Dragon’s Dogma 2 Review (PS5)


When you think of truly memorable open world games, it’s hard not to picture the likes of Elden Ring and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Both are ultimately shooting for different goals, but they share a deep appreciation for discovery. Their worlds aren’t defined by map markers; they’re designed in ways that push players towards the unknown, and that’s what makes them so engrossing.

But there was a game all the way back in 2012 that attempted to capture that same sense of adventure — and it was called Dragon’s Dogma. Initially, Capcom’s first real foray into the fantasy RPG space was sadly overshadowed by Skyrim, but across the last half decade or so, the title has firmly established itself as a cult classic through positive word of mouth. There’s an argument to be made that Dragon’s Dogma was actually ahead of its time, with a clear emphasis on ’emergent’ gameplay depth and a distinct lack of handholding — popular characteristics of critical darlings here in 2024.

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And that brings us to Dragon’s Dogma 2 — a much deserved sequel that diehard DD fans have been waiting 12 years for. Given the current open world landscape, Capcom could have easily changed course and crafted a more… modernised example of the genre — but no, Dragon’s Dogma 2 is basically a retread of its predecessor, except it’s been handed the resources and budget that its vision demands. The result is an open world action RPG that sits alongside Elden Ring and Breath of the Wild as one of the most absorbing adventures we’ve ever played.

Everything this game does, it does in service of the journey. And by that, we mean the vast majority of your playthrough will be spent travelling from place to place via the many, many treacherous roads that make up the title’s sprawling map. These pathways are the lifeblood of Dragon’s Dogma 2, offering up near constant thrills as you clamber over mountains, edge across creaking bridges, and sprint between dusty trails. It’s peak open world design, both in the way it coaxes you forward with impressive-looking landmarks, and in how it feels to actually engage with the game’s varied geography.

But before we continue gushing, we should probably provide a rundown on Dragon’s Dogma as a concept. As was the case in the original release, you play as a completely customisable character known as the Arisen. Your (literal) heart stolen by an all-powerful dragon, it’s the Arisen’s duty to track the winged menace and become a hero in the eyes of the people. Just to be clear, this isn’t a direct sequel; knowledge of the first game isn’t at all required, although it will give you a greater appreciation for what Dragon’s Dogma 2 is trying to do.

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Indeed, this sequel seeks to improve upon everything that Dragon’s Dogma got right. It doubles down on exploration with a far bigger map that’s utterly stuffed with secrets, it fleshes out the action with more in-depth character classes (or vocations, as the game calls them), and it even strives for a more nuanced narrative. On that final point, the first game flirted with political intrigue but never quite embraced it; the storytelling was fairly fleeting, relying on a handful of key cutscenes to express tone and atmosphere, in place of a more typical, dialogue-driven plot.

It’s a similar kind of deal in Dragon’s Dogma 2. There’s no question that the narrative takes a backseat to all of the adventuring that you’ll be doing, but it does try to offer a bit more insight into the societal workings of its fantasy setting. Many of the main story quests, for example, involve courtly plots and characters with questionable motives. It’s all very theatrical, especially in terms of writing, which frequently borders on the sort of whimsical script you’d associate with Shakespearean stage plays.

It goes without saying that the game’s unique style of storytelling won’t be for everyone — it’s certainly not the kind of character-focused RPG that we’ve become so accustomed to. But again, Dragon’s Dogma 2 is all about gameplay, and we’d dare suggest that a more involved narrative would detract from what the title does best. As a plot that simply bubbles away in the background — and gives you ample excuse to go off on far-flung adventures — it more than gets the job done.

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As it turns out, everyone wants a favour from the Arisen. Nobles vie for the chosen one’s influence to further their own ambitions, while the peasants cry out for help with their more humdrum happenings. It’s no surprise, then, that side quests are numerous, sending you up and down the land in search of eventual glory. Most are genuinely interesting and add context to the surrounding world, but the objectives often boil down to go here, get this, bring it back. Thankfully, this is another situation where the strength of the game’s exploration carries the rest of the experience; the act of actually journeying to your destination is usually the highlight of any given quest.

And that’s because Dragon’s Dogma 2 goes all-in on making its map as dynamic as possible. Primarily, random events and enemies are key to keeping things fresh. Whether it’s a pack of squealing goblins or a ox-drawn cart being dismantled by a griffon, there’s almost always something mad going on. There are even times when whole groups of foes from a nearby cave or bandit camp will be drawn into the fray, which results in utter chaos. You know in Skyrim when you’d see giants and mammoths having a go at wandering guards and think, “wow, this game really feels alive”? Well, Dragon’s Dogma 2 is like that, but taken to a new level.

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There’s also a smattering of very subtle survival mechanics, which help maintain that integral sense of adventure. As you travel and inevitably engage in combat — there’s a lot of combat — your maximum health will decrease as you take damage. At least in the game’s early hours, this gradually degrading health pool forces you to stop and rest after a tough fight, either at a designated campsite out in the wilderness, or at an inn. As such, there’s an element of risk versus reward to each excursion, and it’s enhanced through a gorgeous day and night cycle in which more dangerous monsters (including horror-tinged creatures, like the living dead) roam the roads after sunset.

Battling against these beasts is where the game arguably shines brightest. Combat in the original Dragon’s Dogma was excellent once you got to grips with its slightly jank mechanics, and the sequel just pushes everything forward. There’s now an impressive smoothness to character animations, while each and every enemy type comes with its own bag of tricks that you’ll need to contend with. What’s more, vocations are incredibly varied in their approach, leading to an enthralling degree of experimentation as you try to find a favourite.

Really though, it’s the feel of combat that’s generally outstanding — a feat that Capcom has achieved time and time again over the years with titles like Monster Hunter and Devil May Cry. For the uninitiated, combat revolves around vocations and the techniques that they bestow, but it’s how you handle each encounter that matters. Monsters have specific weaknesses — harpies need to be blasted out of the air before they’re vulnerable, for instance — and some vocations are much better suited to clobbering certain beasts than others. You can also use the surrounding terrain to your advantage, leaping onto larger foes and climbing across them in a very Shadow of the Colossus manner. It’s all brilliantly dynamic, always offering different ways to tackle increasingly crazy situations.

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In short, there’s little more satisfying than landing a crushing blow to an ogre’s head, before watching it reel from the impact and crash to the floor. But what separates Dragon’s Dogma from its peers is how you manufacture that skull-smashing attack in the first place. This is a party-based system, where your Arisen is joined on their journey by not-quite-human entities known as pawns. These AI-driven companions are central to both gameplay and the story, as they live and die by the Arisen’s will. In battle, pawns act according to their prior experiences, offering advice if they’re familiar with a certain foe.

They gain said experience through their adventures with other players, and that’s really the crux of the pawn system as a whole. Playing online isn’t a requirement — staying offline will see that your game is populated by randomised Capcom pawns — but an internet connection means that you’ll encounter pawns from “other worlds”; secondary characters that each player creates alongside their Arisen. Your main pawn is your constant companion, and should they be hired by another player, they’ll gain knowledge that can be put to use during your own excursions.

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If you played the first game, you’ll already know the pawn system inside-out, and mechanically, it’s pretty much identical here in the sequel. Having said that, obvious improvements have been made to pawn AI. More specifically, pawns now fight according to their vocation. Mages and archers stay at a distance as shield-bearers and warriors wade into the carnage, preventing the moments of sheer frustration that could punctuate battles in the original release.

Overall, the pawn system remains a unique selling point. The pawns themselves still have an underlying weirdness to them, and it’s amplified by the addition of pawn-to-pawn banter. New players might question why co-op isn’t at least an option, but there’s no denying just how endearing your trusty pawns can be, especially when you’re shoulder to shoulder in the heat of battle.

Speaking of which, getting busy on the battlefield is probably when you’ll notice the single greatest flaw of Dragon’s Dogma 2. We are, of course, referring to its uncapped frame rate, which is capable of fluctuating anywhere between what feels like 15 and 60 frames-per-second on PS5. Now, the most important thing to note is that 90 percent of the time, the title runs at a (relatively) steady 30fps — and the game plays so smoothly that most players probably won’t even notice the more minor dips. However, when things get hectic in the middle of a road that’s packed with vegetation, and then the game has to render crazy magic spell effects over everything, the frame rate can tank.

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Hilariously, if you pan the camera to the sky — away from all of the trees, grasses, particles, lighting effects, and shadows — you’ll see the frame rate skyrocket to a solid 60. This is also the case when you enter The Rift — an interdimensional (and most importantly, barren) plane where you can recruit pawns. The highs and lows of an uncapped frame rate are clear, then, but we live in hope that Capcom can optimise the title post-launch.

It’s a real shame, because visually, Dragon’s Dogma 2 is often picturesque. The environmental detail — particularly out in the wilds — is stunning, and the lighting is immaculate. At times, it looks like a proper current-gen release — something that would never run on a PS4. In fact, our only presentational gripe is with the distinctly lacking dialogue animations. Lip-syncing is barely a thing outside of full-on cutscenes, and we swear that some of the stock animations are taken straight from the first game. Jarring stuff, especially when the rest of the release looks so well realised.

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And finally, we need to at least mention the game’s microtransactions, which, more than anything, are just very disappointing. In case it wasn’t made clear already, Dragon’s Dogma 2 is an incredible RPG. While playing through the entire adventure for the purposes of this review, not once did we find ourselves pining to spend real money on items that can be obtained in-game. However, the mere presence of said microtransactions feels like Capcom’s spitting in the face of its own excellence. Dragon’s Dogma 2 does not need microtransactions; it’s a single-player, open world release that puts everything it has into its pursuit of exploration and discovery. Again, a very disappointing decision.

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