Dragon's Dogma 2 hands-on preview: First impressions with this VERY clear game of the year contender

Dragon's Dogma 2
(Image credit: Capcom)

For Dragon's Dogma fans, March 22, 2024, represents the end of over a decade-long waiting period. 

Dragon's Dogma was originally launched all the way back in 2012 on the Xbox 360. The game won a lot of critical praise but was also often misunderstood and similarly often overlooked. Despite that, the game went on to win something of a cult fanbase, owing to its ambitious breadth, cavernous depth, and various features that put it well and truly ahead of its time. Robust online social features, a dynamic open world unlike anything else of its era, and combat mechanics that still hold up in 2024 make Dragon's Dogma a true classic — which is why I went into this Dragon's Dogma 2 preview with incredibly high expectations. 

Capcom has been on a huge upswing in recent years. Resident Evil fans are enjoying some of the best video game remakes in history. Monster Hunter World propelled Capcom to new sales records never before seen by the firm. Devil May Cry continues to be a huge success story, as does Street Fighter. An eclectic slate of upcoming Xbox games and upcoming PC games also showcase the firm's hunger for innovation too, with games like Pragmata and Kunitsu-Gami: Path of the Goddess on the horizon.

RELATED: Full Dragon's Dogma 2 review.

Over the past few years, it feels like Capcom can do almost no wrong, aside from a couple of small road bumps (I'm still salty the gravedigger worm wasn't in Resident Evil 3 Remake). When I had the opportunity to try Dragon's Dogma 2 this past week at Capcom's London HQ, I tried hard to keep my expectations in check. I really did. But ... I played the game for four hours, and not only did Capcom completely over-deliver on those already substantial expectations — so far, I'm confident to say Dragon's Dogma 2 gives the impression of a game of the year contender. Wow, wow, wow. 

Welcome to our hands-on preview of Dragon's Dogma 2. 

Dragon's Dogma 2

Dragon's Dogma 2

In what might be one of the most, if not the most, immersive open-world ever crafted, Dragon's Dogma 2 is an action RPG that truly defines the word "adventure." Leaning on old-school gameplay principles with a modern touch, Dragon's Dogma 2 is as immersive, dynamic, and spectacular as they come. 

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Dragon's Dogma 2 represents medium-defining open-world majesty

(Image credit: Capcom)

For my four-hour session with Dragon's Dogma 2, I was treated to a near-final build of the game set a few hours into the experience. The game was running on PS5 and was immaculate in its presentation, although some may be disappointed to hear it's unlocked targeting 30 FPS with no performance mode option — at least at the time of writing. Perhaps things will change by the final build, but honestly it doesn't matter. As someone who has been replaying Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen recently (also at 30 FPS), I found myself unbothered by the frame rate. The PC version will naturally provide the best graphical showcase, but even on the console version, I was utterly awe-struck by the sheer majesty of the digital tapestry rolling out before me. 

What is Dragon's Dogma 2?

Dragon's Dogma 2

(Image credit: Capcom)

Dragon's Dogma 2 is an upcoming action RPG from Capcom, launching 12 years after the original. You play as the Arisen, a legendary hero that emerges specifically to challenge a Great Dragon that appears periodically throughout history. Now essentially immune to sickness and old age, the Arisen is joined by NPC party members known as Pawns, who are otherworldly human-appearing entities that exist only to serve the Arisen. With tactile, Monster Hunter-like fantasy combat set in a gigantic open world, Dragon's Dogma 2 should definitely be on every fantasy RPG fan's radar.

Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, PC.
Xbox Game Pass: No.
Players: Single-player with optional online social features.
Launch date: March 22, 2024.
Price: $69.99.

Dragon's Dogma 2's map is truly gargantuan. I felt like a tiny spec of dust floating in a vast cosmos as I aimlessly wandered around and was reminded of a quote from one of the game's developers about its lack of fast travel. Indeed, Dragon's Dogma 2, much like the first game, sports fast travel systems that lean on the old school. You get a Port Crystal you can place anywhere in the world, which becomes an anchor you can escape back to using a Ferrystone, which isn't dissimilar to the way Hearthstones work in World of Warcraft. There are also ox-drawn carts you can hop into to be taxied to different locales, but Dragon's Dogma 2's map is so densely packed with things worth exploring that you may not want to. 

Game director Hideaki Itsuno remarked, "Just give it a try. Travel is boring? That's not true. It's only an issue because your game is boring. All you have to do is make travel fun." I can safely confirm that travel is fun in Dragon's Dogma 2. 

Similarly to the first game, settlements, dungeons, and other areas of interest are connected by roads and tracks. You might be set upon by bandits, run into besieged travelers, or be attacked by a hungry drake while making your way across the landscape. You can, of course, build your own fast travel network over time using Port Crystals, as you could in the original, but that vast sense of discovery has been sorely lacking in recent games of the genre. Dragon's Dogma 2 nails that sense of adventuring and journeying, unlike anything I've played in a long time, across a landscape that feels state-of-the-art realistic. Huge vertical crags and cliffs, hand-crafted, winding mountain tunnels, and thick forests somehow go beyond the typical impression I've come to expect of open-world games. Capcom wasn't being flowery when they discussed making manual traversal fun, and you can feel the intent in the landscape itself. 

There's no sense of copy-and-paste or algorithmically-generated terrain here. Every turnpike, climbable ledge, and cavern sprawl feels hand-crafted and designed around similarly hand-crafted moment-to-moment encounters you'll find on the trail — think more of Baldur's Gate 3 than Far Cry 6. However, even in my brief time with the game, the volume of emergent situations layered on top of these more curated experiences also smacked of that Monster Hunter DNA that exists within Capcom and fits so naturally, so perfectly within Dragon's Dogma 2. 

(Image credit: Capcom)

For my playthrough, I spent around two hours on a save playing as a Mystic Spearhand and two hours as a Mystic Archer. The Mystic Spearhand is one of the game's new "vocations," how Dragon's Dogma refers to classes — I'll dive more into combat minutiae in the next section, but when it comes to in-world gameplay, I decided to approach both save files differently to get a sense of how exploration and questing plays out differently. 

There are plenty of reasons to explore the world without simply gunning for the main story. Maybe you need supplies for cooking delicious buff food meals (and honestly, even the Capcom rep wasn't sure if the cooking animation vignettes were real-life 4K video footage or in-game RE engine graphics. Scrag of Beast scraps never looked so tasty.) Perhaps you need upgrade materials for your vast arsenal of deadly weapons. Perhaps you're undertaking side quests to slay certain monsters, or perhaps you simply want to see what's in that ominous-looking cave protruding from that nearby cliff. Every step I took felt like it had a reward of some type waiting for me, be it in materials, side quests, or hidden gear upgrades — proving that "making travel fun" wasn't simply marketing or hubris. Turning a corner and finding a dragon munching on some unfortunate goblins (before turning on you) is exactly the type of cinematic dynamism that makes Dragon's Dogma 2's open world a joy to adventure in. Even just typing this, I find myself hungry to jump back in. And not just for those cooking animations, either. 

I went off-road with my Mystic Spearhand, getting slapped around by a drake that was a far higher level, making camp for cooking and crafting, finding hidden chests, and throwing goblins (and small bunnies) off cliffs. I wanted to try a more traditional approach with my Mystic Archer, though, and actually quest a bit. Let's get into Dragon's Dogma 2's meaty interior.

Retaining the Dragon's Dogma feel, without the rough edges

(Image credit: Capcom)

I had attempted to play Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen HD a few years ago, but it didn't "click" with me at the time. After getting into Monster Hunter, Dark Souls, and other more "difficult" action RPG games, I decided to give Dragon's Dogma 1 another try after the game's utterly mind-blowing debut game trailer. It is available on Xbox Series X|S in backward compatibility after all, and it was on special offer in recent weeks to celebrate the new game. 

Despite its age, I found that it very much did "click" with me this time around, armed with knowledge gained from the likes of Monster Hunter, which shares at least some DNA with Dragon's Dogma's approach to combat. Giant, hulking monsters, making you feel like a badass while overcoming apparently insurmountable odds. Dragon's Dogma sports a variety of intricate and intersecting combat systems that can produce unmatched cinematic yet utterly dynamic unscripted moments. And I would argue that the original holds up even now in 2024, with systems that were many, many years ahead of its time. However, it most definitely wasn't without its rough edges and hangnails, but like a lot of games of its era, that somehow also feeds the game's "charm." 

A lot of modernized versions of classic games often fall into this streamlining trap. World of Warcraft is a bit notorious for it. It ironically had a similar fast travel system to Dragon's Dogma, with its hearthstones akin to Dragon's Dogma's ferrystones, but today there's almost no reason to travel anywhere on foot anymore, with teleportation now being so freely available — it makes World of Warcraft feel a lot smaller than it used to, despite being far, far larger on paper. Some of those types of rough edges and restrictions are what give roleplaying games some of their charm, and eliminating every patch of resistance in favor of streamlined convenience can rob a game of its sense of breadth if pushed too far. I would say Dragon's Dogma 2 is incredibly self-aware to avoid some of these "modern" design pitfalls that often trade flavor and immersion for drab convenience. 

(Image credit: Capcom)

Somehow, Dragon's Dogma 2 masterfully threads that needle between upgrading every aspect of the game without robbing the spiritual feel of the franchise as a whole. The open world sports familiar day and night cycles, complete with true darkness at night rather than just a brightness filter. You will need to carry lanterns and prep them with oil for the journey ahead. You will need to prep your curatives, potions, craftables, and other consumables before heading out. And you will still need to frequently change up your hired Pawn party to meet the challenges ahead. That's not to say the game is completely without some fresh mechanics and systems. 

The Mystic Spearhand is a brand-new vocation that can very reliably stun enemies, for example, setting them up for an eternally satisfying Dark Souls-like backstab or critical attack animation. The Spearhand's interweaving magic shields, Force-like gravity manipulation attacks, and dual-blade combos conjure a medieval vision of Darth Maul. The returning Mystic Archer has an array of returning and new attacks, including an infinitely satisfying ricochet barrage that can shred enemies in tight spaces, with magic darts bouncing across all surfaces — a spectacular fireworks display of lighting tech and gore in tow. Overall, the game's combat still closely resembles the original, with pain points smoothed out (but not to the point of sacrificing depth), with high-quality animations, spectacular effects, and other new features layered on top. 

The environment plays a bigger role in Dragon's Dogma 2 than it perhaps did in the original, with the team doubling down on some of the features it pioneered here and in other titles like Monster Hunter. For example, you can cut rope bridges to send traversing packs of monsters tumbling to their doom. You can smash dams to wash enemies away in a torrent of flood water. You can use oil to set fire traps, and so on. There are doubtless countless other dynamic environmental traps you can leverage that I've yet to experience, but it's just another example of Dragon's Dogma 2 honoring the original and elevating it rather than trying to be something else entirely. 

Another clear extension of this can be found in the game's Pawn system. As in the original, you're joined by a "main" Pawn you create yourself and two other hired Pawns you can grab from randomly generated offline NPCs in the world or borrow from other players in the world. If players borrow your main Pawn, you get points, quest knowledge, combat prowess, and in-game items and currency just like in the original. Similarly, if you borrow their main Pawn, you send them benefits back, too. 

(Image credit: Capcom)

The Pawn system feels largely familiar for returning players, but it also seems to have undergone some impressive iterations. For example, I destroyed a rope bridge at one point to send encroaching goblins to their watery doom below. I then realized that I'd destroyed the route forward and could no longer proceed. There were potentially other paths to backtrack and follow through, and opting for a Dragon's Dogma 1 habit; I hit up on the d-pad to send my Pawns ahead to see if they could find an easier path around the bridge. To my surprise, my sorcerer Pawn simply levitated across the destroyed bridge and then set up a ladder on the other side, allowing its less magic-inclined comrades to follow suit. The Pawns often feel uncannily life-like in their behaviors at times, remarking upon quests, strategies, and landmarks as you travel. 

They assist in combat intelligently, too, of course, taking advantage of their unique abilities, items you give them, and even enemy weak points (if they have the appropriate knowledge rating). They add a huge amount of general flavor to the game, too. They might even drop you a high-five after an impressive kill or poke you to see if you're still playing if you spend enough time idling. 

There's simply so much I want to say about my time with Dragon's Dogma 2. It's rare that I come out of a preview event this excited and ready for a game to absorb dozens, maybe hundreds of hours of my life in the coming months. 

Put Dragon's Dogma 2 on your wish list right now (tbh just preorder it)

(Image credit: Capcom)

My favorite moment from my time with Dragon's Dogma 2 was upon finishing a side quest I'd performed to get a taste of what missions would be like. The quest was simple enough: enter a cavern and gather 15 ores for a blacksmith. However, these ores were only visible in the dark, forcing me to trudge delicately through a dangerous cave with intermittent visibility, lights out. The cave also contained a large, unexpected boss battle that I won't spoil, on top of some powerful gear upgrades hidden in the murk amongst the scattered remains of the aforementioned boss's human-looking dinner leftovers. What was to be a simple fetch quest evolved with dynamic and unforeseen set piece moments, with layers of discovery that define the very essence of "adventure." 

That simple side quest culminated in a dynamic moment the Capcom reps themselves hadn't expected or seen. Waiting at the mouth of the mine was a griffin I'd battled and fended off earlier, waiting to ambush me and my squad in revenge. Perhaps it was a fluke, but it certainly didn't feel like one — it reminded me of the type of turn of events you'd expect from a scripted encounter or movie scene. I set the griffin's wings ablaze with fire arrows, rode its back with the game's returning monster climbing system, and eventually felled it, driving it off a cliff face to its doom. The spoils were mine, and it was an epic end to the event — in which I was simply told to roam and do whatever I wanted. 

Oftentimes, preview events take place in quite controlled environments with a very managed slice of the game. It's a sign of confidence in the quality of Dragon's Dogma 2 that I was simply unleashed to make my own way through the game's utterly ground-breaking world. 

We've seen so many games push the envelope when it comes to open-world density. Whether it's the classic Assassin's Creed games, The Witcher 3, Red Dead Redemption 2, or Elden Ring, I honestly feel like Dragon's Dogma 2 could be another genuine step up that increasingly difficult ladder to climb. Dragon's Dogma 2 feels a bit like the culmination of various Capcom games coming together under a single banner. The open-world, dynamic monster slaying of Monster Hunter. The tight, responsive combat of Devil May Cry. The atmospheric treatment and intricate art of Resident Evil. With the innovations of Dragon's Dogma of old elevated and polished to a mirror sheen.

I foresee Dragon's Dogma becoming a pillar franchise for Capcom on the back of this playtest. I foresee Game of the Year nominations in Dragon's Dogma 2's future. And I foresee millions of players falling in love with a game that wants to reward the curious and adventurous with every pixel. 

If you've ever been an RPG fan or a fantasy game fan, Dragon's Dogma 2 absolutely need to be at the apex of your wish list. Assuming the whole game is as enriched as this relatively small slice I got to experience: If Dragon's Dogma 2 ended up being last game I'd ever get to play, I'd die a happy gamer. 

Dragon's Dogma 2 launches on March 22, 2024, for Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC. 

Dragon's Dogma 2

Dragon's Dogma 2

Play as the Arisen, cursed to defend the world from the return of the Great Dragon. Enlist intelligent AI party members and traverse an unprecedented and immersive world caught in international political intrigue and threats, both small and world-defining.

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Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • Stephen Blythe
    @Jez Corden I've been trying to find a solid answer for this question everywhere and I read the review it sounds great but the only question I ask is the combat and game as difficult as dark souls, as I can't play those games my timing sucks so I just end up getting snuffed out a lot and give up its not fun 😕
    I want to get the game but putting down over £60 is a lot if I can't play it 🤔
    Reply
  • ChipBoundary
    Stephen Blythe said:
    @Jez Corden I've been trying to find a solid answer for this question everywhere and I read the review it sounds great but the only question I ask is the combat and game as difficult as dark souls, as I can't play those games my timing sucks so I just end up getting snuffed out a lot and give up its not fun 😕
    I want to get the game but putting down over £60 is a lot if I can't play it 🤔
    Dark Souls games aren't hard. They just have badly designed control schemes. Almost no game is as "hard" as Dark Souls because they are designed better. I can't speak for this game, but I played the first one and it was nothing like Dark Souls. Trust me, the issue isn't you. I've beaten the first two, and played significant portions of their other games, and they just aren't fun to play. They're tedious and annoying, not difficult.
    Reply
  • Jez Corden
    Stephen Blythe said:
    @Jez Corden I've been trying to find a solid answer for this question everywhere and I read the review it sounds great but the only question I ask is the combat and game as difficult as dark souls, as I can't play those games my timing sucks so I just end up getting snuffed out a lot and give up its not fun 😕
    I want to get the game but putting down over £60 is a lot if I can't play it 🤔
    i realise this is a bit late now! but the combat is not as hard as dark souls. you can grind and over-level things. keep your equipment updated as much as possible. youre also not really punished for getting killed.
    Reply