I want to talk to you about guts. Not the Berserk character, though Dragon’s Dogma 2 does have very big swords. Nor the courage to jump at a beast five times your size to try to take it down – though Dragon’s Dogma 2 has that, too. And definitely not guts in the British parlance, where to be gutted is to be racked with disappointment. Dragon’s Dogma 2 definitely doesn’t have that.

But, no – I’m talking about a gut feeling, I suppose. I’ve been doing this job for a long time. Decades, it pains me to admit. And I think my radar is pretty good. I trust those innards of mine. Sometimes I see something – even something that looks quite good – and I think ‘this ain’t gonna work’. Other times, I play a short demo of something and just know, deep down, that this is going to be an absolute banger. Most often, I end up being right, if I do say so myself.

With that all established, let’s talk about Dragon’s Dogma 2. I already previewed it, but in one last beat before it releases I got to play another three hours of the game. It’s the latter. It’s a banger. I can tell that this game is special.

Moreover – the last time I felt this way was (whisper it) when I played six hours of Elden Ring shortly before that game’s release. Dragon’s Dogma 2 is giving those vibes. I hate to compare it to Elden Ring, because comparing everything to FromSoftware’s success is played out as all hell. But here, I can’t deny it. It’s true.

In fact, it’s giving those vibes so thoroughly that eagle-eyed readers might notice that the structure of this preview’s opening – guts, glory, and all – is borrowed wholesale from that 2022 write-up. Back then, I was excitedly but tentatively saying Elden Ring evoked a feeling I hadn’t felt since previewing Breath of the Wild. Consider that the lineage Dragon’s Dogma 2 now resides in: with the final hurdle of review yet to come, it stands among giants.

Big things are coming. | Image credit: Capcom

Why? I mean, god – how do you even explain? That’s the other thing about games like this, I think: they’re always difficult to explain. Before my preview, I was chatting away to Capcom PR about the difficult task they have demoing a game like this. The first Dragon’s Dogma was a cult hit that slow-burned its way from a million launch copies up to pushing 8 million today. It’s weird, esoteric, highly systems-based, and surprisingly hardcore in its mindset and design. It was, to be honest, ahead of its time.

In 2023, it finally feels like reality has caught up with the ideas the Dogma development team, led by Capcom visionary Hidetaki Itsuno, dreamed up 12 years ago. This is where it differs from those good-vibes peers I evoked earlier, for it isn’t a masterful iteration of a subgenre that has been steadily expanding for decades, nor is it a bottom-up reimagining of something beloved. Instead, it is just… more.

The first Dragon’s Dogma gives the feeling of a game that is fit to burst. Not with padding and icon vomit open world maps – but just in its concept and its raw design. You can tell that in development a lot was cut. Post-release, Itsuno talked at GDC about how, at some stages, the design for the game was the better part of double the size of what they ultimately shipped. It’s a miracle, in a sense, that they didn’t ship something compromised. The ideas are there, bubbling beneath the surface – and that’s part of the charm of it all. But in Dragon’s Dogma 2, the intent is to see all of those ideas to their maximum potential. After a few hours, I can see it.

Take the pawns, the AI allies that accompany you in your adventure. As well as your protagonist you’ll create one custom pawn of your own – and then recruit either pre-set pawns from Capcom or more likely the pawns of other players, which get uploaded into an internet depository for all to see. Your pawn, too, can be ‘hired’ by other players – giving a community feeling to this strictly single-player experience.

Dragons Dogma 2 TGS 2023
Hardcore pawn action. | Image credit: Capcom

The pawn concept is easy to love on paper, and easier still in practice. Having the creations of other players form your RPG ‘party’ seems cool to begin with, but then you realize that they bring with them knowledge. If you come across a new enemy that you’ve not encountered before, but have the pawn of a player who’s slaughtered many of them, the pawn might pipe up with advice on battle strategies or weak points. Exploring the wilds, they might note that they know the location of a treasure chest near here – do you want them to lead you to it? Again, it feels collaborative in a game that is entirely played alone.

What Itsuno admits is that in the first game the pawns only have a vague veneer of life. They’re famous for screaming the same catchphrases repeatedly, and descending into bizarre AI routines. He was satisfied with the result in 2012, but now believes the technology and power is there to deliver a system where you can really feel like these player-generated characters have the depth and personality of hand-curated party members in other RPGs. It’s bold, but even after a few hours with Dragon’s Dogma 2, I can see the difference.

The same is true in world design. Dragon’s Dogma released mere months after Skyrim, and its open world was quaint by comparison even then. Stepping out of one major town into the wilds of the sequel make clear this is a different mood – from mountains laced together with wooden rope pulley lifts (that you can make your pawns power on your behalf, or do so yourself) to oceanside beaches reached via cavernous, dank spaces, it just feels… big. Ambitious.

Dragons Dogma 2 TGS 2023
Fly, on your way, like an eagle. | Image credit: Capcom

And of course, all of that vaguely procedural Dragon’s Dogma madness. At one point I decide to take on a gigantic rock golem-like enemy for the sake of testing out combat on something bigger. Playing as an archery-led class, I could quite easily target the monster’s weak points from a relatively safe distance, and even use a healing arrow to friendly fire my pawns to keep them as a distraction up close. It was a bit intense, but I was having casual fun.

Then, out of nowhere, a Griffon that just happened to be flying by sweeps in – and suddenly it’s a three-way fight. Suddenly it feels quite deliciously unwinnable. The beauty of the combat design of this game is that it isn’t, not really – there’s always a weak point to exploit if you are sufficiently skilled, and if you’re not even running away is a thrill. Some enemies will follow with the sort of single-mindedness usually reserved for slasher villains. The scale of the open world means you have more options to approach enemies or make those retreats, too, which helps tremendously. You know it’s good when even beating a hasty retreat gets the blood pumping.

Of course, with a game this large, all this is a big ol’ maybe. A huge asterisk. There’s so much still to see, so much that could go wrong – even if everything I’ve seen so far is going riotously right. So far, so good – final code will be the real test.

Dragons Dogma 2 TGS 2023
A dogmatic dragon, assumedly. | Image credit: Capcom

It’s worth noting, too, that I was one of those people converted by the delightful slow burn of the first game, and so I am predisposed to like the second. But I really do think the market has caught up with the pace, tone, and style of Dragon’s Dogma. The world is ready for another one of these games – and it feels like this might be exactly the right game at exactly the right moment. Could it be an all-timer? Could it be a masterwork for all? Here’s hoping Capcom doesn’t go wrong at the final hurdle.

Dragon’s Dogma 2 is due out March 22, planned for release on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X/S.