Dragon's Dogma returns! The titular dragon will once again perform open heart surgery on us, and we, as the marked Arisen, will embark on an epic quest to reclaim the throne. The sequel maintains all the hallmarks that distinguished the original from other RPGs, including a unique combat system with climbing on opponents and "pawns" – our virtual companions who make up the rest of the team. I only had the opportunity to play for less than an hour in the early, and heavily incomplete, build of the second installment, which is far from the release version, so I guess the best I can do is point out a few things I particularly liked while mentioning those that need to be improved, or rather finished.
But first, a few important, general remarks. Thanks to the new engine, known from the latest installments of Resident Evil, the second part is four times the size of the previous one. The visuals are interesting, not because of the overall improvement in quality compared to the previous installment, but because every female NPC looks like Resident Evil's heroine suddenly teleported to a fantasy world with dragons.
The developers mentioned improving the artificial intelligence of pawns, opponents, and NPCs, which now operate according to their rhythm, influenced by the cycle of the day. This means that if we visit them at night or during the day, we'll obtain different outcomes from that visit. Opponents have various random behaviors – I experienced this first-hand when, during a fight, a griffin close to defeat just suddenly flew away. This is the first trifle that I liked and that surprised me – and there are more of these – but I would never have expected that the biggest surprise would be...
...meat for dinner!
In the game, there's a mechanic of setting up camp by the bonfire and resting to distribute experience points and prepare some provisions for the journey. So, I clicked on "dried meat," expecting standard crafting, but instead, 50 inches of the screen filled with the most realistic and lavish depiction of a meat I’ve ever seen. Capcom has achieved something that could make Master Chef and all the foodporn hashtags from Instagram blush in shame. We see a play of light and depth of field – really, this has got to be one of the most realistic digital renditions of meet ever!
Nights are dreadful
There is no typical exploration in Dragon's Dogma, which rewards us for looking into every corner. The most crucial things are the random adventures that can happen along the way – a gang of ordinary opponents, a gigantic boss, or an NPC needing help. And traveling the land at night, when it's really dark, is incredibly atmospheric. Our protagonist can only see a few steps ahead of them, and that’s only if the lamp is lit. Walking through a forest – with all its lurking dangers – is a truly unique experience, especially when we suddenly come across a creature as tall as a four-story building. By accident, I walked into an area occupied by a formidable cyclops, which ended in a lengthy fight and... remorse.
Sorry, I didn't mean to kill you...
Fighting a cyclops, and previously a griffin, allowed me to test the flagship mechanic of this game, that is, climbing on opponents and looking for their weak spots. Indeed, it's infinitely more exhilarating in its own way than slamming tails or toes of the giants in other games. At the top, you can use an ordinary weapon or various special attacks, such as a delayed-fuse bomb.
I could test three character classes: the archer, the warrior, and the thief. I liked the sword-wielding fighter the most. This class seemed the most vivid to me – movements matched the power of the blows. The archer only has a bow, without any blade, so in this case, the fight mostly boiled down to sticking to the sides and mashing the shooting button. The thief has two short daggers – I also didn't particularly like this class.
But to the point – I felt horrible fighting the griffin and the cyclops, probably because of how much their appearance was refined in terms of graphics and motion animation. The griffin had fur (and feathers) like a domestic cat – the kind you want to cuddle, not stab with a sword! Besides, it was a large and majestic animal, without any wild fury in its gaze. The cyclops, on the other hand, had extremely detailed skin like that of an elephant, to which he also bore a resemblance due to his slow movements and the sounds he made. I felt a great dissonance when he was suddenly knocked down, and the entire team started beating the lying, defenseless giant. Maybe it’s weird, but the feeling I got was more of a poacher killing innocent animals for loot, rather than a hero killing monsters!
I don't know yet whether it's a matter of polished visuals or if Capcom has created an insufficiently mean and vicious bestiary. Anyway, I had no problems with slimy orc-like goblins. I feel incredibly guilty because of the cyclops, even though the griffin fortunately managed to escape in time.
Dragon's Dogma 2, Capcom
During the skirmishes, two other things bothered me a lot: the inability to lock onto an opponent and the resulting problems with the camera, which did everything to prevent me from seeing the right image. I spent half the time in the fight adjusting the camera angle and it was exhausting. I hope this will be improved in the final version.
Thanks for help, but can you shut up?
The pawns... sigh... We don't choose our family, but we do choose our pawns – although so far without influence on their personality. The party members are very helpful – they smash opponents, save our skin, rush over and heal when our health drops, and even restore stamina if it runs out. It's difficult to play Dragon's Dogma 2 , too – the protagonist isn't the easiest to control, they have their weight and inertia. For quick actions, they need energy because, without it, they start dragging their feet, having no strength to even walk.
Therefore, the pawns are helpful, they come in handy in trouble, only that... they tend to talk too much. Seriously – compared to them, Donkey from Shrek is an introvert. The worst scenario is when the pawn is the only one who knows the way to the quest point and guides us. In that case, we hear every few moments: "Master, I am here!" “The path leads this way.” “I'm waiting for you here.” “Time to go.” “Let me show you the way.” “Follow me, master.” And so on and so forth, not to mention other dialogues. Apparently, I wasn't the only person at the show who pointed this out, so in the full version, we'll probably get the option to edit the pawn's talkativeness. It was also frustrating to have to click after each sentence during conversations with NPCs. I hope it's just a minor flaw from the early version.
The last thing that impressed me in the Dragon's Dogma 2 demo was the capital of the game world and the largest city we'll visit. It reminds of a medieval castle and is enormous compared to locations in other RPGs. From the outside, you can already see that its buildings stretch to the horizon, and inside, there is a real maze of streets and rooms, including the main throne room. What is important, all rooms can be entered in a fluid, instantaneous manner, without any loading screens. Only the minimap on the HUD changes depending on whether we're in a separate section or outside.
However, I was disappointed by the emptiness on the streets. We explore areas that are just asking for crowds of characters and patrolling guards, but so far I would count NPC on the fingers of one hand. I was running in a completely deserted city, of which only the walls remained. From what I've learned, it's a matter of early development and the city will be filled with NPCs and quests. However, I'm worried about the extent to which this area can be filled while maintaining the fluidity of the animation. We've seen this problem in many games, recently in Baldur's Gate 3, where even powerful hardware can't cope when there's too much going on in the virtual city. Hopefully, the developers of Dragon's Dogma 2 will find a golden mean to make it smooth, but not too empty.
Darius Matusiak | Gamepressure.com