Dragon’s Dogma 2’s World Has The Spirit of Skyrim

Dragon’s Dogma 2’s World Has The Spirit of Skyrim

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If I were to write a list of all the things that made Skyrim special, it’d be as long as The Elder Scrolls themselves. Considering that’s a massive waste of parchment, I can boil Skyrim’s magic down to one word: dragons. Few games have recaptured the thrill of Tamriel’s wyrms crashing down from the sky to interrupt an otherwise run-of-the-mill fetch quest. But I’ve got good news: that very same sense of awe, terror, and excitement fuels Dragon’s Dogma 2, a game where a towering cyclops can unexpectedly emerge from the forest’s edge, or a terrifying drake swoop down from on high, all in unscripted, emergent moments.

If you’re familiar with the original Dragon’s Dogma, then you’ll likely know that the game’s director, Hideaki Itsuno, was partly inspired by The Elder Scrolls series. That inspiration makes the first game, and in turn Dragon’s Dogma 2, stand out against not only the traditions of Japanese-developed RPGs, but also much of the Western RPG scene, too. Dragon’s Dogma 2 rejects many of the genre’s narrative-heavy staples in favour of a more organic, exploration-focused structure. It’s a philosophy that powers Bethesda Game Studios’ trademark approach, and so within Dragon’s Dogma 2 there are recognisable echoes of Skyrim.

Our memories of Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim are more often than not related to our lived experiences within the world, rather than specific characters or narrative beats. This makes The Elder Scrolls something unusual among RPGs, a genre typically reliant on novel-like stories. It’s likely a result of the series having roots in Ultima Underworld, the key progenitor of games like System Shock and Deus Ex. These games are built on interlocking systems and mechanics that combine to create worlds that feel organic and authentic – everything has its purpose and interacts with the things around it. While story is a foundational pillar in these games, it’s delivered without the cinematic lens used in more traditional RPGs – they’re not Baldur’s Gate, Mass Effect, or Dragon Quest. These are games about doing and experiencing, rather than being part of a beautifully written tale.

That brings us back to Skyrim’s dragons, and in turn Dragon’s Dogma 2’s array of colossal beasts. They turn up without warning, injecting unexpected challenges into… well, anything. You could be having a mundane stroll back to the city to hand in a quest, or be in the middle of an already heated battle. Just yesterday I was on an errand to collect gold ore, only for my mining expedition to be interrupted by a ferocious griffin. A great battle ensued, with my party calling down bolts of lightning and shooting flaming arrows in an attempt to bring it down. The creature eventually realised it was bested and so took to the skies, but not before I grabbed its tail and clambered onto its hind leg. Hurtling through the skies and hanging on for dear life, I began a new adventure. An adventure with no quest log entry or objective – I’d just let this massive half-eagle, half-lion decide my fate.

Every journey is an anecdote delivery machine – you can’t go from A to B without some kind of wild and wonderful event leaping out at you. 

Many RPGs carry the sense of being crafted for you; every quest is bespoke for your protagonist. Dragon’s Dogma 2 feels much more organic. The world lives and breathes of its own accord, and every time you step outside your front door you’re at the mercy of the overlapping systems that give its creatures life and make its rivers flow (I should mention here that Dragon’s Dogma 2’s rivers can literally eat you). It means that every journey is an anecdote delivery machine – you can’t go from A to B without some kind of wild and wonderful event leaping out at you.

I recall my time in Skyrim in exactly the same way – permanent images of being chased by frost trolls and stumbling across giants herding mammoths, none of which were part of any actual quest. Many of us remember Bethesda’s schtick of “See that mountain? You can go there”, but it wasn’t actually the mountain that was important – it was the journey there. The many unscripted, organic moments that happened on your particular journey are what make Skyrim special, as they made it your experience, not everybody else’s. Dragon’s Dogma 2 is an entire game cut from this same cloth.

This kind of approach comes with its own drawbacks though. Creating a land this big, where the fun is often ‘whatever happens to you’ rather than pre-scripted quests, means there has to be a dozen systems constantly ticking behind the scenes to keep the world alive. More moving parts means more jank, and if there’s anything a Skyrim fan knows well it’s jank. Dragon’s Dogma 2 is exactly the same. Its NPCs repeat ever-looping dialogue. Your companions are over-eager and constantly get in trouble. Characters stare dead-eyed into the wrong direction for entire conversations. Combat feels messy and imprecise. It’s a list of things that would traditionally see a game written off. But rather than diminishing its quality, these rough edges feel oddly comforting because they lend the game personality… a personality reminiscent of Skyrim. There’s something endearing about all this distinctly video game-y artifice, and how it finds a way to sit in harmony alongside a world that so often feels truly alive.

Perhaps that feeling is rooted in nostalgia. We’re in a golden age of RPGs, but few games try to capture the very specific magic of Skyrim. We’ve been waiting 13 years for something that comes close, and it could be that we’re waiting forever if we pin our hopes on Bethesda. In the years since Skyrim’s launch, the studio’s games have increasingly been inspired by the survival genre rather than advancements in the RPG space. Fallout 4’s crafting and building focus was a clear response to Minecraft’s colossal success, while Fallout 76 attempted to ride the wave of Steam’s survival game boom. More recently, Starfield’s procedurally generated galaxy is inescapably in No Man’s Sky’s orbit. It stands to reason, then, that The Elder Scrolls 6 could push further in this direction, potentially at the expense of what made us fall in love with Oblivion and Skyrim.

Dragon’s Dogma 2, though, with its map absent of icon clutter and reliance on curiosity, discovery, and emergent gameplay, feels akin to a Bethesda game that took inspiration from Breath of the Wild and Elden Ring. These are touchstones that are hard not to get excited about – I appreciate Bethesda is what it is precisely because it doesn’t make RPGs like anyone else, but I’d like to see it push focus on its open worlds rather than its survival elements. Thankfully, that’s what I’m getting from Dragon’s Dogma 2.

Capcom’s latest is different from Skyrim in many ways – its lore is a pamphlet in comparison, its quest design is only half as good, and you definitely can’t play as a stealth archer. It’s much more challenging than an Elder Scrolls game, too, with long and often arduous journeys that must be sufficiently planned for. Messing up can mean reverting to an hours-old save. And so Dragon’s Dogma 2 is not a ‘spiritual sequel’ to Skyrim in the way that Obsidian’s Avowed is positioned to be.

But Skyrim’s true magic was never what it was, but how it made you feel. And, for the first time in 13 years, I finally had that same feeling again. The world of Dragon’s Dogma 2 has the spirit of Skyrim flowing through it. It feels like a home away from home (although only if you think homes should be full of 20-feet-tall monsters that surprise attack you in the middle of the night.)

Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Features Editor.

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