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Even with the Dragonsplague, Dragon's Dogma 2 isn't as mean as its predecessor—but I love how faithful it is to the series' strange and unique identity

 A close up of a man's scared face in Dragon's Dogma 2.
A close up of a man's scared face in Dragon's Dogma 2.

The first Dragon's Dogma was a true cult classic. Weird, idiosyncratic, in some ways a huge pain in the ass, yet deeply compelling. Since 2012 it's built an audience of people who love it for its strangeness, warts and all—myself included. When a big, modern sequel was announced, I was excited… but also a little anxious.

You usually hope a sequel will sand down some of the first game's rough edges, but in the case of Dragon's Dogma it's hard to separate what needed "fixing" and what was part of the game's unique feel. It would be natural, too, for Capcom to aim for a broader audience, adding in features that might make for a smoother but ultimately less distinctive RPG.

On the whole, I needn't have worried. Perhaps the most striking thing about Dragon's Dogma 2 is that it's extremely similar to its 12 year old predecessor. It's prettier and more detailed, with clever expansions of its core systems and concepts, but its biggest strengths and flaws are the same as ever. Many enemies, abilities, and even specific pieces of armour have been carried forward, and pawns are still just as annoying and endearing.

Looking out across the sea from a cliff in Dragon's Dogma 2.
Looking out across the sea from a cliff in Dragon's Dogma 2.

(Image credit: Capcom)

Fast travel is still limited and difficult, and movement relatively slow, putting the focus on the experience of journeying through untamed lands. The world is still tactile, letting you pick up anyone you meet and throw them over your shoulder, or clamber all over a monster's back. Quests are still willfully obtuse, encouraging you to investigate and examine places and people to figure out what to do (or, admittedly, give up in frustration and Google it).

New additions more often than not feel totally in the spirit of the original, too. From unnecessary but mouth-watering live-action cooking cutscenes, to a vocation that just combines every other vocation into one, to an entire settlement that simply doesn't speak the same language as you down to its item shop menus, Dragon's Dogma 2 only cements the idea that this is a series more interested in making you meet it on its own terms than it is bending to any preconception of what a fantasy RPG should be in 2024.

Peppered in with the more positive reactions in online communities and the game's "Mixed" reviews section on Steam are plenty of complaints about all the ways the game is bad and should be improved, and they could have been copied word-for-word from 2012 posts about the first game. There's certainly an argument to be made that that's damning—12 years is a long time to wait for a sequel that ends up frustrating some people in exactly the same ways. Perhaps Dragon's Dogma 2 should have claimed more new ground. But at the same time, I can't help but grin at such stark evidence that Capcom has firmly, unflinchingly, stuck to its guns.

Hard times

An ogre salivating over an adventurer held in their hand in Dragon's Dogma 2.
An ogre salivating over an adventurer held in their hand in Dragon's Dogma 2.

(Image credit: Capcom)

But there is one thing that is noticeably changed: Dragon's Dogma 2 is a lot less mean. Players currently being devoured alive by ogres or struggling through a ravine swarming with saurians may not be feeling it, but the first game made even stepping outside your home village terrifying in a way that the sequel doesn't really match.

As a newly emerging adventurer, one pack of wolves or gang of bandits could very easily overwhelm you while you tried to get to grips with the combat system. On your first few journeys into the wilderness, it was all too easy to stumble into trouble, either running out of healing supplies, or simply being unable to find camps to rest at and having to experience the pitch black horror of travelling at night. Timed quests might seem unfair in Dragon's Dogma 2, but in the first game you could be locked out of many key storylines or romance options just because you did things in slightly the wrong order.

It could be frustrating and disheartening for sure, especially early on. Relying on guides felt almost mandatory. But part of me does miss that bite. Scary threats and a world disdainful of your mistakes made adventures all the more an emotional rollercoaster, and I don't know that Dragon's Dogma 2 will ever make me feel the pure relief of seeing civilisation on the horizon after an utterly gruelling trek in the first game.

An archer firing their bow in Dragon's Dogma 2.
An archer firing their bow in Dragon's Dogma 2.

(Image credit: Capcom)

Maybe that's as much to do with me as to do with the actual changes that have been made. I wanted the second game to hew closely to the first, but that similarity means I feel very prepared for what it has to throw at me this time round. I already learned the series' hardest lessons the first time around, and perhaps Dragon's Dogma 2 feels a little more cruel for someone new to the series.

Certainly that mean streak doesn't seem to have evaporated entirely. Recently the community has descended into panic over Dragonsplague, an ailment that can cause pawns to go berserk and wipe out entire settlements, crucial NPCs and all. As it turns out, series mastermind Hideaki Itsuno has been wanting to inflict this nightmare on players ever since the first game.

A close up of a glowing Riftstone in Dragon's Dogma 2.
A close up of a glowing Riftstone in Dragon's Dogma 2.

(Image credit: Capcom)

Imagine that: for over 12 years, one of the biggest dreams this man has held onto for this series was unleashing a digital contagion that turns players against their closest allies and unites the community in miserable terror. You know what that's called? Vision.

The final piece of the puzzle is for Dragon's Dogma 2 to receive, like its predecessor, an endgame expansion: one last, sprawling dungeon ready to humble and baffle your seemingly unstoppable Arisen. But even if it never gets its own Bitterblack Isle, the game has already proven it's a worthy successor to one of the most memorable adventures in the history of the hobby. In an industry that sometimes seems obsessed with iterating towards the most frictionless experiences possible, it's refreshing to see a series revel in its own weird, frustrating, and wonderful identity.