I played Dragon’s Dogma on my PlayStation 3 when it launched in 2012 because I thought the cover looked interesting. I had a newfound appreciation for the fantasy RPG genre thanks to the prior year’s release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and the title was cool; it was that simple. Playing the game, however, was not. Dragon’s Dogma is still probably the most challenging modern fantasy RPG this side of From Software.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, after three hours of hands-on time, Dragon’s Dogma 2 feels just like the first game. And that’s great, even if it means players new to the series will likely go through the struggles I did in Dragon’s Dogma more than a decade ago.

That is one of the first things I ask director Hideaki Itsuno about in Capcom’s San Francisco office.

“We definitely think that people who enjoyed the first Dragon’s Dogma will enjoy this game,” Itsuno says. “We definitely had to aim for that, but also, it’s made in a way for people that really want to get immersed in this world, that want to roleplay in this world – it has been designed and balanced so that these kinds of people can gain satisfaction from it.”

However, Itsuno says there are elements in the game to bridge the gap between newcomers and fans of the series, like NPCs that provide directions and hints to objectives, the unique Pawn system that lets you hire specific types of help, and more he wanted to save for the final release.

While those systems are present, I’m happy to report Dragon’s Dogma 2 kicked my butt more than once during my three hours with it.

The first preview section places my Mystic Spearhand, which uses a magic-imbued spear to take down enemies, in a checkpoint town en route to my destination. My objective is to reach Battahl, but I never do. Instead, Dragon’s Dogma 2 quickly inundates me with side quest after side quest. Every few steps I take in town are met with an NPC telling me about a missing kid, a unique stone they want, or something else. I attempt to complete as many as possible before enough in-game time passed that doing so isn’t possible. For example, the missing kid presumably died by the wolves I was supposed to reach and defeat but didn’t. And if I had to guess, the stone I needed was probably found by someone else, which is why I failed the quest.

The passage of time in Dragon’s Dogma 2 is important, and it adds a level of immersion not often seen in the genre – wait too long to help someone in need and they might perish because of your negligence. Mind you, I tried to complete these quests, but the tough-as-nails combat presented a surprising level of difficulty on the way to objectives. Like the original Dragon’s Dogma, combat is hard, with enemies sparing no expense to take advantage of openings with wallop after wallop.

A griffin with four health bars looking to eat some of the wolves attacking me doesn’t help the situation either, and I soon realize I have no shot of taking it down in my current state. My escape attempt is how I learn you shouldn’t jump off high cliffs.

The second section of this preview places my Magick Archer in Battahl, the town I could not reach in the first half of my play session. In this small village built into a red canyon, I attempt to help someone restore a special regalia sword, but a side quest that piques my interest stops me again. Instead, I spend my time attempting to find an assailant in a crowd of people by identifying them with clues I receive, like that their hair is tied back and their right arm injured. I fail to do so in time, though, and the royal figure of the town is assassinated – whoops!

There is no going back from this; I failed the mission and the world permanently changed. I’m glad I spent time picking through the half-dozen side quests I received during this preview because this is where Dragon’s Dogma 2 shines. It highlights the game’s brutal sense of adventure, reminds me my every action matters, and lets me take part in 20-minute encounters against towering ogres seemingly impervious to my magical arrows (it turns out shooting off their spiky armor and scaling their backs to stab their eyes is the way to go, by the way).

I ask Itsuno if the decade of space between the first game and this sequel allowed the team to observe what others, like CD Projekt Red with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, were doing in the genre. After playing Dragon’s Dogma 2 for three hours, I should have known the answer after feeling the familiar difficulty of that first 2012 game: Nope.

This article originally appeared in Issue 364 of Game Informer.


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