Dragon’s Dogma 2 doesn’t care if you’re new, it’ll still kick your ass

Dragon’s Dogma 2 is like a fantasy-inspired installment of 1000 Ways to Die, if a hands-on preview attended by Polygon is any indication.

Last week, Polygon was invited to a three-hour hands-on preview of Capcom’s forthcoming action game, which follows a game with an unconventional pedigree. The original Dragon’s Dogma is something of an enigma, a third-person, heavily combat-oriented action RPG released in the post-Skyrim fantasy boom. While it didn’t immediately find a wide audience, it attained bona fide cult classic status over the years, buoyed in part by a 2013 rerelease (Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen). Dragon’s Dogma 2 straddles the line between sequel and reboot; you do not need to have played the original to make sense of this one, though perhaps familiarity with the series would’ve kept me more alive.

During one early fight, a giant eagle flew out of nowhere, picked me up, and tossed me 100 feet off a cliff into the ocean. Then, the water literally ate me. That was far from the only time I died. I also got stepped on by a dragon, electrocuted by a griffin, frozen solid by a harpy, kicked by a golem, sucker-punched by an ogre, and mercilessly whaled on by a group of club-wielding orcs. Wolves ate my face. I fell off (so many) cliffs. But I pressed on, only truly brought to heel by one thing: a gate.

Our preview of the sequel was broken into two distinct 90-minute sessions, each one showcasing a different vocation (class, basically) at a different point in the game. For the first session, I played as the Mystic Spearhand vocation and was tasked with entering Battahl, a nation of cat-people known as beastren. Seemed easy enough. Needless to say, it wasn’t.

A beastren stands valiantly in the sunlight in Dragon’s Dogma 2. Image: Capcom

Early on, I spotted a writ of passage for the border in my inventory. I figured I could use it, but because I wasn’t a beastren, the guard at the gate refused to let me through. So I went into the nearby village to see if I could find an alternate path through the gate, but instead found myself inundated with distractions. Every few steps, some NPC stopped me in my tracks. A shopkeeper asked me to find his missing grandson but did not provide any clue as to where he was — a waypoint on a map, say. Two civilians asked me to track down something called a “Jadeite egg.” Both of them promised a reward. Neither offered a waypoint.

Some side quests are time-limited in Dragon’s Dogma 2. If you don’t finish certain quests in real time, you fail them permanently — meaning, if you take on too many quests at once, you’re all but guaranteeing you won’t be able to 100% this game. I opted to track down and save the shopkeeper’s grandson, partially because I’m too much of a hero to let an innocent child die, but mostly because I overheard a PR representative giving a hint to another journalist in the session as to how to find said child.

Vendors line a street in Battahl in Dragon’s Dogma 2. Image: Capcom

On my way to rescue the kid, I learned that you can’t swim in Dragon’s Dogma 2. Nearly every body of water is home to something known as “The Brine,” a red throng of mindless Lovecraftian tendrils that consumes you whenever you try to swim. This posed an issue. You can only fast travel between cities (and for a fee). As far as I could tell, there were no mounts available in the preview build. And the route to where the kid seemed to be would take me past several bodies of water that, again, would eat me.

After several embarrassing deaths, I tracked down the shopkeeper’s grandson and escorted him back to safety. Despite walking around town for the remainder of the first session, I never ended up finding a way through the gate. (A PR representative told me later about a number of viable methods I’d missed, including scaling a ladder or purchasing a beastren mask and wearing it as a disguise.)

But it was no bother, as I got to see Battahl in the second session, which cast me as a Magick Archer class. The main story quest in this session was something about repairing a sword for some dude, but if my experience with the gate taught me anything, it’s that Dragon’s Dogma 2 is at its most interesting when you’re just messing around.

The Arisen uses the Magick Archer vocation to shoot spell arrows at enemies in Dragon’s Dogma 2. Image: Capcom

In combat, I immediately noticed a palpable difference between the two vocations. The Magick Archer was overall nimbler, faster, and easier to control than the Mystic Spearhand. As a Mystic Spearhand, I had access to a spear and some spells, which kept me close to enemies. The Magick Archer, meanwhile, came with a bow but no string — a conduit for a slew of magical abilities, including one that’s essentially the guided missile from 007 Nightfire. With at least nine confirmed vocations in Dragon’s Dogma 2, I’m impressed at how divergent just the two I played were, and am eager to see if there’s a similar variance between all of the available vocations.

Throughout the second session, I focused mostly on the series’ vaunted pawn system — fully customized party members who provide support in battle — which returns for Dragon’s Dogma 2. You can run into and recruit randomly generated pawns around the world. Through online play, other players can recruit your pawns to their parties, and vice versa. When the full game comes out, pawns will also be able help you out when you’re stuck, a PR rep told me.

The Arisen high fives a pawn after killing a giant monster in a field in Dragon’s Dogma 2. Image: Capcom

Let’s say, for instance, you can’t get past a gate leading to the Battahl region because of some jerk guard who refuses to accept your phony papers. If you recruit a pawn from a player who finished that quest in their game, the pawn will come with hints about where you should go or what you should do. Since all the pawns in last week’s preview were generated by Capcom, rather than by other actual real-world players, I did not get to see this in action, but man, I sure could’ve used it.

Although I spent most of my three hours with Dragon’s Dogma 2 either lost or dying (or both), I fully see the appeal. Dragon’s Dogma 2 boasts the sort of emergent, tell-your-friends-about-it-later gameplay that you simply can’t script. You learn your mistakes the hard way: getting lost and dying over and over again. The real clincher, for me at least, is that every death in Dragon’s Dogma 2 is consistently really funny, thanks mostly to a throwback-style ragdoll physics system (similar to that of eminently memeable game du jour Helldivers 2). I’ve learned to watch the skies; the eagles won’t get me next time. But something else no doubt will, and I’m excited to find out what.

Dragon’s Dogma 2 is out March 22 on PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X.