Dragon’s Dogma II Review

I was a big fan of the original Dragon’s Dogma. It was basically The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim but with FAR better combat, though it took a hit in the narrative and mission structure departments, which simply couldn’t compare to Skyrim’s. Nevertheless, it was an engaging and super fun title, and its pawn system was unique. And we “only” had to wait twelve years for a sequel to pull us back into this interesting new world that Capcom created. The announcement for Dragon’s Dogma II hyped me up like nothing else, and it was THE game I was most excited for in 2024. Did it live up to the hype? Read on and find out.

Ah, hell, I’ll just come out with it now. Yes! It did live up to the hype…mostly.

Once again, the player is the Arisen, whose purpose is to slay the titular Dragon and stop it from destroying all in its path. Thankfully, while this game’s story shares the same “slay the dragon” premise as the previous game, it isn’t a carbon copy of the original either. Dragon’s Dogma II takes place in the land of Vermund, which is admittedly very similar to the first game’s realm of Gransys, and it is made up of forests, fields, canyons, mountainous regions, and a larger number of scattered towns and settlements. This land shares a border with Battahl, a desert region populated largely by the other main playable race, the cat people known as beastren. DD1’s Gransys was a rather sizeable open world but was strangely linear as well. It was designed in a way that required the player to take the same routes in order to reach their destinations. In other words, there was normally only one way to get to where you were going, and very rarely was there a faster route or shortcut. DD2, in all honesty, is very similar. Its open world is somewhat linear, especially in the game’s early hours. However, as you explore more and get through the main story, you will find that this time there are more shortcuts and alternate paths available, as well as many side missions and secrets that can easily go undiscovered if you stick only to the main story and avoid going off the beaten path.

Dragon's Dogma II Review
I’m sure fans of PlayStation Access will recognize this archer pawn right here

 

Narratively, I found Dragon’s Dogma II to be more interesting and involved than the previous game. There was some political intrigue and mystery in the early parts, then it focuses more on the struggle to save the world from utter destruction. But for the most part, this game’s narrative is still functionally very similar to the previous game, in that it’s almost as vague as the average Hideo Kojima game trailer. Same goes for mission structure. A number of times, I wasn’t sure what the hell I was supposed to do next in certain missions. I’m all for letting players figure things out for themselves, but the occasional hint here or there wouldn’t hurt either. In most cases, I was able to figure things out, but sometimes I was forced to look for hints online because the game seriously goes out of its way to make the next step in a quest too unclear.

One mission in particular had me help a young man seek vengeance on a spiteful scoundrel, then he asked me if I knew of a place where he could earn an honest living. After choosing the dialogue option provided that I might know of a place, I was then left with only one follow-up dialogue option: “Nevermind.” The young man rightly got annoyed with me and told me to piss off. The game gave me no other option to help the kid and absolutely no hint as to how I could find a place for him to work. I had to check online to see what my other options were, but given how a previous side mission I completed had ended, I basically had no other way of helping the kid. And don’t get me started on the now well-known “surprise feature” of Dragonsplague, as well as the inclusion of the Unmoored World endgame that apparently features a rest limit and semi-roguelite elements. If I wasn’t warned about these portions of the game from a buddy of mine and from checking online, I might not have enjoyed this game as much as I did. Thankfully, for the most part, I enjoyed this game’s missions and appreciated how different missions can affect others, both positively and negatively.

Dragon's Dogma II Review
“Okay…I seriously can’t tell where this is going. Do you wanna’ eat me or f@%k me?”

 

Oh, yeah, and the same janky-ass affinity system from the first game is alive and well in this one. Thankfully, it doesn’t affect this game’s ending to such an obvious degree this time around (in fact, I kind of struggle to see why it was included at all). Still, if you want to make sure certain characters have a high affinity for you and others don’t, you’ll have to “game the system” if you want to lower an NPC’s affinity for you by doing things that could be considered “out of character”, like repeatedly unsheathing your weapon in front of an NPC, picking them up repeatedly, or outright attacking them. If there is ever a Dragon’s Dogma III, please, Capcom…either get rid of this downright stupid affinity system or rework it completely into an actual functioning romance system like in Mass Effect.

Before this review starts sounding too negative, let’s get to the good shit! Adventuring through Dragon’s Dogma II’s open-world is a treat. For one thing, this game looks way more detailed and appealing than its predecessor thanks to the RE Engine. The player character and pawns look almost photorealistic (the much improved character creator can be thanked for that), NPCs and monsters look great as well, and the environments are sights to behold. The core gameplay loop is also more gripping and fun than ever. Many enemies from the previous game return here, such as goblins, wolves, skeletons, cyclopses, ogres, griffins, and drakes, and several new ones are introduced, like minotaurs, dullahans, and medusas. I will say, however, that the first game had an overall larger selection of more varied enemies than this one, particularly in the endgame, and even more so in the Dark Arisen expansion (let’s hope the rumors of a DLC/expansion for this game are true so more enemies could be added in). Despite this game’s somewhat smaller selection of enemies, many of them remain as threats for even higher-level players. In the first game, once your character was level 45 or so, most enemy encounters became trivial. In this game, however, even enemies that are normally minor threats when the player is at a higher level, like hobgoblins and griffins, can still mess you up if you get too careless and complacent. I once had a large group of hobgoblins bring me down to low health later in the game by throwing tar and then lit torches at me to set me on fire while I was trying to revive a pawn (annoying bastards). And another time, while fighting probably my twentieth griffin on a mountain and bringing it down to low health, it picked me up in its talons, and before I could shake myself loose, the feathery jackass threw me off the mountain to my death. I appreciated the smarter enemy AI in this game, it made my adventure more engaging than ever.

Dragon's Dogma II Review
The Arisen partakes in his favorite pastime: “Whac-A-Cyclops”

 

Fighting these enemies is a blast, and the different vocations (nine of them, to be precise) available to you and your pawns make it so that you can build the perfect team that can handle any situation. I went for a fighter/warrior build, and my main pawn was a mage/sorcerer. For my support pawns, I would typically hire a thief to aid me in direct combat, and I’d have an archer to deal with enemies from a distance, so I had all avenues covered. While we’re on the subject of pawns, I’d like to point out how they’re just as helpful and effective in combat in the previous game. They’ll still occasionally get stuck in corners, and you’ll hear them repeat the same lines ad nauseum, though they seem to do it less frequently. The pawns also exhibit more unique personalities through the different inclinations available to them. These inclinations not only affect how they act during combat but also dictate how they speak to the player and with each other. Yep, pawns now have conversations with one another, making them come across as more human (or beastren).

One noticeable change from the first game is how all vocations in this game can equip four skills, which made things more balanced, in my opinion. In DD1, certain vocations, particularly the warrior, got shafted in the number of skills available to them. Vocations like mystic knight (I miss this one) and assassin could equip up to nine and twelve skills, respectively, since they could use multiple weapons, yet mages and sorcerers could use six skills, even though they only carried staffs. The warrior, for some reason, could only equip three skills. Only three. DD2 definitely improved things with regards to making the different vocations more balanced. And acquiring the “ultimate skills” for the vocations is done more organically by seeking out different maisters (professionals) who can teach you their best skills once you’ve completed special quests for them. And also like in the previous game, Dragon’s Dogma II has a great collection of weapons and armor for all the vocations, most of which look damn cool. Though I must point out how I was irritated with the lack of an option to view the stats of a weapon or piece of armor on its own; instead, we can only see how much our characters’ stats go up or down when examining said weapon or armor piece.

Other survival-like features were added into this game to make it more immersive than its predecessor, like the ability to set up a tent at designated campfires and rest in case there aren’t any towns nearby. Resting is more necessary than ever since, as you take damage, you are dealt a small bit of lasting damage that will completely remove a portion of your health. While your regular health can be restored by healing magick and consumables, lasting damage can only be restored by resting (or one particularly rare health item). You can also use oxcarts to take you to different towns, which is useful if you need to revisit the same town for the tenth time and don’t feel like walking that same terrain all over again. However, enemies can attack you both when you’re camping or riding oxcarts, so you can’t completely be at ease unless you’re in a town (though it is possible for monsters to occasionally attack the main towns as well). I liked this slight feeling of uncertainty in Dragon’s Dogma II; kept the proceedings fresh. Ferrystones are still a thing and can be used for instant travel to any Portcrystals on the map, but both items are kind of hard to come by until you reach the endgame.

Dragon's Dogma II Review
Pawn: “Look, Master, a treasure chest. We should try to find a way to re-”       Arisen: “Will you shut the hell up?! Concentrate on the gonorrhea-ridden dragon we’re currently trying to kill!”

 

But whose idea was it to make Riftstones that you find out in the wilds so damn limited? They all store a finite number of pawns for you to choose from, and they all appear to have a “theme”, such as pawns who haven’t traveled very much or pawns who all have “generous” proportions (meaning they’re fat as hell or, as the kids say nowadays, “super thicc” to the point where they’re completely misshapen). A few times I lost a support pawn while out in the wilds, and when I reached a Riftstone, I couldn’t even re-summon that pawn I lost, I had to choose from one of these themed Riftstones, which many times didn’t have any pawns that were the right vocation I wanted. I almost exclusively used the Riftstones in the main towns, where I had my pick of pawns.

When it’s all said and done, despite how negative this review may have seemed at times, I had a blast with Dragon’s Dogma II overall. I really did. This game drew me to explore every corner of the world in a way the first game never did. The enemies were fun to fight, and the different vocations with which you could battle these monsters made for some epic and memorable brawls (though the pre-endgame final boss was surprisingly…less epic than I had hoped). This game has a lot going for it, but it still had some flaws that prevent it from going all the way to being a masterclass action-RPG. Those who didn’t find the original Dragon’s Dogma to be quite their cup of tea likely won’t have their minds changed by the sequel. But if you’re a fan of the genre, you shouldn’t miss out on this one.

Developer: Cacpom

Publisher: Capcom

Platforms: PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PC

Release Date: 22nd March 2024

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