Dragon’s Dogma 2 feels like a perfect second try at the original — but could the «Isekai» theories be true?

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The original Dragon’s Dogma is one of my personal favourite games — but I can’t deny it has a few shortcomings. What’s surprising is in the brief time I got to speak with him I learned Hideaki Itsuno, Dragon’s Dogma 2’s director, felt exactly the same way. To him the original game is a flawed example of the dream game he’s always wanted to create, which is why I assume he only spoke of Dragon’s Dogma 2 with an infectious glee.

So much of what I experienced in the time I played Dragon’s Dogma 2 gave me a very strange, but comfortable feeling of deja-vu. Have you ever gone back to play a game from your childhood, only to feel disappointed that it didn’t look or play as well as you remembered? Dragon’s Dogma 2 feels like the inverse of that sensation: as if I’m replaying the original ten years later, but it feels better and looks prettier than I remember.

My adventure in Dragon’s Dogma 2 began in the city of Battahl, a large Beastren settlement with striking similarities to the original Dragon’s Dogma’s Gran Soren. The Beastrens are a newly playable race in the sequel, something Itsuno-san was keen to include from its outset. «I was really glad to implement them into the game in the scale I always wanted to,» he told me. «Not only do different Beastren characters appear throughout the game, but you can play as one as well. This is the level I wanted to bring the Beastren to originally, but was never able to achieve in the first game, as they only had a small appearance in the original.»

Cover image for YouTube videoDragon’s Dogma 2 Gameplay Preview — MAGICK ARCHER AND MYSTIC SPEARHAND WEAPON SKILLS DEEP DIVE

Ian takes a separate look at Dragon’s Dogma 2 in his own preview.

The save file I was provided with had been meticulously set up to provide me with the most straightforward experience for my preview. My Arisen was a Magick Archer and a Beastren, outfitted with good equipment, and I had three equally well equipped pawns at my disposal. Directly in front of me was Battahl’s main gate, my path into the open world. To my right, there was an NPC who wished to give me a quest. Behind me there was a looming, conspicuous looking temple. My choices were clear. I opted to take none of them.I was informed by the team at Capcom that nobody who’d previewed the game had made it too far into the most southern part of the open world yet, due to how difficult the enemies in that section of the map were. Given the countless hours I’d poured into the first game, I was keen to take on the challenge. It wouldn’t take too long for me to be humbled.

My most direct path to the south led me through Battahl’s most populated district, into a large, open courtyard, and then towards an accompanying beach. After easily dispatching some Saurians, I was naturally set upon by a Griffin. Much like your first encounter with a Griffin in the original game, it fled after I took off its first health bar and flew towards a tower in the distance, baiting me to follow it. I ignored Dragon’s Dogma 2’s direction a second time and continued along the beach towards my vaguely self-determined objective.

Dragons Dogma 2 preview screenshot showing the main character with a staff in grassy countryside

Dragons Dogma 2 preview screenshot showing the main character look towards the camera in a grassy, rocky mountainous area

Dragons Dogma 2 preview screenshot showing the character walking through town towards a kind of monastery

Image credit: Capcom/Eurogamer

However, had I chosen to grab onto that Griffin and ride on its back, Itsuno-san informed me that an entirely different adventure would have taken place. «If you were to grab on to a Griffin to attack it but it flew away, it could fly to the other end of the world with you on it,» he explained. «The amount of memory available, the RAM, limited the original game design in so many ways… getting rid of that and essentially making it one big seamless world, that can load in as much as we need at any one given time, just makes so much more emergent gameplay possible… if you go to an area, and a boss monster follows you, and the citizens begin to panic because the monster starts destroying their shops… that isn’t a pre-programmed event, that just happens naturally, because an enemy can follow you to the ends of the earth.»

As I’d chosen to give the Griffin the cold shoulder, my only current way forward was along a tiny path attached to the beach’s cliffside, ending at the entrance to a cave. It looked oddly deserted. Perhaps I should have known better.

Halfway up the extremely narrow, fun-sized path, a flock of Harpies suddenly attacked my party. Two of the Harpies immediately beset two of my pawns, picking them up and unceremoniously dropping them off the cliffside and into the sea below. Their deaths were instant, and within the space of roughly 10 seconds the size of my party had been halved. As I attempted to defend my final pawn, a Sorcerer named Mally, a Harpie from off-screen latched on to me and immediately began its ascent. I tussled with it as it attempted to steer me toward a watery grave, causing it to drop me directly in front of the cave’s entrance. The fall damage cut my maximum health to less than a quarter of what I had originally started with. Several Harpies circled above me, and Mally was nowhere to be seen. I left her to her fate and promptly fled into the small opening of the cave, only to find myself enveloped in pitch black darkness. I could hear the Harpies squawk as they butted against the cave’s entrance, evidently upset that they were too large to fit through.

Dragons Dogma 2 preview screenshot showing ranged combat in a desert area

Image credit: Capcom/Eurogamer

I turned on my lantern. I was surrounded by goblins. With 40 health points and a bow, fighting them in such an enclosed space felt impossible. Even though I managed to kill 20 of them, there seemed to be no end to their numbers. About 15 minutes had passed since I started my journey and it seemed like I was about to suffer an embarrassingly quick death at the hands of some of the weakest enemies in the game. As a large, explosive ball of fire whizzed past my head and took out three goblins in one blow, I heard a voice cry out in the distance. «Goblins ill like fire, Arisen!»

Mally, who had inexplicably managed to slip past the dozen or so Harpies guarding the cave’s entrance, helped me make quick work of the remaining enemies. Our victory prompted Mally to run up to me and offer a high five. We pressed further into the cave, narrowingly avoiding a Golem in the process, and emerged into a barren looking desert. A few goblins laid in ambush outside, but the open landscape allowed me to dispatch them with ease. Mally commended me on a job well done. I was starting to feel extremely guilty for abandoning her less than 20 minutes prior.

I consulted my map, and made a point of tracing exactly how much distance I’d travelled in the 30 minutes I’d been playing. Based on the map’s size, Battahl’s location and where I had currently found myself in, it looked as if I’d barely moved. Itsuno-san’s explanation of how he designed Dragon’s Dogma 2’s map made this sound intentional. «When it came to the map design… the map is bigger than the first game, but it wasn’t just made bigger for the sake of it, it was to make it deeper.»

Dragons Dogma 2 preview screenshot showing conversations with townspeople in a rural village

Dragons Dogma 2 preview screenshot showing a conversation with a silly-looking town NPC

Image credit: Capcom/Eurogamer

«I never want the player to feel like all they’ve done is hold the left stick forward, because they have to get from point A to B. I want every space in the game to feel like something is there, like something could happen — like it’s part of a real world you’re exploring, rather than a gap on the map to make the game feel big. The way I put it is… you can see, a thousand metres in the distance, what it is you need to get to — but you never know what’s going to happen ten metres in front of you, because that’s the part you can’t predict.»

I, on the other hand, could predict exactly what would happen if I were to step ten metres in front of me. A jet black wyvern patrolled the slender canyon ahead of us and, worse still, day was beginning to turn to night. Mally motioned toward a campsite in the distance, and I could spy a small village just beyond it. We slowly crept past the wyvern, luckily managing to avoid its glare, but as I began setting up camp Mally warned me that we were at risk of ambush if we slept. I referenced my map again for advice and chose to instead travel to a rift stone that was close by, which I could use to enlist two more pawns and potentially improve our chances of survival.

One of the pawns I enlisted, a Thief named Rose, was rather brash and obnoxious. She was immediately critical, admonishing me for having low health. She then bragged to Mally of her own master’s exploits, informing me that a treasure they had previously found was nearby. Upon speaking to Rose, she offered to show me where I could find it. As soon as I agreed, she sprinted past the village I’d previously spotted and towards some nearby ruins at a breakneck pace. I followed her through its maze-like walls and into a small opening in its centre. The fall damage from dropping through it immediately killed me. Luckily, Mally would prove to be my saviour for a second time, by using a Wakestone in her inventory to revive me. Upon my resurrection, Rose subtly accused me of being a pervert for having an entire party of female pawns, before running off into the distance once more.

Dragons Dogma 2 preview screenshot showing a combat encounter in some ruins with a flaming staff

Image credit: Capcom/Eurogamer

As we battled through the undead hordes in what appeared to be an underground temple, Rose constantly made me aware of the chests that littered the environment. At one point she even warned me as I attempted to cross a bridge that it wasn’t stable, allowing me to run back to safety just before it collapsed. The area was impressively vast considering how unremarkable its entrance appeared to be, and traversing it took almost half an hour, but at its end laid a small cove. The loot here was, just as Rose had promised, quite incredible. A powerful looking staff, several potions that would fully restore my health, and an item that would permanently improve my carrying capacity.

As soon as we emerged from the underground, our old friend the jet black wyvern ambushed us. Clearly, just as Itsuno-san had told me, regardless of how long I had been underground or how far I had travelled, the wyvern had never despawned. Unfortunately for it, the healing potions I’d just acquired and the new staff that Mally had equipped proved to be the wyvern’s undoing. However, once we reduced its health to a third, the wyvern fled in the direction of a small settlement to the north. Satisfied that our journey had met a fitting end, I opted to switch save files — this time to a Mystic Spearhand who began his journey in the human controlled settlement of Vermund.

Instead of randomly exploring as I had done on the previous save file, I made a point of trying to get into as many fights as possible using the Mystic Spearhand vocation, so I could get to grips with its moveset. Unlike the Magick Archer, the Mystic Spearhand is an entirely new class in the sequel, although using it felt peculiarly familiar to me. I asked Itsuno-san about the inspiration for the class, and if a certain character in a previous game he’d worked on possibly served as the inspiration for its design.

Dragons Dogma 2 preview screenshot showing a smith

Image credit: Capcom/Eurogamer

«You’re on the money about DMC,» he explained, «because in between making the original Dragon’s Dogma games and finally getting the chance to make Dragon’s Dogma 2, I made Devil May Cry 5. There were elements of the combat design of that game that were in my mind and formed inspirations for the Mystic Spearhand being somewhat similar to Nero in DMC 5, where you want to keep your magic charging at all times while doing other elements of the combat… The new job, the Trickster… if you’ve played Devil May Cry 5 you might feel a bit of a connection to the character of V in that game. Rather than getting directly involved in combat, the Trickster takes a few steps back from the battlefield and manipulates it to their advantage through indirect means.»

I asked Itsuno-san what prompted him to replace the Mystic Knight, a vocation in the previous game, with the Mystic Spearhand, as well as how he chose to make certain changes to other preexisting classes. «The way I would put it is, we took all the existing jobs, and what it is that they’re there for, what function they have, and took it apart at their component level… that results in some jobs being new, some of the existing jobs having a different approach, and some jobs not being continued.»

«The Strider job, essentially, has been looked at and what it achieves, and separated out into two different vocations — the Thief and the Archer. The Mystic Knight has been replaced by the Mystic Spearhand, and certain aspects of every job has been rethought in this way. We kind of just went back to zero, like nothing is sacred and we’re gonna take what we have and see what we have to do to make the new game’s design work.»

He also told me that, unlike many fans seemed to have assumed, the Vocations shown off so far are indeed the full amount that will be available in the base game. «There’s 10 vocations in the game, the 10 out there we’ve made public.»

Dragons Dogma 2 preview screenshot showing an NPC with the Killgore haircut

Image credit: Capcom/Eurogamer

In between killing every enemy I crossed, I came across a small Beastren controlled settlement and immediately noticed something was amiss. Unlike my previous playthrough as a Beastren, during which several Beastren NPCs in the city of Battahl jovially and frequently attempted to talk to me, the inhabitants of the small settlement I’d come across seemed noticeably wary. One Beastren NPC even apologised on behalf of the other villagers, stating that, unlike the other denizens, he wasn’t afraid to talk to my Mystic Spearhand simply because he was human.

Itsuno-san told me that the way in which different races would be treated was at the forefront of his mind before development on the sequel even began. «In one country it’s essentially the human world and in the other it’s the country of the Beastren… I thought about exploring the implications of the relationships between these two races in this fantasy world, including how people treat someone who is an outsider… so if the main character is an outsider in one country but not the other, or if you try to romance a different race… I thought it was an interesting topic to explore, if you’re actually going to include two playable races.»

As my time previewing Dragon’s Dogma 2 came to an end, I quickly asked the team that was supervising the preview if I could take one final look at the game’s opening menu screen. When I first started the game, and when I swapped over to the second save file, I noticed something odd. The opening menu screen simply said «Dragon’s Dogma», not «Dragon’s Dogma 2» as you might assume. At first I brushed it off as a way to distinguish between the 0.9 build of the game I was previewing and what would eventually be the full release, but the longer I played the more suspicious I became.

Dragons Dogma 2 preview screenshot showing combat outside in the grassy hills with flames and a staff

Image credit: Capcom/Eurogamer

I overheard a few of the human inhabitants in the city of Vermund speak of their king, the Arisen. Yet when I spoke to several of the NPCs in Vermund, I was treated as a mere commoner. Some treated me as a nuisance. One even implied that he didn’t believe I was the Arisen entirely. Whoever this king is, he and I were clearly not the same person. I also noticed in my quest log that one of my previously completed quests spoke of my «lost memory», as if my status as Arisen was something that even my own character had only recently become aware of.

I asked Itsuno-san about the title screen, and what it was trying to imply. His cryptic response left me with more questions than answers.»All we can say is nothing in this game is unintentional… and we’ll leave it at that.»

That said, I do have a theory. In previous interviews regarding Dragon’s Dogma 2, Itsuno-san has made repeated references to Isekais — a popular subgenre in Japanese media, especially anime, wherein someone is transported or reincarnated into an alternate universe. In one specific interview, Itsuno-san even expressed his desire to make Dragon’s Dogma 2 an «isekai reincarnation simulator». Many assumed that was a whimsical comparison, a way of loosely implying that we as players can roleplay as a fantasy character within Dragon’s Dogma’s world. But what if Itsuno-san meant it in a literal sense? Perhaps our Arisen, an amnesiac with no backstory, is the player themselves, «Isekaied» into the world of Dragon’s Dogma so we can relive our adventures from the first game?

Either way, what’s clear from my time in the preview is Itsuno-san has doubled down on the vision he had for the original game, only choosing to improve or change that which came about as a result of the limitations placed on him before. If my theory is correct, the desire to Isekai the player into the world of Dragon’s Dogma may have been inspired by Itsuno-san’s own desire to do things right if he was given a second chance, because in many ways Dragon’s Dogma 2 doesn’t feel like a sequel — it feels, at least so far, like the perfect version of Dragon’s Dogma we were meant to experience the first time around.

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