4 things I hope RPGs and open world games learn from Dragon's Dogma 2

A close up of a woman's face in Dragon's Dogma 2.
(Image credit: Capcom)

The return of the Dragon's Dogma series this year has been a real breath of fresh air. Not because the sequel is perfect—it certainly has its quirks and flaws—but because it so confidently walks its own path. There are all sorts of elements of it that make it feel so different from its peers, and the more I play it, the more I think I'd love to see other RPGs and open world games take a little inspiration from its choices. The 2012 original hasn't proved particularly influential over the intervening years, but I'm still hopeful Dragon's Dogma 2 might cast a longer shadow.

Character freedom

(Image credit: Capcom)

I'm always baffled how many massive RPGs ask you to lock yourself into a character class or build at character creation, before you've even started your adventure. In many games, that choice can end up defining 50-100 hours of gameplay. Even in games that grant you more flexibility to grow your character in different directions as you play, you're usually pushed to specialise more and more, committing to one way of playing.

For me that's a recipe for analysis paralysis—I can't tell you how many RPGs I've started over after five hours because I've suddenly decided I'm playing the wrong class, race, or build. Sometimes you'll be able to respec, but it's often prohibitively expensive, complicated, or simply feels narratively strange within the game's world. 

By contrast, I love that Dragon's Dogma 2's vocation system never ties you down. You're free to change class on a whim, trying out different combat styles and exploring everything the game has to offer. Your pawns even comment on your vocation choices, grounding the system in the reality of the world. 

(Image credit: Capcom)

Flitting from class to class actually becomes an important part of progressing your character, because buffs unlocked in one can be equipped in others, allowing you to benefit from all your different experiences. Eventually, you unlock the Warfarer vocation, which lets you literally combine every ability you've learned into one fighting style—a proper celebration of the jack-of-all-trades life. 

I'd love to see more games take a similar approach. When I discover a cool new magic sword, I want to be excited to go switch over to Fighter, not bummed out that my Wizard can't equip it. And if we're going to have these sprawling, 100-hour adventures, surely they can only benefit from letting us enjoy as much variety as possible?

A physical world

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Even the very best open worlds often feel distractingly artificial. Huge amounts of time and money go into crafting enormous landscapes full of photorealistic vistas—but the ways you can interact with those landscapes are frequently very limited and directed. Events only happen when you trigger them, characters stand around blank-faced until you deign to talk to them, and smears of paint signpost which walls you're allowed to climb and which you aren't.

Dragon's Dogma 2's world isn't necessarily the most realistic or detailed, but it feels brilliantly tactile and alive. You can lift almost any person, object, or creature, and climb around on monsters. Chaotic battles can destroy trees, break bridges, and set huge boulders rolling down mountains. Settlements run to their own schedules, with characters going about their lives and even getting into fights with the wildlife. There's a weighty reality to it all that gives the game a wonderful sense of place, even without a particularly large number of quests and events to discover. 

Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has maybe preempted Dragon's Dogma 2 in taking this kind of approach mainstream, but whatever the influence, I'd love more open worlds to feel less like theme parks and more like physical spaces.


(Image credit: Capcom)

Though it's natural to be wary of online features encroaching on singleplayer experiences, I think truly huge games, as RPGs and open world games so often are, really benefit from features that help tie the community together. Unfortunately it's not something many games have pulled off well. Most attempts are simply too slight to really connect—as with the weirdly popular "someone killed another player here, here's a quest to avenge them!", seen in Diablo 4 and the recent Assassin's Creed games. 

Dragon's Dogma's pawns are one of my favourite elements of the series—customisable companions that, crucially, can be shared online with other players. Your pawn brings back stories of their adventures with other players and learns the locations of quests and secret items, hints at how others are exploring the world. And the pawns you recruit from others are revealing of their owner's personality and playstyle, in the way they're designed and equipped.

(Image credit: Capcom)

Though the Dragonsplague—a disease spread among pawns online that can cause them to murder NPCs in your game—has proven controversial, it's also done exactly what it was designed to do. The threat of infection has gotten the community talking and interacting more than ever, swapping tips on how to spot and deal with Dragonsplague and trying to figure out ways to warn someone their pawn has caught it. 

Not every game needs pawns, of course, but I think there's still a lot of untapped design space in the idea of allowing players to have a positive impact on each other's singleplayer adventures. I'd love to see more developers thinking about that as a core element of the experience, as Dragon's Dogma does, rather than an afterthought or, worse, an add-on to retroactively justify an always-online requirement. 

Meaningful travel

(Image credit: Capcom)

The process of travel in games only seems to be deemphasised more and more. Developers spend years painstakingly building vast, intricate worlds, and then let you just teleport around skipping vast swathes of them. Easy fast travel is the norm, and on the whole design has become far more focused on the destination than the journey. 

For me, it's a triumph of convenience over fun. I don't play RPGs and open world games to tick off tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible—I play them to immerse myself in another world, and the process of actually travelling manually through a landscape can be a really crucial part of that immersion, even if it does slow down your quest.

(Image credit: Capcom)

Dragon's Dogma 2 is unafraid to inconvenience the player, and it revels in the journey. Though its treks aren't quite as gruelling and satisfying as the first game's, it's still a long walk (or an unreliable ox cart ride) to complete many of its quests. Through travel, you get to know its world, and experience all sorts of adventures between adventures, and it gives you the quiet space you need to grow attached to your character and your pawns. 

I'm not asking for fast travel to be abolished altogether, but certainly I wish games generally were less worried about rushing us along to the next set piece, and more willing to encourage us to simply take in and appreciate the virtual world around us. 

Robin Valentine
Senior Editor

Formerly the editor of PC Gamer magazine (and the dearly departed GamesMaster), Robin combines years of experience in games journalism with a lifelong love of PC gaming. First hypnotised by the light of the monitor as he muddled through Simon the Sorcerer on his uncle’s machine, he’s been a devotee ever since, devouring any RPG or strategy game to stumble into his path. Now he's channelling that devotion into filling this lovely website with features, news, reviews, and all of his hottest takes.