon's Dogma 2
Dragon’s Dogma 2

What makes the Pawn system so engaging is the fact that Pawns are also hireable online, with other players able to summon your Pawn in to help lay waste to your enemies. With up to three Pawns available in your party at one time, you’re given complete freedom almost immediately to create a party to your liking. You’re not beholden to pre-made NPCs joining your party, you can just have a four-man party of sword swinging maniacs, clambering onto an ogre or a golem like a more violent version of Gulliver’s Travels. Personally, my Warrior Arisen paired with a Thief Pawn tore through enemies, with my Pawn TonyTheTiger rope pulling enemies into impaling charges. Who couldn’t love a game that lets you ragdoll enemies into accidental juggle combos?

On top of that, Pawns retain knowledge from their various journeys into The Rift, as it’s referred to in-game, meaning their adventures in the worlds of other players can give them the tools needed to complete certain quests, exploit the weaknesses of enemies and even find hidden treasure when you start playing again. It’s perhaps the best usage of an online system in any single-player RPG, and one that still feels as fresh and innovative now as it did back in 2012.

Despite the heaps of praise that Dragon’s Dogma 2 deserves, there’s a couple of flaws that do hold it back from unmistakable greatness, with the most minor one being that Pawn voice lines can get annoyingly repetitive after multiple hours of play. There’s an option to turn them off if they get unbearable, but the game feels a bit empty without some banter during and in-between fights. I just wish I didn’t have to hear the exact same banter every other fight. The locked 30fps framerate is also disappointing, and even though it’s not exactly a game killer, a 60fps patch down the line would do wonders.

Dragon's Dogma 2
Dragon’s Dogma 2

The real main issue though concerns the camera, along with the level of visual clutter that can appear on screen. In open areas, the camera has enough freedom to give you a clear view of the fight, but in caves, dungeons and other claustrophobic areas, you’re lucky if you can see anything because the camera starts riding up the wall. Meanwhile, if you’ve got a spellcaster of some kind in your party, they’ll throw out spells that can end up obscuring your entire view of the fight, which can often lead to you being pummeled to within an inch of your life. For a medium like gaming that’s mostly visual, not being able to see a good percentage of the time is a real downer.

Even though Dragon’s Dogma 2 can be irksome at times, it’s still an action RPG unlike most others on the market. It’s hard and it’s weird, but it’s also grand in scale and offers real-time combat that’s a lot more strategic than just “mash attack buttons to win”. The question now is if Dragon’s Dogma 2 will be more of a success than the first game, or if it’ll be another one for the cult.

A code for Dragon’s Dogma 2 was provided by PR for the purposes of this review. 

READ MORE: 30 Best JRPGs Of All Time

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Dragon's Dogma 2
Dragon’s Dogma 2 is a kitchen sink sequel to the original sleeper hit from 2012, building on what worked about the first game to create an RPG experience that’s still unlike any other.