Dragon’s Dogma 2 Proves Some Ideas Deserve Revisiting

Some 16 hours into its sequel, I'm wondering why I bounced off the first one in a third of the time.

Dragon's Dogma 2

Dragon’s Dogma 2 is the best kind of gaming anomaly. It has an unconventional approach to open-world design and exploration. The game refuses to hold the player’s hand through some of its more obtuse, controversial mechanics. It has a total commitment to making the player abide by its rules or pay the price in many (hilarious) deaths. Not since From Software’s Demon’s Souls have players been this divided on a Japanese action role-playing game.

And yet, one of the most fascinating things about Dragon’s Dogma 2 is not in its unforgiving mechanics or its awesome robust character creator, but in the fact that it exists at all. It’s an exceptional game that makes the case for allowing creators to revisit passion projects to garner a new level of appreciation.

The first Dragon’s Dogma wasn’t a commercial flop by any means. But it certainly took a bit of time to find the same success that its sequel has in a fraction of the time: across its numerous releases in the 2010s, including the series re-issue Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen in 2013, and a PC port in 2015, the first game moved 7.9 million copies in 11 years. In comparison, Capcom reported that Dragon’s Dogma 2 sold 2.5 million copies in just 11 days, rapidly outpacing the sales of the original.

Despite finding success, Dragon’s Dogma was divisive. Early reviews were split. Some reviewers were left unimpressed with its so-so story and open-world, and dumbfounded by its lack of fast travel and unforgiving early-hour difficulty. Others praised how it bucked game design trends in enemy encounters, world exploration, and character customization.

Dragon's Dogma 2 often feels like a revisiting rather than a sequel.

But perhaps the biggest hurdle for Dragon’s Dogma was the generational role-playing games it released alongside. Both Dark Souls, the breakthrough title that perfected the eccentric ideas presented in Demon’s Souls and popularized an entire subgenre, and the evergreen Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, dominated the conversation of what it meant to be a great RPG in 2012.

Reviewers and players alike made comparisons between Dragon’s Dogma and both Bethesda and From Software’s seminal games right from the jump, despite game director Hideaki Itsuno sharing that conceptual ideas for his take on the fantasy RPG existed as early as 2001. Itsuno also cited Capcom’s own Street Fighter and Devil May Cry as more of a direct inspiration for Dragon’s Dogma than either Skyrim or Dark Souls.

Some 12 years after the first game, however, it’s clear that critics finally understand what makes this cult franchise tick. Its current average on Metacritic sits 11 points above the original release and five points above Dark Arisen. And many are already pegging it as a contender for game of the year.

While the sequel does iterate on the original in some meaningful ways (its combat certainly feels meatier than the first, new vocations add more depth to character progression, and its opening hours are way less of a slog), Dragon’s Dogma 2 is extremely similar to its predecessor. The pawn system (the series’ signature feature) remains largely unchanged. The sequel also commits to drastically limiting fast travel and embracing player friction as a pillar of teaching the player right from wrong.

Dragon's Dogma 2 doubles down on many of the wholly original ideas presented in the first.

Itsuno has already gone on the record in an insightful interview with IGN explaining that much of Dragon’s Dogma 2 is about better realizing the potential of the first game thanks to the advancement in game tech: better, more reactive NPCs and more dynamic encounters are all things he wanted in the first game and was able to make happen in its follow-up. In many ways, Dragon’s Dogma 2 is just as much a game about making good on what the first game promised, as it is a sequel. As many Arisen have speculated in forums, it’s probably why the sequel’s splash screen and main menu are notably missing a numeral “2” in its title.

If true, this wouldn’t be the first time game designers disguised a sequel as a means of revisiting titles they want to perfect. Shigeru Miyamoto has been open about Star Fox 64 building heavily on the work he did on the cancelled Star Fox 2. The recent Outcast - A New Beginning is both an open-world reimagining of the ambitious, swashbuckling original from 1999, as well as a follow-up. In 2004, Hitman: Contracts, the third game in the murderous stealth series, was a much-welcome excuse for developer IO Interactive to revisit and smooth over the more clunky aspects of Hitman: Codename 47 from four years prior.

Just last month, lead designer Bill Roper announced that his game Hellgate: London, an action RPG that was far ahead of its time when it was released in late 2007, is getting a sequel. It pioneered many of the mechanics that would make later looter-shooters like Destiny so successful.

A sequel to an obscure game like Hellgate may seem strange. But when you pull apart Roper’s own words about the upcoming project, it seems like this unlikely follow-up is less a sequel and more a revisiting of the original.

"I’ve dreamed of returning to the franchise we created back in 2007 for many, many years,” he said. “I’ve always felt I had unfinished business with the Hellgate IP, which is why our codename for the project is Hellgate: Redemption."

Much of what made the original Dragon’s Dogma so divisive in 2012 has remained untouched for its sequel.

If it’s true that Capcom and Itsuno intended Dragon’s Dogma 2 to be more of a redux than a full-on sequel, then I’m happy they not only took the chance on this sequel but decided to stick to their guns on what makes it special. While I bounced off the first Dragons Dogma after about six hours, I’m some 16 hours into its sequel and wondering what it is I missed the first time around considering so little has changed.

We’ve seen auteurs in other mediums find raving success revisiting their work with bigger budgets. Sam Raimi followed up his formative indie debut with Evil Dead 2, a movie that’s intentionally a remake of the first despite the slight change in its tone.

In gaming, I’d argue many cult classics deserve what I’ll dub the Dragon’s Dogma 2 treatment. Imagine if Bizarre Creations got to make this kind of pseudo-sequel to the criminally overlooked kart racer Blur. Or if Digital Extremes decided to revisit the superhero action game Dark Sector. Hell, even Capcom has some IP, like 2010’s Dark Void, that struck out the first time around despite its undeniable elevator pitch of “third-person shooter, but jetpack.”

Dragon’s Dogma 2 is a fantastic game that deserves all the praise that it’s getting. Whether its universally positive reception this time around is the result of having an easier time finding its audience or more people (like myself) better understanding the intricacies of its very purposeful design choices now that we’re firmly out of the shadow of Skyrim and Dark Souls, Dragon’s Dogma 2 is the perfect case for why developers should be allowed to revisit some of their divisive, less popular ideas from yesteryear, and perfect them.

Dragon’s Dogma 2 is available now on PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.

Related Tags