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May 2024

Dragon's Dogma II

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: March 22, 2024


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PS5/XSX/PC Preview - 'Dragon's Dogma II'

by Adam Pavlacka on March 6, 2024 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Set in a vividly detailed fantasy world, Dragon's Dogma II is a single-player, narrative-driven action-RPG that challenges players to leverage their creativity and curiosity to approach a wide variety of gameplay situations.

It's been a little over a decade since the original Dragon's Dogma was released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Now, two console generations later, we're on the eve of release for Dragon's Dogma 2. I recently had a chance to spend a few hours exploring the open world on the PlayStation 5 version of the game, and it's shaping up to be a solid adventure.

What struck me the most when playing was the sense of an actual party. Much like the original, Dragon's Dogma 2 is a single-player game. Your party consists of AI characters called pawns. You can hire and fire pawns, and give them commands, but you can also let them do their own thing. Pawns are pretty decent players in their own right, and if it weren't for the somewhat repetitive banter between them, it would be easy enough to mistake them for fellow human players.

While playing, it was surprisingly freeing to not have to worry about babysitting my party or try to plan out their attacks. My pawns did their job, and they attacked, defended, buffed, and worked as a team in a way that would put plenty of random MMO PUGs to shame. It probably doesn't sound that exciting on paper, but it was a treat.

That's not to say your pawns are invulnerable, though. While they can take a lot of damage and heal themselves (and you), your pawns can also die. I learned this lesson the hard way when I got too aggressive while trying to explore. Long story short, the monsters we were fighting closed the distance and took out one group member and forced another off a cliff. The remaining pawn and I tried to hold out and revive the others, but it was a fool's errand. Getting hit while reviving stops the revive, and going up against a group with just one other isn't the best odds. Before I knew it, all of my pawns were down, and then so was I.

After reloading from a save, I gave it another go, but I was a little more strategic. By keeping the enemy mobs at a distance and forcing them to approach in smaller groups, my party was able to quickly pick them off. Yay for teamwork.

In addition to fighting, pawns can also be helpful when navigating. Dragon's Dogma 2 has a minimap, but from what I saw, most navigation is done by listening to your pawns and NPCs and looking for visual waypoints. This means you should never be completely lost, but it also means there's not a bright line to your destination. As an example, one of the quest tasks was to mine a specific material. On my way there, I entered what I thought was the mine. Instead, it was a large cave with an ogre inside. It was not pleased to see me, and shenanigans ensued. By shenanigans, I mean an in-depth fight between my party and the ogre.

In another game, fighting the ogre might have been a boss fight or a separate quest. Here, it was just a random encounter that turned out to be a bit more challenging.

Another random encounter in an earlier part of the game had my party facing off against a griffin. I was able to see it flying in the distance, and I had thought it was just a background extra. The next thing I knew, the griffin had landed right next to my party. We weren't able to take this one out on the first try. Instead, after it took some damage, the griffin flew off, but it didn't forget us. As dusk fell, the griffin returned for round two.

Battling the griffin was a similar task to fighting the ogre, but it gave me a chance to practice grabbing. That's right; it was possible to get onto the back of the monster and hang on while attacking. As the battle raged on, one of my pawns also called out the griffin's weakness to fire. It felt like just another comment in the heat of battle, but looking back, it was also a subtle way for the game to suggest an attack without having an icon pop up saying that the griffin was vulnerable to fire.

I mentioned earlier the pawns can help with navigation, but one neat extension has to do with pawns that you hired online. While you don't directly play Dragon's Dogma 2 with other players, you can hire their pawns for your party. Now, if the player you're hiring from has done any quests that you have not yet completed, those pawns will know the details of the quest and can take you right to it. It's a roundabout way of getting a little help from a friend.

The open nature of the world also extends to the puzzle design. One of the first problems I had to solve during my time with the game was getting past the guard at the gate to Battahl. I was playing a human, and he was only letting beastren through. Not sure what to do, I poked and prodded around the local area before wandering into town. That's where I found a shop that deals in counterfeit wares, including a fancy beastren face mask. I bought the mask, returned to the Battahl gate, and was quickly ushered through.

An area where I would've liked to go a bit deeper (but was limited by time) was the vocation system. Essentially a flexible job system, the vocation allows players to tweak the combat to their own play style. If you're aggressive, there's a vocation for that. If you prefer to play ranged, there's a vocation for that. Deeper than the system in the original game, the vocation system in Dragon's Dogma 2 promises flexibility as well as replay value. Once you get through the story, you can always give it another try with a new vocation.

If openness and flexibility is Dragon's Dogma 2's strength, it's also the game's biggest risk. While it was certainly a blast to play for a few hours, it's unknown how well it holds up over multiple days of play.

Be sure to check back at the end of the month for our full review.

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