Dragon’s Dogma 2 review – chaotic, unpredictable fantasy fun | Games

Let me tell you about my pawn, Bowie. He is, as the name might suggest, a beautiful, pale, slender mage with lots of makeup and big, red hair. He is an interdimensional being, and his job is to support me on my adventures as the Arisen, this kingdom’s fate-chosen ruler, a role I unwittingly acquired when a dragon pinned me down, plucked out my heart and ate it.

Bowie is not very good at his job. He often forgets to heal me when harpies and goblins and ogres knock lumps out of me out in the wilds, forcing me to hammer the “help!” button while being pinned down by a minotaur. When he travels to other worlds, he always comes back with morose tales of how often he fell in battle and how badly he suffered at the hands of other Arisen. I love Bowie anyway, because he is my pawn. Despite his failings, we’ve had some incredible escapades together.

You might look at screenshots or video of this game and think I must be high, but Dragon’s Dogma 2 is the best adventure I have had in years. Yes, it’s a bit shonky. Yes, the on-screen information is confusing and the controls take some getting used to. Yes, you will die all the time because you got caught outside after dark and came across a bunch of ghosts who instantaneously vaporise you. Yes, whoever designed the map needs a stern talking-to about the concept of colour contrast. But stick with Dragon’s Dogma 2 for a few hours, at least until you get to the capital, Vermund, and it opens right up; you’ll get into your stride, and soon you’ll be zapping those ghosts back to the next life with your team of pawn companions on your way to distant lands.

If I could summarise this game in a few words, it would be fun over function. The thing that you must understand is that Dragon’s Dogma 2 is very silly, in contrast to most of the other very self-serious fantasy fiction out there. It is a glorious mess of colliding and connecting ideas that make for extremely funny moments, such as giving a cyclops a good shove so that it tumbles off a cliff, or levitating around haunted castles while skeletons try to chase you, or accidentally killing your paramour with an errant sword-swipe and having to sneak into the morgue later to revive them with a magic stone (she didn’t mind). Unless you played the first Dragon’s Dogma, 12 years ago, you will have played nothing quite like it before.

I can honestly say that I never really knew what would happen next, and also that I’m not sure whether some of my more random feats of daring were things that were supposed to happen, or interesting bugs. Once I was refreshing my armoury in Vermund’s town square and turned around to see a troll standing there, being regarded with evident consternation by the townspeople. I felled it in a tense battle that destroyed half the market stalls and then everybody kept going about their business like nothing had happened. Was that ogre supposed to be there? I have no idea, but it was a great story.

Speaking of story: the plot is not what I’m here for in this game. It is medieval-flavoured fantasy with hundreds – hundreds! – of characters, and the overarching aim is for me to depose the queen regent and her pretender puppet and reclaim my rightful place on the kingdom’s throne as the chosen Arisen. Everybody speaks in entreatingly overwrought and nonspecifically squiffy medieval English syntax (“what must needs be done, Arisen?”). The word “aught” is used to mean anything, something and nothing interchangeably. I have so far spent very little time following the plot and a lot of time heading out of town with a sword and following the road wherever it takes me, picking up random quests on the way.

Things are brutal out there. You can’t get anywhere near water or you’ll be consumed by sinister scarlet tentacles called the Brine. When it gets dark you can see only a metre or so in front of your face, and horrors loom out of the night. Griffins, dragons and other enormous, unconquerable beasts wander freely, and you’ll not make a scratch on most of them if you take them on, so you’re best off knowing when to run away. You had better remember lantern oil and curatives and a camping pack or you’ll be absolutely screwed when night falls.

The combat is really what drives the game: whether you’re a warrior, a spear-mage, a thief, an archer or a wizard, you work together with your team of hired pawns in battles that feel truly exciting and dangerous, like Monster Hunter’s or Bloodborne’s. You can switch freely between all of these professions, so that when you get bored of closeup fighting you can have a try at archery or spellcasting. Mastering each profession unlocks a huge tree of abilities that always, always keeps fighting fun.

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Keeps fighting fun … Dragon’s Dogma 2. Photograph: Capcom

Due to the unpredictability of Dragon’s Dogma’s world and enemies, and the vast variety of fighting styles, it can sometimes be inconsistent and unfair. Your team of pawns make up for this by making combat essentially much easier, offsetting whatever weaknesses your player character has. I love the pawns, actually, even when they sass me. They are dopes, heroes, jesters and saviours all in one, and the game is constantly narrated by their laments, japes and chides. It is a miracle they’re not more annoying, though if I hear one of them say “that ladder looks sturdy enough to climb!” one more time I might yeet them off the top of it.

If this review feels chaotic, then that’s a fair reflection of the game. It is mad, fun, fantastical chaos and I honestly love it. Before I started writing this, I had left my Arisen and her endearingly incompetent pawn in an ancient battleground patrolled by a dragon. We blasted it with a couple of ballista bolts, and then it flew over and crushed the ballista with a claw, at which point I realised we were somewhat outgunned here and ran for some castle ruins to hide from the creature. This seemed like a good idea until skeletal warriors rose from the ground, and I realised the castle is extremely haunted. I don’t know how we’ll get out of this situation. But I do know it will be an adventure.

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