I went into my Dragon’s Dogma 2 hands-on preview with zero expectations. I’ve never played the original Dragon’s Dogma – somehow, most of Capcom’s games from that era passed me by entirely – but I was interested in finally getting to grips with the series, learning what people loved about it, and seeing what the upcoming sequel had to offer in terms of refreshed gameplay. I think there can be value in a newcomer’s perspective of a series, especially in TheGamer’s case when a fan of the series has already played the game as well – read my colleague Meg Pelliccio’s preview here for her perspective.
My research told me that the game was widely beloved for its gameplay. Combat was enhanced by the game’s grab action, which let you cling to and even climb enemies while attacking them. The game had a unique ‘pawn’ system, giving you AI-controlled party members who followed your orders and could be borrowed from other players by connecting online, and vice versa. Pawns could talk to you, ask for help, and give you information about enemies.
The game’s world and writing, however, are often described as lore-heavy and are widely considered weak points. The choices you make throughout the story are striking, yes, but the game’s story is, apart from its ending, predictable and rooted in fairly typical fantasy tropes and conflicts. Most players agree that the story isn’t the point of the game and that the combat and unique game systems far outshine the writing and narrative.
All these things, at least in the hour I had with the game, still feel true. Combat feels great and flows easily, even for somebody as unfamiliar with the game as me – building up to lethal attacks was intuitive, even if the skills seemed fairly opaque to me and needed time getting used to. Like in the first game, you have a button for weak attacks, one for heavy attacks, and skills you can use. I started my demo as a thief, tasked with culling monsters from three different places on the map, which meant I was given a dodge action called Swift Step. I would dart from enemy to enemy with my twin blades, slashing and stabbing and leaping into the air to unleash a flurry of attacks on my enemy’s head. Later, when I switched to an Archer vocation, I could release charged shots or a barrage of arrows at enemies. It was awesome.
The pawns are also largely the same as before, but have been improved in significant ways. They’re more useful in a fight and helped me navigate Gransys with ease because, apparently, they already knew the way to where I was trying to go. It made a kind of narrative sense, as if each of these pawns were hired hands with existing knowledge of the area. Running towards one of them led to her taking off in the direction I needed to head in, and I didn’t have to open the map constantly to see where I needed to go or which fork in the road to take. They reminded me to heal up, and took out enemies with surprising efficiency – they’re much better at combat than I am.
I know, this all sounds great. But the entire time, I was struggling to understand what people love about it. Yes, combat felt amazing, but what others found funny in the previous game, I just found frustrating. Why were my pawns saying things like “huzzah” and “over at yon spire”? For that matter, why were they talking so much, all the damn time? Why were there so many caves? Why did I have to go to three separate locations to fight several different types of monsters just to finish one quest? Why is the dialogue so stilted? Is this all supposed to be part of the charm? Am I supposed to be laughing at this?
This is the game’s first demo, so I’m inclined to forgive other technical faults: an NPC ran straight through me and conversed with the air behind me, the lip sync looked very wonky, and facial animations were stiff. I expect most of these things won’t be an issue in the final game, but the quests I got to play through and the writing more generally may be a more chronic problem. Helping some random guy find his lost brother and killing monsters is the most rote, typical fantasy fare out there, and I’m disappointed that I didn’t come across any more interesting quests. If the majority of the game is going to be made of quests like this, I will struggle to stick with it, even if it pulls out an astonishing last-minute twist like in the last game.
Obviously, as it was a hands-on preview, it’s not like I could just Google opinions and see if others felt the same. However, the more people I spoke to about it, the more I realised my experience was somewhat of an outlier. As I said before, my colleague Meg Pelliccio played the demo in London the same day I tried it at Tokyo Game Show, and enjoyed it quite a bit. Chatting with other members of the press also revealed to me that I was the only person who’d found it lacking in motivation and reasons to care about the narrative, but then again, I’d been the only newcomer to the series.
It seemed as though all the things I’d been critical of in my own playthrough were things that existing players found endearing, which made me think that maybe Dragon’s Dogma 2 won’t be that fun for those new to the series. It’s too early to say for sure right now, and it would also be reductive to make that assessment off of a single hour of gameplay, but it kind of feels like being on the outside of an inside joke: wanting to see in and understand why everybody’s laughing but being told that you wouldn’t get it because you weren’t here when the joke was made the first time.
Next: Tears Of The Kingdom Made Me Realize Breath Of The Wild Was Wasted On Me