Dragon’s Dogma 2 Captures the Best Part of Tabletop RPGs In Digital Form

Roll the dice.

screenshot from Dragon's Dogma 2

Early tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons have had an outsized influence on video games, from their shared obsession with slaying goblins to the very concepts of hit points and leveling up. But for all their shared mechanics, tabletop and video games are remarkably different beasts. As much aesthetic overlap as there is between the two, the feeling of playing most video games bears little in common with playing a tabletop game. Dragon’s Dogma 2 pulls heavily from the aesthetics of D&D, and despite its gameplay having nothing in common with tabletop, its open-ended story still captures the wonder of TTRPGs better than almost any video game in memory.

There are certainly more obvious games going after the tabletop spirit. Last year’s Baldur’s Gate 3 emulates the free-wheeling mechanical chaos of a good D&D session as well as any game can. Like a player trying everything they can to outfox a tabletop Game Master, Baldur’s Gate 3 players are encouraged at every turn to find unconventional solutions to problems and generally pick apart its well crafted combat. Its story is highly reactive to player choice, with multiple routes through most quests that change huge parts of the game’s outcome.

Baldur’s Gate 3 takes mechanics directly from D&D, but it’s not the only game taking lessons from tabletop RPGs.

Larian Studios

But when I played Baldur’s Gate 3, I was aware that I was playing through a meticulously crafted story already laid out in front of me. Yes, that story is full of detours and diversions, but its joy is in seeing where you can push its already defined narrative. Dragon’s Dogma 2 is different. Rather than mimic the mechanics of D&D, it seems to embody the sense of discovery found in improvisational indie TTRPGs.

Apocalypse World, a seminal TTRPG whose ruleset has been adapted into countless indie games, tells players to “play to find out what happens.” The phrase has become somewhat of slogan for a subset of indie TTRPGs more concerned with emergent play than strict rules or predefined narratives. When you play to find out what happens, you’re not playing to win, or to level up, or to reach the end of the story. You’re playing because that’s the way that the story, and the game around it, come into being.

Dragon’s Dogma 2’s unpredictability is its greatest strength.


Video games will always have more restrictions than tabletop RPGs, and your ability to play to find out what happens is therefore smaller. What’s going to happen is already decided in large part by the game itself. With Dragon’s Dogma 2, again and again, I feel myself playing to find out what happens. I know that at the end of the journey, I’ll slay a dragon and decide the fate of the kingdom of Vermund. But that’s not why I’m playing. I’m playing to see what happens if I change my party composition just so, if I take the long way to my destination instead of the direct route, and if I succeed or fail at my next quest.

Another pillar of many TTRPGs is failing forward. Because players can change the world at a moment’s notice, failing any given quest or objective is rarely cause to end a game. Instead, the world reacts and the story reshapes itself around that reality. In many games, that also goes for individual dice rolls. Failing an attack roll doesn’t just mean you miss, it means you put yourself in a more dangerous position that you now need to find a way out of.

Trust me, this is good for you.


Dragon’s Dogma 2 works in much the same way. Failing a quest won’t send you back to the title screen. It just means you have to live with the consequences now. Whether you let an empress be assassinated, fail to uncover a plot against the kingdom, or simply let someone you were protecting perish, the game will go on and your story will have changed. It’s the same on a smaller scale. When you accidentally destroy a bridge you needed to cross or get dragged into a ravine by harpies, you’re not doomed, merely inconvenienced. Congratulations, your story is now more interesting! Sorry about the head trauma. It’s why Dragon’s Dogma 2’s limited fast travel and its controversial Dragonsplague mechanic both work in the game’s favor, despite protest from some players. How you approach them fundamentally alters your experience, and whatever choices you make, they’re neither right nor wrong — they’re just yours.

Failure in video games is often frustrating, but in Dragon’s Dogma 2 it’s a blessing, an assurance that the experience you’re now having is yours alone and that no one else will ever have exactly the same path through the game. While it can never match the freedom of a tabletop RPG, Dragon’s Dogma 2 scratches some of the same itch. Winning and losing are almost irrelevant concepts — what matters is that you remain eager to find out what happens next.

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