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Dragon's Dogma 2 Could Be 2024's Breakout RPG

As my fearsome archer walks across a bustling sand-coated bazaar, my coin purse must be jingling, because countless town folk are vying for my attention. Nestled on a mountain top, this dust-coated medieval market city is abuzz with activity. A fully clothed, purring cat-man beckons me towards his stall, tail swaying as he enthusiastically displays his wares. An anxious-looking woman mutters to herself about some inaudible problem that has “side quest!” written all over it, and a group of children sprint joyously across the sandy streets. It’s my first visit to Gransys, and a pleasingly lively one. But amidst all the chaos, something on the horizon catches my eye. An eagle, maybe? Drawn toward the skyward glint, the crowd thins as I reach the dusty city gates and hear an ear-piercing screech. A dragon. I guess the clue was kind of in the title, wasn’t it?

It’s an intriguing reintroduction to this world, and one that hooks me infinitely more than my several (failed) attempts at enjoying the first game. Launched around the end of the PS3 generation, 2012’s eyebrow-raising tale of swords and sorcery offered an unwieldy approach to the classic fantasy RPG. Yet much like the equally oddball Nier, Dragon’s Dogma slowly garnered one of those fanbases, the misty-eyed diehards who gush about it with the kind of reverence usually reserved for a Souls game. The problem was, despite repeated attempts to get down with the dragon, Capcom’s cult curio just never clicked for me.

Less talk, more action

Thankfully, with Dragon’s Dogma 2, Capcom seems more determined to let you have some fun. Wasting no time on ambiguity, its dizzying array of combat options and in-game mechanics are all clearly explained, allowing me to hop into the magical archer class and wreak some arrow-led havoc. Having sighted that flying behemoth in the distance, I opt to do what I can only assume is my dogmatic duty and brutally murder it. Or that was the plan, anyway. As I leap down a right-hand path, I suddenly spy a cave jutting out of the mountainside. It would be rude not to, right? Heavily guarded, it turns out I have stumbled into some kind of ancient monastery, and in spectacularly unholy fashion, I am attacked on sight. As I ricochet arrows across the monastery’s dimly lit dirt corridors, I slaughter the troupe of guards closing around me. Running ever deeper into this holy enclave, I accidentally interrupt a ritual, prompting more angry humanoids and hissing cat-men to pursue me across the creepy cavern. I take out about twenty of them before finally being bested and chucked into jail, naked and humiliated.

Pre-order Dragon’s Dogma 2: Amazon | Best Buy | Humble Bundle

Based on the eyebrows raised by the Capcom staff in the room, this wasn’t supposed to be the way I started off my grand adventure. But these opportunities for emergent, free-form role-playing really stood out during my time with this game.

It helps that Dragon’s Dogma 2 is a bit of a looker. Sporting a muted and painterly art style, these slightly eerie environments feel closer to the dreamy hues of Ico than the loud, high-contrast locales of Monster Hunter. Dragon’s Dogma 2 feels lived-in and intriguing, in a way that I felt the original never quite pulled off. Your uncanny AI companions add to the weirdness. Flanked by up to three of the aptly named pawns, you recruit these disposable party members in a bid to cover all the archetypal party bases—an archer, a healer, a warrior, etc. It’s essentially like having three of Skyrim’s Lindas with you at all times, but mercifully, these soulless mercenaries are infinitely more competent. As I roam across the plains after dark, the once-quiet hills become a nest of monster activity. As pack of wolves attack my party, a building-sized ogre leaps into the fray, turning a peaceful midnight stroll into a frantic fight for survival.

It’s this constant threat of impending chaos that draws me into this odd—and slightly miserable—world. As I found out when I finally took down that elusive dragon, the magic archer class is an absolute blast to use. From raining down ricochet arrows that charge and send arrowheads pinging around like a murderous game of pinball, to unleashing a fire arrow that burns foes with a satisfying sizzle, there’s a pleasing sense of control and nuance to what could easily have been just another long-range attack. In a nice touch, archers double-up as healers, allowing you to resurrect your brave and noble pawns with a fully charged healing shot. It’s a fun and versatile approach to bow-fu, and one that felt far more immediately gratifying than the frantic slashing of the spear-wielding spearhead class.

Enticingly strange

Part Monster Hunter, part Japanese interpretation of Skyrim, the original Dragon’s Dogma was a jumble of poorly explained mechanics. But thankfully, everything’s much more clear and intuitive this time around. While there’s still a slightly unruly quality to the sequel, it feels beguiling rather than frustrating, a game world beckoning you to explore its oddities on your own terms. This is a realm where random NPCs will approach you unprompted to either give you new quests or hints about current quests. These range from mundane collect-a-thons to more disturbing story-led encounters. As I quickly learn, some quests are also affected by the passage of time. Venturing into a quiet hillside village, I meet a woman who pleads with me to locate a lost boy. Distracted by a plethora of monsters in the grasslands nearby, I arrive at his location too late—finding a corpse sitting in the cave where his still-breathing body would have been, had I arrived sooner. Sorry mate.

The only criticism I really have of Dragon’s Dogma 2 so far is the complete lack of online co-op. While director Hideaki Itsuno told me last year that this is an intentional creative choice, the purely offline pawns feel like a strangely Xbox 360-era limitation. Whether it was allowing a co-op partner to control one of your pawns, or simply having a friend join your session with their own AI army in tow, I can’t help but feel as though this landscape would be perfect for online adventuring.

Still, I’m keen to explore more of Dragon’s Dogma 2's world. Boasting a map four times the size of its predecessor, there seems to be a wealth of weird and wonderful secrets hidden across its unruly landscape. Based on my three monster-slaying hours, Dragon’s Dogma 2 is still an inherently oddball twist on the RPG, and probably isn’t for everyone. Yet thanks to a more accessible onboarding process and intuitive combat, without a Baldur’s Gate 3 or Tears of the Kingdom in the way, there’s every chance that Capcom’s fantasy outing could be the breakout RPG of 2024.

Dragon’s Dogma 2 comes to PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC on March 22.

Pre-order Dragon’s Dogma 2: Amazon | Best Buy | Humble Bundle

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