I thought it’d just be a simple sidequest. The owner of an apothecary enlisted my help to find his lost grandson, who had been taken by wolves. As I followed the trail, I heard a screeching noise from up above. All of a sudden I’m in a battle for my life against a Griffin. It’s a monster that’s far too strong for my party to handle, but we fight and claw and hold our ground until we finally get it to retreat. I breathe a sigh of relief, then set up at the nearby camp and sleep till nightfall. That sleep is interrupted by the same Griffin, back for revenge. That fight somehow boils over into another battle with a Wight, who proceeds to beat me within an inch of my life before I finally take him out, just as the sun rises, after an epic 20-minute battle.
None of this was part of the actual quest involving saving the boy. It was just a series of events that cascaded into one of the most unforgettable encounters I’ve had in an open-world action-RPG. And it was just one of the incredible encounters that I experienced during the 10 hours that I spent adventuring through Dragon’s Dogma 2’s fantastic open world.
While I didn’t get to start from the very beginning, I did get to begin with the creation of my own Pawn. Pawns, for those unfamiliar with the first Dragon’s Dogma, are AI-controlled companions that gain gear, skills, and experience from your game, and take all of that with them online where they can be hired by other players to be companions in their own games. I’m not going to spend too much time on either Pawns or character creation – especially because we already have a Dragon’s Dogma 2 Character Creator Deep Dive and a look at How Pawns Have Evolved in Dragon’s Dogma 2 – but what I will say is that Pawns are integral to one of my big takeaways, which is that exploration and discovery in Dragon’s Dogma 2 feels much more natural than before.
First and foremost, there are no more quest boards, there are no markers that appear above people’s heads letting you know who’s got a quest, and any sort of symbols placed on your map to let you know of points of interest are kept to a minimum. As such, you’ll rely on your Pawns and NPCs to guide you through Dragon’s Dogma 2’s world. NPCs will, more often than not, be the ones to approach you with opportunities for side quests, as opposed to it being the other way around. Pawns will also point out objects of interest, like peculiar statues, boulders that can be destroyed to find a path that leads to treasure, or if they already have knowledge of a quest from their owner’s game, they will straight up lead you to them if you give them the go-ahead.
All of this leads to a style of exploration and adventuring that feels organic and appropriately rewarding – very much in the same way that Elden Ring and the two most recent Zelda games do. As alluded to in the intro to this preview, you also never really know what to expect once you set out to pursue a quest lead. The very act of exploring beyond the safety of a city’s walls is unpredictable, dangerous, and enticing, which is why it’s so exciting.
Over the course of my ten hours, I got to play with a total of five Vocations: Fighter, Mage, Warrior, Sorcerer, and Trickster (Which you can read about in our Trickster Breakdown article). Unlike the first game, which had you unlocking advanced Vocations simply by leveling up the base ones, the two advanced Vocations were actually unlocked via a quest. After visiting the Vocation guild, I was given a quest to retrieve a Greatsword and an Archstaff, and after doing so, I unlocked both the Warrior and Sorcerer Vocations. I don’t know if all of them will be unlocked this way, and I didn’t get a chance to unlock any of the hybrid ones like Mystic Spearhand or Magick Archer, but I definitely liked the idea of not having to grind Vocations in order to unlock others.
My personal favorite of the Vocations I got to try was by far the Warrior, who maintains the fantasy of being the greatsword wielding badass that brings giant beasts to their knees with just one charged strike, but also adds a few more tricks to their repertoire. Director Hideaki Itsuno heard feedback that the Warrior didn’t feel like a super viable vocation in the first game, and thus worked hard to give them some new elements to help bring out their strengths.
“For starters, we’ve jacked up Warrior’s offense and destructive power,” Itsuno-san told us. “To the point where it’s unfair. In exchange, its abilities take a little longer to execute. This makes the Vocation somewhat difficult to use, but that’s where the tackle comes into play. If you’re attacked, you can use the tackle to cause an enemy to be stunned instead of being stunned yourself, making it easier to get into the Vocation.”
The tackle he’s referring to is a new ability called Barge that allows the Warrior to execute a quick shoulder bash, even while they’re charging an attack, to interrupt and potentially stun any enemy that’s trying to stuff their attack. The Vocation, after all, is built around being able to charge up massively powerful attacks that deal humongous damage, so this small change goes a long way in making it a little easier to get those big shots off.
My favorite new addition for the Warrior, though, is a passive skill that allows you to swing regular attacks much more quickly if you’re able to precisely time your next button press with when the attack actually lands. This gives a nice rhythm to the Warrior’s combat and allows a skilled player to compensate for the typical weakness of having very slow attack, while still making those slow and powerful attacks still feel like they have their own place in the Warrior’s skillset. Also, if you’re like me and enjoy the feeling of leaping off cliffs and slamming your weapon down on a monster’s head, this is the Vocation for you.
I unfortunately didn’t get deep enough into the Sorcerer Vocation to see any of the really big, crazy spells that they’re so beloved for, but what I really enjoyed about the Sorcerer was the addition of a unique skill called Galvanize. This allows you to go into a stance that recovers your stamina extremely quickly, which is especially useful for the Sorcerer, due to the fact that their spells take so long to cast. To shorten those spells, you’ll need to use a skill called quickspell, which allows you to spend stamina to reduce a spell’s cast time. All of this leads to a careful balance of preparing to cast a powerful spell, using quickspell to shorten its cast time, and then making note of whether you have enough stamina to cast another spell, or whether you have to break away and use galvanize to get your stamina back up. It’s a fun dance that made Sorcerer feel a lot more active than in the past.
The Power of Distance
Dragon’s Dogma 2’s open world is enormous, reported to be roughly four times the size of the already huge map in the first game, and I don’t doubt that claim in my experience of checking the map and wandering through just a small portion of it. It’s big, but it’s also dense with exciting encounters both on and off the beaten path that were paced nicely so I wasn’t constantly slowed down by back-to-back battles, but I also never went too long without having something to engage with.
One thing that was important to Itsuno-san and the team at Capcom was making sure that players really felt the distance they were traveling as they explored. To that end, fast travel is very limited like in the first game. You can only fast travel between discovered Port Crystals, and every time you do, you must expend a Ferrystone, which are highly valuable items that don’t come cheap and aren’t easily found. Another option you have for getting around is using an Ox Cart, which is relatively cheap, but they are limited in that you can’t choose where to travel. The main one I found only went from the capital city of Vernworth to the Checkpoint Town, which was far to the west. You also have to consider that Ox Carts are not a completely safe way to travel, as they often will be ambushed by all manners of beasts.
Of course, you can just hoof it on foot, which is where you’ll truly feel the weight of that distance, especially due to the new health restoration mechanic. In the first game, you’d be able to heal your entire life bar by using health restorative items, and recoverable gray health with spells. In Dragon’s Dogma 2, however, every hit diminishes a portion of your max health; and the only ways to restore it are by either finding a campfire to rest at, or returning to an Inn and resting for the night. Fortunately, if you rest at a campfire, you can also cook some meat to get some much needed buffs, in addition to restoring all of your life, but there’s a risk involved with resting at a campfire as well. The flames may attract monsters to your campsite, and as I mentioned at the beginning of this preview, you could actually wake up to an angry Griffin coming back to finish what it started.
What it comes down to is this: Virtually every action in Dragon’s Dogma 2 has some combination of a cost and risk tied to it. Ferrystones are risk-free travel, but they come at a steep price; Ox Carts are a low cost, but moderately risky method of travel; and traveling on foot is free, but extremely risky. Then you must also consider whether it’s worth it to press on in a quest line with low max health, or backtrack back to town to resupply; whether you should avoid fighting the giant, tanky ogre, or risk it all on trying to bring it down for both the experience and rare material reward; whether you should keep on the less dangerous beaten path, or take a detour into the unknown.
In the 10 hours I played, these were very compelling decisions to have to make, but the real test will be whether those decisions remain compelling or turn exhausting in hour 20 or 30 when the map has expanded dramatically, and you still have quests remaining to complete in a town you’re super far away from.
Hypotheticals aside, though, I loved just about every moment I spent playing Dragon’s Dogma 2 during this preview window. It doubles down on everything I loved about the first game, makes some smart improvements to the way quests are handled and how you explore its giant world, and the little taste I got of the Vocations is a tantalizing reminder of why Dragon’s Dogma is one of the best in the genre when it comes to delivering on the various power fantasies tied to the classic RPG archetypes. Even after all I played, I still feel like I just scratched the surface on what Capcom has in store for players when Dragon’s Dogma 2 releases on March 22.
Mitchell Saltzman is an editorial producer at IGN. You can find him on twitter @JurassicRabbit