Dragon's Dogma 2 review: Ambition Arisen

Dragon's Dogma 2 review: Ambition Arisen
Images via Capcom

Written by 

Harry Boulton

Published 

20th Mar 2024 15:00

It's hard not to have high expectations for a game that has for so long felt like it was never going to happen. It's been nearly two years now since Hideaki Istuno, Daigo Ikeno, and Kenichi Suzuki all unzipped their hoodies to reveal the words 'Dragon's Dogma 2' on their t-shirts in a moment that felt like a revelation at a time when all hope for a sequel was feeling lost.

A lot has happened in the world of video games in the last 12 years, yet perhaps the most impressive aspect of Dragon's Dogma 2 is how uncompromising it remains to its vision of what an open-world fantasy adventure should be - which often remains in opposition to what we typically expect.

While it does falter somewhat at the finish line in an experience that does end abruptly, I can confidently affirm that Dragon's Dogma 2 stands as one of the best RPGs I've played in recent years, and reignites a true feeling of adventure that is so hard to naturally capture.

GGRecon Verdict

Despite my reservations about the late game, Dragon's Dogma 2 remains an exceptional experience on almost all fronts and an adventure that you unequivocally won't want to miss.

Embarking on adventure

There was a moment in the early hours of my Dragon's Dogma 2 playthrough when I stumbled upon a cave for a side quest. Equipped with the aim of finding two particular items, I quickly realised that it wasn't as straightforward as I'd hoped.

Suddenly this cave's simple route had sprawled out into several new paths, with no clear sign of where I'd find these items. I found myself in uncharted territory, in a cave that genuinely felt endless, and illuminated by just the light of a lantern attached to my waist.

Image of the player walking across a bridge with mountains in the distance in Dragon's Dogma 2
Click to enlarge

While most games would have had the items sat at the endpoint as a reward for my exploration, I instead found them both at completely different parts - and each with plenty of cave beyond to keep exploring. It always feels like there's more than you might expect on your travels in Dragon's Dogma 2, which allowed me to feel a genuine sense of discovery in each new area.

This fundamentally extends to the vast open world too, as there are countless stories to find in just about every journey you take. A simple jaunt to the next village over could easily turn into a quest of its own as you spot a nearby tower or cave entrance that takes your fancy.

Travelling with your Pawns only adds to the experience too, as you have three companions to not only help you out in battle but accompany you on the journey too. Countless idle chatter - albeit sometimes repetitive - fills the air and makes every situation feel dynamic, and other Pawns remarking on their original master or the past Vocations of my personal Pawn only further add to the feeling of a genuinely unique adventure.

Furthermore, while my eyes can only spot so much, having the assistance of Pawns from other worlds can lead to so many discoveries. They will spot nearby chests, comment on certain points of interest, and even take the lead on quests that have already been completed in their original world. You could perhaps see this as hampering the player's own discovery, but it works alongside that - almost as if you're uncovering things as a team.

I would walk 500 more

While there are plenty of sights to see as you travel through the world, you'd fundamentally miss so many of them if you could just jump between points. While it was a feature within the first game, the lack of convenient fast travel in Dragon's Dogma 2 is an excellent design choice that reverberates throughout almost everything that you do.

Image of a sunset in Dragon's Dogma 2
Click to enlarge

I can't tell you the number of stories that would have been missed in my playthrough had I simply been able to jump between spots without recourse, and it has such a foundational effect on the feeling of true adventure as you travel.

One quest required me to travel to a new city far away to the west, and doing so took me hours on foot. Usually, I would bemoan this in most other games, but it felt like a breeze here as so many new individual adventures cropped up along the way that I would have otherwise missed if I was able to simply breeze through to my destination.

The act of traversal was also often a challenge in and of itself, as there are lots of environmental hurdles that you must clear, routes that you must optimise, and dangers to avoid or courageously face head-on. It could easily end up that your chosen path is blocked by a dragon that feels too dangerous to even attempt, or find that the night has quickly crept up behind you with no nearby campsite to shelter within.

Image of my party in Dragon's Dogma 2
Click to enlarge

I did wonder whether having to spend so much of my time on the road would become fatiguing, but so far I've not felt boredom or repetition in the slightest, and I'm still finding new paths and sites of interest on journeys that I've travelled countless times already.

Sooner than expected

Unfortunately, my biggest - and perhaps only - major complaint with the game comes through the endgame and is broadly a comment on the overall narrative itself. It felt like I had the whole game ahead of me, yet suddenly I found things to be wrapping up in a narrative that I felt was only just beginning.

Image of my character stood in front of a tower in Dragon's Dogma 2
Click to enlarge

I don't typically have a problem with loose plots - especially in games like this where the narrative is almost told through your own exploration and adventures, but Dragon's Dogma 2, unfortunately, feels a bit too thin and therefore leaves itself without any driving force or real sense of pacing.

I felt like I still had so much I wanted to explore - as much of the game's wider content is entirely optional, yet I quickly found myself funnelled into a conclusion that I really wasn't expecting to happen for at least another 20 or so hours.

Danger's afoot

One such thing that dominated many of my favourite moments when adventuring in the game though is the fights with the countless mythical monsters that traverse the open world.

It's hard to explain the chaotic dread I felt whenever I heard the deafening roar of a beast encroaching upon me, as its huge multi-stage health bar suddenly appeared on the screen, or the fear within me as the shadow of a Griffin flying above engulfed my character before swooping down to meet me on the ground.

Image of my character stood in front of a dead Griffin in Dragon's Dogma 2
Click to enlarge

That these moments happen emergently only elevates them too, as you never know how far away you are from your next big battle and must always stay prepared and alert. It truly feels like you're overstepping into the domain of a fearsome beast - especially when one single battle could span the space of an entire area in different stages.

Much like the first game, these so often feel akin to the 16 battles in Shadow of the Colossus - where you feel like David against Goliath, scaling these immeasurable titans that you have absolutely no business fighting, let alone beating.

What also continues to astonish is the variety of combat styles that you can employ to tackle these behemoths. Vocations like the Archer and Sorcerer can plan their attacks from afar, yet the Thief and Warrior thrive within the chaos of the fight and typically find holding on for dear life on the back of a monster that very much doesn't want them there.

I personally gravitated towards the latter and managed to concoct a combination of skills that made tackling many of these beasts a lot easier. You can't simply stick to one tactic though, as each major foe has its own strengths and weaknesses that you'll have to contend with, and could very much throw your own ideas astray.

Image of my character stood in front of a dead Drake in Dragon's Dogma 2
Click to enlarge

Furthermore, fights often are a test of endurance, draining your health and pushing your party to the limit. It was to my absolute joy then that I found that retreating mid-fight to rest at a nearby campsite didn't magically reset a Drake that I was fighting, and instead, I was able to return and continue with a rejuvenated squad.

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Weighing up the frames

Something that has certainly been a concern for many ahead of release is the performance, as the game occupies an odd space where its framerate is unlocked, but largely hovers around the 30fps mark at the best of times.

Furthermore, there are no additional graphics modes that offer a 'performance' alternative at the cost of graphical fidelity, so - at least on the PlayStation 5 version I played for review - you're stuck with what the game gives you.

I'm personally very much a 'framerate person', and almost always opt for the highest fps I can get over graphics, so the prospect of playing at 30 with expected drops was daunting to me. However, it has largely been something I've just gotten used to across the hours and hasn't proven to be too detrimental to my experience overall.

I found that the times when performance would suffer the most is when large spells would be going off or in intense lighting scenarios at night, and it does start to feel like the game is chugging a bit, if only momentarily.

Image of my character in Dragon's Dogma 2
Click to enlarge

Of course, in an ideal world, this wouldn't be an issue - but it does at least feel like the performance hits are somewhat justified as the game continues to look utterly breathtaking most of the time - especially within the chaos.

A seemingly unlimited draw distance acts as a background that is critical to the feeling of adventure, and the sheer number of actions going on at any one time during a fight certainly pushes the hardware to its limits.

There will be some players who may think they won't be able to stomach the performance - but I thought that I'd be within that camp and I've been thankfully proven wrong. I'm not saying that I wouldn't prefer playing it at a high framerate on a powerful PC system, but it rarely got in the way of my enjoyment when playing the game.

Furthermore, I haven't encountered a single meaningful bug in my playthrough so far, which is definitely something to celebrate in a game with so many moving parts and emergent encounters.

Despite this, it is still frustrating that the game only gives you a single save slot to work with, and one rather tenuous backup in case things go really wrong. There was only one instance in the game where I personally felt like I needed to use the backup, but it would have been great to have a number of different places to return to - especially near the end of the game.

The Verdict

Despite my reservations about the late game, Dragon's Dogma 2 remains an exceptional experience on almost all fronts and an adventure that you unequivocally won't want to miss.

There is so much to find within this world, and the game gives you the perfect tools to stumble upon it all naturally. From never-ending caves to gargantuan beasts, you truly never know what wonders lie around each corner.

It is certainly rough around the edges in places - with the performance perhaps at the forefront of that -  but I'd almost always rather play a game that feels like it is pushing the boundaries with its own carved identity than one that doesn't challenge my own expectations and experience.

4.5/5

Reviewed on PlayStation 5. Review code provided by the publisher.

Harry is a Guides Writer at GGRecon, having completed a Masters of Research degree in Film Studies. Previously a freelance writer for PCGamesN, The Loadout, and Red Bull Gaming, he loves playing a wide variety of games from the Souls series to JRPGs, Counter-Strike, and EA FC. When not playing or writing about games and hardware, you're likely to find him watching football or listening to Madonna and Kate Bush.