When it was released eleven years ago, Dragon’s Dogma stood out as a daring open-world action RPG that was unlike any pre-existing form of the genre. From the unique Pawn mechanic that encouraged you to regularly swap out AI-controlled companions from a network populated by other players’ creations, to the action-oriented combat that required you to climb over giant monsters to target weak spots to aim and get them to the right size, there is nothing like it. Til today.
My big takeaway after playing an hour of Dragon’s Dogma 2 is that Capcom is doubling down on everything that made Dragon’s Dogma so unique and putting a huge focus on refining and polishing those elements. And in this respect they are successful. Pawns do the same things they did in the first game, but their contributions to combat and navigation are immediately noticeable. Melee combat feels more impactful and weighty, and exploring the now seamless open world feels equally rewarding and dangerous. However, after an hour of slaying the usual goblins, cyclops, lizards, harpies, bandits, and occasional attempts at Dragon’s Dogma’s villain, I couldn’t help but wish that I was experiencing something in this sequel that was truly felt new.
My demo began just outside the human kingdom of Vermund, giving me the freedom to go wherever I wanted. I had a handful of quests to follow, with my minions already equipped with the knowledge of those quests, meaning I could just show them the way and not have to constantly bring up the map and make sure I was still on Course was . Characters having experience and knowledge of quests is nothing new in Dragon’s Dogma, and occasionally they would lead you through some difficult paths to follow, but here in Dragon’s Dogma 2 it was far more reliable. A simple press of the left mouse button on the D-pad to issue a help command out of combat was enough for my Pawn to understand that I was looking for a trail to follow, and so he caught my attention and began, to show me the way as soon as I started walking towards them.
The coolest interaction I experienced with a farmer was that after clearing a cave of bandits, I noticed a treasure chest on a platform way out of reach. However, as I gave the help command, I noticed my fighter, Pawn, move closer to the platform and then kneel down as if waiting to give me a boost. When I ran over, she actually used the Springboard skill to throw me up and I was able to collect a rare ferry stone.
Combat is largely identical to the original Dragon’s Dogma: you have a button for weak attacks, one for heavy attacks, and then if you hold down the left bumper you have a set of four skills that you can perform for a variety of purposes Attacks and spells can be equipped. One of the big differences this time is that the right bumper is now tied to your profession action, which, as the name suggests, is an action that only applies to your profession. For fighters, their calling is to raise their shield and protect themselves from enemy attacks. There is a quick evasive maneuver for thieves called the “Swift Step”. and archers can aim directly with a steady shot.
New to combat is a hit-stop effect that occurs when an enemy you are attacking has low life points left. This indicates that he can be executed by a strong attack. It’s a light touch, but goes a long way toward making combat feel much more brutal and impactful. It’s worth noting that, like the original game, there are no melee attack mechanics and no dodge roll unless tied to your calling. It’s a bold choice, and I have a feeling it won’t please everyone, but it gives the combat in Dragon’s Dogma 2 a very special feel. It’s much less about split-second reflexes and violent aggression and more about careful positioning, awareness of where enemies are, trusting your characters’ support, and knowing how to exploit enemy weaknesses.
I was able to restart the demo multiple times within the hour or so of gameplay, and what really impressed me was how different each run felt. Once I was walking along the same well-trodden path that I had traveled in a previous session and was suddenly attacked by a griffin. In another, I followed a quest to a river bank and had to fight a handful of dinosaurs I hadn’t seen anywhere else. And in another case, I was led by my character to a cave full of surprisingly tough bandits guarding a bunch of treasure and valuable materials, and me and my party were completely ruined. I ended up having to load a previous save, but this encounter excited me because even though I was led by a pawn, the exploration still felt organic and made me keenly aware that the world of Dragon’s Dogma 2 was full of danger and Richness alike, which is at the heart of great exploration in video games.
All in all, I definitely had a feeling of déjà vu while playing through this demo. The skills I used as both a fighter and a thief were almost identical to the early skills from the first Dragon’s Dogma. I didn’t fight a single new enemy type, nor did I fight any of these enemies in a way that was particularly different from how I fought them in the original game. If there’s one consolation I can have as a Dragon’s Dogma fan, it’s that Dragon’s Dogma 2 offers more of what I loved about that first game, and that many of those smaller elements have been improved. However, I couldn’t help but wish that after my demo I was a little more excited about something new in the sequel.
Mitchell Saltzman is an editorial producer at IGN. You can find him on Twitter @JurassicRabbit