Dragon's Dogma 2 - Captain Brant
Image via Capcom

Dragon’s Dogma 2 Deserved Better Storytelling to Go With Its World

I’ve been loving my time with Dragon’s Dogma 2 so much that I instantly started a NG+ run after the (true) final credits rolled. However, I think it’s quite far from being GOTY material, let alone a modern RPG masterpiece, and it all comes down to the incredibly lackluster main story and how it’s told.

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Spoilers ahead for the two Dragon’s Dogma games.

Dragon’s Dogma 2 isn’t really about the story,” you might say. Yes, I know that. I’ve beaten the original game and Dark Arisen twice, and despite its assortment of bold and interesting concepts, it’s hard to argue the main plot was anywhere near cohesive or memorable. I (and most DD fans, probably) remember its most insane twists quite fondly, especially as the true final stretch was laid out before us, but that didn’t make everything that preceded it any less disjointed and awkward.

Back in the day, Dragon’s Dogma had the excuse of being rushed to completion, which is obvious even if you look past its narrative flaws: The world map was quite small and full of ‘empty’ space; loot didn’t make much sense until the late game; and the enemy variety wasn’t quite there. 12 years later, Dragon’s Dogma 2 has fixed many of those issues thanks to a noticeably chunkier budget and more time in development, yet a few shortcomings remain, and at this point, I just think they’re part of Hideaki Itsuno and his team’s vision.

Dragon's Dogma 2 - the Unmoored World
Screenshot by The Escapist

It’s not hard to reach DD2’s post-game state, in which the game world is threatened by otherworldly forces and is, quite literally, coming undone. After slaying the titular (but not too present) Dragon, we get the choice of either becoming the Sovran and getting a happy ending or daring to ‘lift the veil’ and see the true world, that is, a world without the cycle that supposedly holds it together. It’s all fascinating meta stuff and the right kind of batting with big ideas that most AAA games are sorely lacking, taking things even further than the original’s shocking final stretch. Hell, we don’t get the Dragon’s Dogma II title drop until this optional section is reached. That’s awesome!

Likewise, the structure of the game and how we interact with the world are reshaped, with a ticking clock and much higher stakes making failure more painful and seriously encouraging several runs to make the most of it. Nonetheless, it all couldn’t make me forget how surface-level, oddly paced, and unsatisfying the main story path was up to that point. Dragon’s Dogma 2 is a rather frontloaded game with a couple of pretty sweet cinematic moments early on, but it struggles more and more with its narrative ambitions as the journey progresses.

Dragon's Dogma 2 - ending the cycle
Screenshot by The Escapist

Following the whole ‘court intrigue’ arc, which is somewhat interesting but doesn’t play to the game’s strengths, the Arisen and his party of pawns are sent to the neighboring country of Battahl, probably hoping the players get sidetracked long enough to make things seem much grander than they actually are. I’ll admit: It’s quite the trek, and the sense of discovery once you cross the border is amazing. Again, I think DD2 is a very good game, and the hard-hitting combat and satisfying exploration make it shine. In a way, it’s an RPG that becomes better the more time you spend in the space between major locations and events.

A couple of promising cutscenes aside, which stop being a thing halfway through until you reach the ‘true’ ending, the emotion and intrigue simply aren’t there. We’re told about tensions between Vermund and Battahl, but they never factor into the plot nor actual gameplay beyond the casual xenophobia that some NPCs spill out. The villains can control pawns, but it’s never an explicit menace. Lord Phaesus is supposedly the bad guy, yet he barely opposes our advancements and we end up actually helping his research for a good while for no good reason. Some ‘main’ (I guess?) characters drop off the face of the world until the post-game. It all becomes increasingly baffling and makes you wonder whether the team was hit with budget/timing issues again, but I’m inclined to believe it’s just how they chose to deliver this excuse for a story.

Dragon's Dogma 2 - the Dragon arrives
Screenshot by The Escapist

I guess I wouldn’t be so mad about the massive disappointment DD2’s main story arc (there are solid side quests!) turned out to be if it didn’t try to actually tell an interesting tale. I wouldn’t have minded if the whole thing was just a shameless riff on Breath of the Wild and its refreshing (back in 2017) “go defeat Ganon whenever you want, but maybe get a bit stronger before” structure. It’d have rocked, actually. But this game does put some effort into actually telling an epic story the traditional way, and it just doesn’t keep the required level up. In fact, it drops all the plates and runs to the nearest exit shortly after we reach Battahl. It’s so disconcerting and made me wish they looked at FromSoftware’s enigmatic yet subtle narratives instead.

I’ve thought of describing Dragon’s Dogma 2 to anyone who asks about it as the straight opposite of Final Fantasy XVI, which is to say that it excels at careless adventuring and side questing, and only stumbles when it tries to say something meaningful. In fact, I’d say that even Bethesda’s largely outdated and half-goofy storytelling efforts in Starfield landed far better than whatever Itsuno and the gang clumsily tried to deliver here. If history repeats itself, we might get something much more engrossing whenever the (I’d say inevitable) DLC expansion arrives.


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Author
Fran Ruiz
Fran J. Ruiz is a freelance writer for The Escapist as well as other gaming, entertainment, and science websites, including VG247, Space, and LiveScience, with a strong focus on features, listicles, and opinion pieces. His wordsmith journey started with Star Wars News Net and its sister site, writing film, TV, and gaming news as a side gig. Once his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English Studies (University of Malaga, Spain) were done, he started collaborating with more and more sites until he became a full-time freelancer on top of an occasional private tutor. There’s no film genre he’s afraid of, but sci-fi and fantasy can win him over easily. Star Wars and Jurassic Park are his favorite stories ever. He also loves the entirety of Lost (yes, even the final season). When it comes to games, Spyro the Dragon and Warcraft III are his all-timers, but he’s the opposite of tied to a few genres. Don’t try to save him from his gargantuan backlog.