Sunday, September 24, 2023
Eleven years ago, t'was a bygone age, when Capcom didst decide to enter a crowded market of fantasy RPG games with Dragon's Dogma, a sprawling and ambitious open-world experience that set itself apart with loyal AI companions known affectionately as 'pawns'. And verily it proved rather popular and people duly demanded a sequel. One 2017 remaster of Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen and more than a decade later, and here we are in the year of our lord, 2023, looking forward to Dragon's Dogma II. At last!
Legging it over to Capcom towers, we were privileged enough to enjoy over an hour with Dragon's Dogma II, and, although this is a relatively early build, it's already more than evident that this is shaping up to be a follow-up that's worth the wait. Choosing to start as the Fighter character class, bumped up to level 15 for the purposes of our demo, we decide to go all-in and piss off a griffin. Why do things by halves, eh? Turns out that attempting to battle a massive enraged griffin isn't a very good idea, but it's a great way to reacquaint oneself with the intricacies of Dragon's Dogma.
This includes getting to know pawns once again. Pawns are the secret sauce in Dragon's Dogma. They made a cracking fantasy RPG even crackinger, enabling you to recruit the characters of other players, who then join you on your journey, helping you out in any way they can. Pawns are loyal, throwing themselves into battle, and they'll point you in the direction of treasure or other points of interest. Best of all, pawns will bark flowery medieval patter, like “lo, there is treasure yon”, or something to that effect. This ye olde talk also makes enemy encounters even more joyful, as they bark all manner of brilliant nonsense.
Diving headlong into Dragon's Dogma II, we begin our brief adventure by angering the aforementioned griffin, rinsing one of its four health bars with an all-out assault, before watching it fly away. Griffin lost over the horizon, it's time to cut our losses and venture forth to see what other scrapes we can get ourselves into. With three pawns at our side – an archer, a thief, and a mage – it's not long before we're running into ragtag bands of goblins and bandits, and falling afoul of a giant cyclops smashing its way through the trees. Its opening gambit is a butt bomb that smashes our party to the ground, leaving us dazed. Our riposte is to climb up its back, shanking it with our sword as we make a beeline for its head. One swift downward stab through its dome, and the life fades from the cyclops' eye as it plummets off a cliffside to the rocks below.
Bruised and broken, it's time to beat a path to the nearest campsite (often found near a Rift Stone, which allows you to swap out pawns) where you can sleep to heal up, equip new skills, and move time forward to morning or nightfall. Sleeping is not without risk, however, as enemies will ambush you while you're trying to get some regenerative shuteye, and, on a couple of occasions, we're rudely awakened by a pack of wolves, red eyes glowing in the darkness. And skeletons. And malevolent wisp-like apparitions. Best be on your guard.
The same is true of straightforward exploration, as, save for the odd travelling merchant or potential pawn-for-hire, pretty much everything, outside of the boundaries of settlements wants to kill you. Even daring to take a dip in a lake or river in Dragon's Dogma II will see you swallowed up by lashing red tendrils and spat out, much like the first game. Luckily, you're well equipped to battle your way through whatever comes your way – even the swooping harpies, who can send you to sleep with their siren song, or descend to pick you up and carry you off in their talons, dropping you from a great height.
Your chosen class, be it archer, thief, fighter, or mage (the game's four starting classes), comes with a different playstyle. The fighter favours brawn with a sword and shield; the archer is quick with a volley of deadly arrows; and the thief specialises in rogue tactics, swift and sneaky. Of course, the mage can cast elemental spells, heal the party, and even float about a bit. Ideally, you'll want your party to have a mage on board (unless you're already playing as one), although having a pawn who's an archer is also handy, especially for shooting those pesky harpies out of the air. The absence of a lock-on can make combat a little chaotic (although holding up your guard allows you to circle an enemy), but there's ample fun to be had amid said chaos.
Eventually, our time with Dragon's Dogma II comes to an end all too quickly, but we're already in. A run-in with a griffin, a battle with a couple of cyclopes, and a good dose of random exploration has us convinced – this is pretty much the sequel we were hoping for, even if it seemingly doesn't do too much to shake up the established formula. On the strength of what we've played thus far, however, Dragon's Dogma II offers more of the same brand of fantasy RPG adventure, but with all the refinements afforded by current-gen platforms. That's more than enough.