Dragon's Dogma 2 sticks with the Dark Arisen template to a pleasant but almost surprising degree. Sequels often walk a fine balancing act as significant departures can alienate existing fans, whereas repeating the established gameplay often feels too safe. Capcom's anticipated sequel easily falls into the latter category but when the original action RPG still feels refreshingly original, we'd argue that's not a bad thing. Following a recent preview, we're excited to see more.
Going hands-on for an hour at Capcom's UK office, we played the same exhibition demo recently presented at the Tokyo Game Show. Character creation wasn't showcased and we could only select three preset builds using the Arisen's starting vocations — a story-focused segment with a level 5 Archer, or hunts for larger threats as either a level 15 Thief or Fighter. The 4th starting class, Mage, was unavailable, so we selected Archer.
We were immediately struck by how similarly Dragon's Dogma 2 compares to its predecessor. Even with a new map split across two nations — Vermund and Bhattal — the demo's starting base looks just like The Encampment. A two-generation gap provides a huge visual leap from the rough PS3-era visuals, which admittedly falls behind other recent RPGs like Final Fantasy XVI, but still adds considerable character to these lovely environments.
Our time was spent exploring Vermund, encountering a village recently wrecked by the dragon. Even without watching the game's introduction, several cutscenes set the tone well and we soon hit the road. We had hoped to test how reactive NPCs are since the original game notably lets you steal directly in front of them without consequence. However, we couldn't find anything to test this with, only spotting the odd treasure chest.
Your travelling party once again consists of Pawns, who remain loyal to the Arisen and mostly use the same vocations. Your main Pawn levels up with you and two additional pawns can be hired within The Rift. Pawns are swapped out via Riftstones, and Dragon's Dogma 2 removes loading screens for a pleasantly seamless transition. Playing in online mode includes Pawns who can pass on quest knowledge if they’ve previously beaten them with another player, adding a nice touch to both combat and exploration.
Pawns are functionally identical to before and combat remains equally familiar. Covering every starting vocation in our four-person party, we fought multiple threats ranging from common goblins to hefty ogres across these dangerous roads. Mages are especially useful since they can provide temporary elemental magical buffs, boosting weapon damage with electricity and fire.
A lock-on option for enemies would be nice, though Archers can auto-target with quickfire shots. Aiming manually requires holding R1, while L1 opens a separate menu with stronger skills like barrage shots for striking multiple enemies. The trade-off is that these use stamina and take longer to charge, keeping fights balanced and varied. Flooring enemies with an over-the-shoulder roll is also great, though we perhaps enjoyed throwing them off cliffs like a medieval Kazuma Kiryu a little too much.
Battles gradually got more challenging, with ogres and cyclopes remaining the tanks they always were. Some enemies target characters based on specific attributes, with our female Arisen discovering what's best described as a 'misogynistic' ogre — which was unfortunate. You can still climb these hefty foes and that creates some interesting moments as they try to shake you off. That helps when longer battles sometimes feel like a slog, though eventually getting through them is undoubtedly rewarding. That said, our demo ended in disgrace when our Arisen was grabbed and thrown to the floor, covered in slobber.
So far, Dragon's Dogma 2 is shaping up well, but our main concern is that it's almost too familiar in places. If it weren't for the new map and cutscenes, you would think Capcom had intended to remake Dark Arisen, and half of what we've said above could easily apply to the first game.
Right now (and based purely on our short demo), there's very little evolution in its gameplay, and the new story / setting aside, it feels like the developer slapped some shinier visuals onto the existing foundations.
That doesn't mean Dragon's Dogma 2 isn't fun, but so far, it's just not the evolution we'd imagined. All the same, exploring the new setting feels great and combat remains entertainingly rewarding — and that's only helped by the major visual uplift on PS5. Though it's far too soon to judge the new story, what we've seen shows all the makings of an entertaining journey. For some fans after a decade-long wait, that will be more than enough.
Dragon's Dogma 2 doesn't yet have a confirmed release window, but it's eventually coming to PS5. Are you excited to jump into this sequel? Let us know in the comments section below.