Dragon’s Dogma 2 review: pawns make this RPG a wonderful adventure

When the Dragon dogma 2 the loading screen announces that I probably don’t have to worry about dying from a big fall, I’m elated. This means I can free myself from ledges with impunity, as the game says my pawn – my ever-faithful companion, protector and sentient extra inventory – can ‘cushion your fall’. I immediately test this claim and pancake it on cold, hard rocks. There isn’t even time to wave or shout; my body simply submits to gravity. I’m dead, my pawns are nowhere to be seen, and I’m playing my favorite game of the year so far.

Capcom’s long-awaited sequel to The dogma of the dragon follows much the same formula: an action RPG set in a medieval fantasy world where existence is defined by the duality of a dragon and its potential killer, a singular Arisen (the former chooses the latter by ripping out their hearts) . The Dragon is a harbinger of the end times, and the Arisen, who has the power to control characters known as pawns, must fulfill their destiny by killing him. This time, the Arisen’s sworn duty includes serving as a Sovran in the kingdom of Vermund, which proves to be a struggle as the game begins with my royal waking up in a prison camp.

But we’re not here to talk about me. We’re here to talk about Oni Peepaws.

Pawns are creatures of the Rift, a blue-tinted limbo where they wait for Arisen in other realms (i.e. other players) to summon them. I made my main pawn in the likeness of my cat; we won’t analyze this decision beyond the fact that they are both really good, loud guys. Oni Peepaws is a huge red tabby, although I doubt anyone would say that tabby in his face – he is a proud Beastren, a race of catfolk native to neighboring Battahl. Using a cleavage stone, I save two more pawns to complete my party: the pawn of a friend named Lady Omelet and a random third. To say that pawns are the backbone of the game is an understatement. In my view, they form the impossibly pure, anarchic heart of the core identity.

Lady Omelet takes the lead. She’s 15 levels above me, was created days before, and has seen way more of the world than the rest of us. When she wants my attention, she waves and does a little dance to point the way forward for whatever quest I’ve prioritized. The pawns strategize, gossip, learn from each other, and gather knowledge to carry back to their own Masters, each going about their business according to their behavioral type. Oni Peepaws, like his namesake, is independent and a bit haughty; Lady Omelet is assertive and a bit bossy. They lure me to climb cliffs and navigate Byzantine paths to reach an obscure chest containing a single bottle of lantern oil. Sometimes the pawns bicker good-naturedly about their different tactics. I am ignored, praised, reprimanded and finally, after falling from a large monster, caught and saved by a pawn. My Arisen is surrounded by a heady maelstrom of love, and it is beautiful.

Later in the game I spin out my two support pawns like an RPG version of Mambo No. 5. There’s Rita, a slightly manic mage who destroys every box and critter in her path to see what’s inside. There’s Kratos – I’ve seen at least two hanging out in the canyon – who I accidentally lose during a series of Benny Hill-style failures on a rope bridge. I’ll meet Abby on the way. She speaks fluent Elven, and I grab her because it’s impossible to interact with Elven without a translator. Steve is an Astarion lookalike with a sweet tooth; a thief named Princess gets on my nerves because she dawdles.

As we encounter new, slapstick ways to kill enemies, the other Pawns become excited at the prospect of sharing new strategies with their Masters. Whenever possible, I help the pawns complete their individual quests – tasks assigned to them by their Masters – so that they can return home victorious. (Not all of the pawns belong to other players; there are official pawns that are “owned” by Capcom, but where’s the fun in that?) The final party I’ve put together to face the Dragon is a lineup that’s completely consists of catboys, a strategy I silently promise. to adopt as a good luck charm.

Oni Peepaws goes on an adventure when I log out and comes back to share his successes and failures. In a travelogue he vaguely describes ‘suffering many injustices’ at the hands of another Arisen, and I am filled with white-hot indignation. An early death in the game (pawns don’t die but must be revived) leaves him somewhat shaken, and he dwells on this “failure” as we do a mundane escort mission. As I search more pawns in the rift, I cling to Oni – in all his myriad forms as I let him try out different classes and builds – as both comfort and constant. There are many like him, but he is mine, and I think about what he does while I’m offline and wonder what he learns, not only from other players but also from other pawns.

My pawns discuss the disturbing rumor of Dragon Plague, which is supposedly making them hostile and unruly. The disease is spreading like a hot potato. According to a friend, I can “cure” Oni by having him go to another realm and infect someone else’s pawn. The problem is that I don’t know what the symptoms are; a game pop-up explains that the pawns don’t even know if they are infected. It doesn’t take long before I find out and see Oni with bright red eyes, oblivious to his predicament. To be on the safe side, I strip him of his belongings and armor; This is when I notice that my third pawn, Xun, is hiding red eyes under her low-brimmed hat. On the safer side, I throw all three into the sea, where The Brine dissolves their flesh and carries them back to the canyon. When I pick up Oni again, he apologizes for his failure.

The truth is, I’m the sick one. Maybe I haven’t finished the first one yet The dogma of the dragon, but I’m well on my way to becoming a dogma sicko. The pawns are not only the core gameplay mechanics, but the key to how the game so brilliantly embraces the limitations of story and artifice. There is no attempt to assimilate this pawn conceit into grounded fact or a sense of ‘immersion’. This is a story about the way stories are told and retold – through pawns and players – and the body of knowledge that forms between the bones of that shared knowledge. There is nothing compelling about being constantly reminded of the framework in which Vermund and Battahl exist.

Instead, it’s an exquisitely imperfect trinity of emergent story, ambient multiplayer, and the eternal adage of shit happens – and sometimes that’s all you need from three weird little boys for an incredible adventure.

Dragon dogma 2 is now available on PC, PS5 and Xbox Series X/S.

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