Dragon’s Dogma 2 is stuck in the past… so what?

I – Context

« Conviction is the human will at its most powerful. At once effect and cause, it impresses the coldest souls, and is a kind of mute eloquence that grips the masses. »

Dragon’s Dogma 2 opens with these words from Honoré de Balzac. Until then, I’d never heard of this license, and only knew about it through the excellent videos of colleagues NostalGeek and At0mium, which I invite you to have a look at.

I was therefore extremely excited at the prospect of immersing myself in a new universe, a medieval fantasy world, which, at first glance, had everything to please me. All the more so since the communication surrounding the game since its announcement had created a certain excitement and the beginnings of what promised to be a Dantesque adventure.

After completing the game for the first time in around 30 hours, and then embarking directly on a second run which has now clocked up around 20 hours, I can give you a more than complete review of the game, which for the sake of efficiency I’ll refer to as DD2 for the remainder of this article.

Yes, it’s a game set in the past, but it’s nonetheless an unforgettable fantasy fresco.

The game was provided to me by Capcom well in advance of its release, and I was able to try out Dragon’s Dogma 2 on both PC and PS5. So I’ll have plenty of time to give you my technical feedback on both versions.

II – World & Narration

It’s impossible to talk about DD2 without mentioning its universe. If you’re used to medieval fantasy worlds that borrow openly from Tolkien, you’ll be on familiar ground here. The game will soon put in your path a whole panoply of fantastic and mythological creatures: dragons, harpies, griffins, goblins, ogres and so on…

What I really liked was that this didn’t stop DD2’s universe from having its own style and being highly original in its approach. The world is divided into 3 races: the humans, who occupy the Vernworth region to the north, the Leonins, human-lion hybrids who occupy the Battahl region to the south, and the elves, who are secluded in their forest.

The starting premise is simple enough, but the depth of the story soon becomes apparent, as we soon hear about trans-dimensional travel, with the pawns I’ll mention later, but above all the famous dragon dogma that links a human, known as the Insurgent, and a dragon in a kind of never-ending cycle. Add to this a theme of discrimination between different races that will be developed throughout the game, and you have a cocktail that totally won me over, a fascinating universe that made me want to delve a little deeper.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the game’s narrative. You’ll certainly realize this when you play Dragon’s Dogma 2, but it has a succession of very strong narrative moments, with beautiful cinematics and staging; and other moments, which are just as important from a narrative point of view, but which benefit from absolutely no staging effort.

The result is a lack of rhythm and a very uneven narrative, which sometimes gives the impression that DD2 is a broken game, an adjective you’ll surely see me re-use, as it fits the game rather well. During certain sequences depicting key events in the game, it would have been nice to be able to enjoy a cinematic, or at least a scene that would provide a bit of context to what’s happening on screen.

This aspect is also felt in the dialogues and facial animations. Here again, there are dialogues that are very pleasant to follow, characters that are rather well modeled, and others where the character in front of you gives you the impression of being a rod, with a head resting on top that turns 180°.

It’s a shame, but it pretty much sums up my opinion of the game’s universe and narrative: I was seduced by the initial pitch, by this universe, but I think there was really more to be done in the way this story was told, and how to involve the player and arouse his interest in this story.

III – Structure & Open World

You’ll be playing the role of the Insurgent, the Arisen, the being linked to the Dragon of Dogma, who has lost his memory and finds himself imprisoned in a mine south of Battahl. A quick word on the character creation system, which is one of the finest I’ve ever seen. The customization possibilities are mind-boggling, and I think a certain From Software would be well advised to build on what has been done with this character creator in the future.

In a sequence of events that I won’t go into in detail to spare you any spoilers, the Insurgent manages to escape from his prison, and that’s it – you’re finally immersed in this open world. Yes, Dragon’s Dogma 2 is a pure open world, with everything connected and no loading times between zones. The entire northern region is made up of meadows, mountains and forests, while the Battahl area in the south is a rather deserted canyon.

What immediately struck me about this open world is how immersive, palpable and organic it is, with everything you see looking profoundly real. In certain respects, it reminded me of the open world of Red Dead Redemption 2, and this desire to stick to something very realistic, very believable. You can feel this in your character’s movements, in the way he climbs or skids down a mountain, or the fact that he moves more slowly along a slope than on flat ground.

Dragon's Dogma 2's mastery of panoramas and landscapes is breathtaking.
Dragon’s Dogma 2’s mastery of panoramas and landscapes is breathtaking.

These are minor details, but they all contribute to the credibility of this universe, and to the fact that rarely have I had such a feeling of embodying my character, of being a small thing in the midst of a much larger whole. DD2 is almost a game for wandering and contemplation, not one that’s going to offer you all kinds of activities, but for all that, I was never bored and never had the impression of doing the same thing twice. Each cave is profoundly different, and going off the beaten track is always rewarded with a chest, a magnificent secret zone, or a camp full of goblins. You’re quietly crossing a bridge when suddenly a griffin falls from the heavens and you find yourself embroiled in a Dantesque ten-minute battle.

This is the open world of Dragon’s Dogma 2, a world that invites you to travel, to adventure, and wants to catch you off guard. Even after 50 hours, I still enjoy stopping off at a camp with my team, to have a chat or cook a nice piece of meat I’d picked up earlier. You’ll note here that I’m only talking about the exploration and not the combat or the monsters, for which my opinion will be slightly more nuanced.

I also greatly appreciated the game’s approach to fast travel, which is never free. Fixed teleportation points are limited to very few large cities, and require a fairly rare resource. The only other way to get around quickly is by cart, which travels between towns, always with a view to ensuring the credibility and coherence of the universe.

The presence of a Capcom store filled with micro-transactions, allowing players to acquire additional teleportation stones for a fee, is clearly deplorable. This practice is dubious, to say the least, and runs totally counter to the philosophy of Dragon’s Dogma 2. I can only advise you not to pay.

So far, I’ve talked about the surface of this open world, but what about the activities or quests that Dragon’s Dogma 2 will offer you? Mark my words: DD2 is not a game that will take you by the hand. It won’t even take your little finger. It’s a game that’s deliberately short on information. At times, it may say “Here, solve this situation”, but without even giving you an area to explore or an NPC to talk to. In some ways, this is reminiscent of The Witcher or Skyrim, but in a much less guided way. These quests range from simple hunts to infiltration sequences and short investigations.

The game wants you to take the time to explore, poke around, talk to NPCs to glean valuable information and find the solution yourself. The game also wants you to rely on its pawn system, but we’ll come back to that later. While I was initially taken aback by this very rough and ready approach, I came to understand that the developers were trying to stick to a certain philosophy. In fact, I felt a lot prouder when I completed a quest and searched for myself, than if someone had simply put a marker on me and said “Go there and do that”.

But this also explains why I finished my first game in just 25 hours. Knowing nothing at all about Dragon’s Dogma, I went from quest to quest without really worrying about whether I was getting close to the end or not. Only to realize when the credits rolled that I’d missed out on 50% of the game’s content. This is not so far removed from the philosophy of a studio like FromSoftware, which isn’t afraid to hide its most interesting areas in a corner of the map.

The quests, especially in the cities, can sometimes be very vague... too vague?
The quests, especially in the cities, can sometimes be very vague… too vague?

My point is that it doesn’t work all the time. While I like having to rummage around and struggle to solve a quest, I’m a little less keen on missing out on a brand new class for my character, for example, just because I didn’t speak to NPC number 55 in the north-west corner of the map. So it’s quite a balance to strike, but it’s also a deliberate move on the part of the developers. I refer you to this interview with Hideaki Itsuno and his Lead Game Designer, in which they hilariously explain that having the Sphinx so well hidden in the game is pure madness on paper. It’s an aspect of the game that they’re fully aware of.

While I personally appreciate this philosophy to a certain extent, it may well disconcert a certain number of players. If you’re prone to what’s known as FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out, i.e. the fear of missing even one element of the game, I’m afraid DD2 will give you a cold sweat.

This is the paradox of this game, which is both very modern in its philosophy, but very dated in its quest structure and the way NPCs interact with you. When you arrive in the first town, for example, you’ll be greeted by a character named Grant, who will stand in the same spot and offer you a dozen or so quests in quick succession. At the end of these quests, of course, you’ll have to go back to him to get a new one, and so on.

If DD2 had been released 10 or 15 years ago, it wouldn’t necessarily have stood out from the crowd. In their insistence on retranscribing the first Dragon’s Dogma, and realizing their original vision, the developers may have stuck to a rather archaic approach to video games. But as I said, this is by no means a foregone conclusion, and will depend primarily on you as a player.

The famous class meisters, sometimes very hard to find
The famous class meisters, sometimes very hard to find

IV – The Pawns Mechanic

At the heart of DD2’s gameplay are, of course, combat and the pawn system. You play as an insurgent, choosing your starting class from among Warrior, Mage, Archer and Thief. For each class, you’ll have a simple square attack, a powerful triangle attack, and a whole panoply of skills that can be launched and unlocked over time.

Very quickly, you’ll need to create a main pawn, i.e. a fixed partner who will stay by your side throughout the adventure. You’ll also choose his or her class, weapons and skills, just as you do for your character.

I have two views on this system. On the one hand, I find it a little impersonal, in that you don’t get attached to the pawns that come with you. They’re aptly named: they’re pawns, expendable and interchangeable. Whereas in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, interaction and relationships with your partners are at the heart of the gameplay, this is not the case here.

You have no control over their actions in battle, other than four extremely basic commands: “Go into battle,” “Stay with me”, “Stop” or “Help me”. As a result, I may have found it difficult to fully immerse myself in the system.

Mind you, this doesn’t mean that pawns are useless – quite the contrary. They’re already indispensable in combat, since when facing monsters, it’s clear that there’s strength in numbers, but that’s not all. With regard to what I wrote earlier about the rather incomplete quest system, you should know that other players’ pawns, when they join you, retain the experience accumulated with their master. So, if you’re stuck on a quest, you can very easily call on a pawn who has already done that quest, to lead you to the completion of its objective.

But they also have other specializations: some are more focused on healing, others on harvesting and crafting resources, and still others are real hotheads who’ll go into battle with their guns blazing. So you’ll have plenty of time to choose the pawns that suit your mood and play style.

It’s also worth pointing out that, when I made the game, there weren’t many players online, and it was essentially made up of counters created by Capcom, which may not have helped me to fully immerse myself in the mechanics. One of the things I heard during my playthrough was a sort of disease or virus circulating among the pawns, which could cause one of your own to turn against you. I wasn’t able to witness this first-hand, but there’s no doubt that it should add a little more depth to the system.

The notorious Dragon Plague is circulating among the Pawns...
The notorious Dragon Plague is circulating among the Pawns…

V – Fighting

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of DD2’s combat system, which impressed me with its ability to create classes that are all very different, yet equally interesting to play. You choose a starting class, and the more you play with that class, the more skills related to it you’ll unlock. This explains why, at the start of the game, you might be a lame Mage with weak spells, but by the end of the game, you’re the equivalent of a Sith Lord who’ll knock out anything in his path.

From that point of view, it works very well, and I enjoyed playing a mage as much as an archer or a warrior. During the course of your adventure, you can change class at will and unlock new, slightly more hybrid classes, such as the dragon knight, the illusionist or the magical archer, which add even more depth to customization.

So there’s a whole RPG layer to the game, but not in the usual Western RPG sense (you don’t divide your points between different stats like in Souls or Elden Ring). You choose your class skills, weapons and outfits. There’s a whole crafting and weapon-improvement system, which I found very interesting insofar as crafting won’t be the same depending on the region you’re in. If you’re crafting with the Elves, you’ll prioritize magical attack and defense, whereas the same upgrade in Vermund focuses on pure strength and physical defense, for example.

A battle in Dragon's Dogma 2 can sometimes last more than 10 minutes, requiring you to exploit the environment to the full.
A battle in Dragon’s Dogma 2 can sometimes last more than 10 minutes, requiring you to exploit the environment to the full.

As for the battles themselves, I’ve never found a fight against a dragon or griffin so epic. These are confrontations that can sometimes last 10-15 minutes and will leave you with quite an unforgettable memory. A Monster Hunter X Shadow of the Colossus approach, since you can ride on a creature’s back, to inflict more damage or focus on its weak point. Character animations are also very convincing, as is the way an archer or a thief moves through the environment. What’s more, you can use this environment to your advantage, throwing stones or barrels at your enemies, knocking them off bridges or precipices. You can also use the experience of your counters to determine the elemental weakness of any enemy. As far as 1-on-1 battles are concerned, I’m totally convinced.

However, as soon as the confrontations monopolize more enemies (4 or 5), they quickly become a mess, losing a great deal of legibility and becoming very messy. It’s a pity, because you can feel the potential of this combat system, and there’s a real strategic aspect to its approach. For example, you can create synergies between your classes: your wizard can create a block of ice that allows your thief to ride on the back of a creature. Or two mages can support each other to channel a sorcerer faster.

But as I was saying, as soon as you come face to face with a group of enemies, and particularly in interiors such as caves, all this potential flies out the window, to be replaced by a jumble of spells and on-screen effects, which the game finds hard to keep up with, since it’s often at these moments that framerate drops are particularly noticeable, combined with a few camera problems. As you can imagine, this does nothing to improve the messiness of the combat.

VI – Technique

While I’m on the subject of framerate drops, let’s talk about the technical side of Dragon’s Dogma 2. As I said in the introduction, I was able to test both the PC and PS5 versions of the title, and if I switched from the PC to the console version, it wasn’t by chance or out of curiosity.

It’s mainly because, in my eyes, and on my configuration, the game wasn’t playable in its current state on PC. Framerate drops everywhere, all the time, when you go through menus, when you visit interiors… The DLSS implementation seems to be far from optimal at the moment, and doesn’t do justice to the beauty of the game as it stands.

So I switched to the PS5, and I have to admit that it was a bit of a reconciliation. The game is truly sublime on console, so yes, there’s the 30 FPS limit inherent in the console version, but the overall framerate is much more stable than what I’ve experienced on PC.

I should also point out that this concerns my PC configuration, i.e. an i7 10700k, with 32 GB RAM and an RTX 3060. At the time of writing, the game has been released and a number of PC problems have been confirmed for many users. As the developers have promised future patches to correct all issues, it’s worth bearing in mind that this could be quite random, depending on your machine and equipment.

Dragon's Dogma 2's technology is in its infancy on the PC, and more stable but at 30 fps on the console. The choice is yours
Dragon’s Dogma 2’s technology is in its infancy on the PC, and more stable but at 30 fps on the console. The choice is yours

It’s time for the final word. So how do you sum up Dragon’s Dogma 2 in a few lines? Let’s just say it’s a game full of paradoxes. It’s very modern in its philosophy, in the way it conceives its universe, and I’ll say it again, it’s one of the open-world games I’ve found most appealing in recent years.

But aside from that, it seems really dated in many other respects: the structure of its quests, interactions with NPCs, and I haven’t even mentioned them, but also everything to do with menuing, managing your inventory and the weight of your equipment. These things are extremely time-consuming, and we could have done without them.

An ambivalent game, then, at once archaic and very modern, which will certainly arouse as much hatred as love. I have no doubt, however, that if you enjoyed the first Dragon’s Dogma, you’ll be seduced by this second opus, which materializes the original vision of its authors, but with today’s means.

Share your thoughts