Review: ‘Dragon’s Dogma 2’ and ‘Rise of the Ronin’ offer divergent takes on open-world games


Despite more than two decades of mining the format, developers are still finding ways to make open-world games feel fresh. — Capcom

If you want to win game of the year, your best bet is to create an open-world game. The genre dominates when it comes to end-of-the-year considerations. The efforts are often the most eye-grabbing and they capture the imagination with their promise of adventure and fun.

Despite more than two decades of mining the format, developers are still finding ways to make open-world games feel fresh. Dragon’s Dogma 2 and Rise of the Ronin are two projects that transport players to different worlds but diverge on how they do it. Capcom’s epic demands players immerse themselves in its high-fantasy adventure while Team Ninja’s samurai epic brings fresh eyes to a type of open-world game that Ubisoft specializes in.

Arisen and pawns

Like any open-world game, each has flaws and troublesome bugs, but these are outweighed by the scope of their respected quests. With Dragon’s Dogma 2, players take on the role of the Arisen, whose heart is taken by a dragon. That puts players on a quest to defeat the beast, but along the way, they encounter a myriad of dramas and obstacles.

What separates Dragon’s Dogma 2 from other fantasy action games is its Pawn system. — CapcomWhat separates Dragon’s Dogma 2 from other fantasy action games is its Pawn system. — Capcom

What separates Dragon’s Dogma 2 from other fantasy action games is its Pawn system, an innovative feature that lets players create their own sidekick who travels with the Arisen. They absorb knowledge as players venture through the kingdoms of Vermund and Battahl. They figure out enemy weaknesses. They gain knowledge about how to finish quests.

Players mold their sidekicks through their adventures and then they’re sent out so that other players can use them. In Dragon’s Dogma 2, players hire other Pawns to fill out a party of four. Those other Pawns also have their own backgrounds crafted by others and it makes these background characters feel more organic.

Dive into the role playing

It’s a fascinating system that Hideaki Itsuno introduced on the PlayStation 3 in 2012, but the problem was that the game’s ambitions were limited by the technology. With Dragon’s Dogma 2, players get a vision that’s as gorgeous as it is demanding. It’s a title that asks players to invest themselves in the universe and role play as the main character.

That push for role-playing extends to combat, in which classes have distinct roles, with fighters acting as tanks while mages and sorcerers deal damage. — CapcomThat push for role-playing extends to combat, in which classes have distinct roles, with fighters acting as tanks while mages and sorcerers deal damage. — Capcom

The more players do that the more they’ll succeed in the campaign. That’s because everything serves the fiction of this high-fantasy world. Dragon’s Dogma 2 doesn’t have offer hand-holding when it comes to directing players.

For example, players will have several quests that they can do in any order, but if they don’t do them in time they can miss the opportunity. Even if they fail a mission, they sometimes won’t find themselves with a game over, but instead, they’ll be thrown in jail, opening up a new avenue of adventure. In other instances, if players want to travel, they’ll have to initially do it via ox cart or on foot. Fast travel is an expensive proposition, but again, this all serves to immerse players into that fantasy world. The developers want players to explore and see the land and fall into emergent gameplay moments.

That push for role-playing extends to combat, in which classes have distinct roles, with fighters acting as tanks while mages and sorcerers deal damage. Layered into that are abilities that intertwine the strengths among pawns and players. Fighters can use their shield as a stepping stone to boost teammates to higher ground on giant enemies while mages can augment weapons to deal elemental damage. There’s a synergy that players discover in party formation as they tackle all sorts of foes.

Fighters can use their shield as a stepping stone to boost teammates to higher ground on giant enemies while mages can augment weapons to deal elemental damage. — CapcomFighters can use their shield as a stepping stone to boost teammates to higher ground on giant enemies while mages can augment weapons to deal elemental damage. — Capcom

All of this creates an adventure that gives players as much enjoyment as they’re willing to invest in the role-playing.

Open world with Team Ninja combat

On the surface, Rise of the Ronin will remind players of conventional open-world games. Players will see icons denoting missions and places of interest. Players can fast travel and hopscotch through side missions, but while it shares elements of Ubisoft-created titles, this project comes from Team Ninja, the developers behind the Nioh and modern Ninja Gaiden series.

That means the campaign can be difficult, but it also has some of the best and most complex combat systems you’ll find in an action game. The result is a stellar effort that offers a refreshing take on a familiar formula. Rise of the Ronin has a jarring beginning as it asks players to create two protagonists, who are a twin warrior unit called the Veiled Edge. On a mission, one makes a sacrifice so the other can escape, and in doing so, it sets off a chain of events with the surviving warrior at the center of it.

Unlike Dragon’s Dogma 2, everything in Rise of the Ronin is transparent. Players will know which choices influence the story. — Sony/Team NinjaUnlike Dragon’s Dogma 2, everything in Rise of the Ronin is transparent. Players will know which choices influence the story. — Sony/Team Ninja

The player will play a pivotal role in the Bakumatsu era, when Japan transitioned from the feudal shogunate to a nation more open to Western ideas. It’s a fascinating period in the nation’s history and Team Ninja takes advantage of this by giving players agency in seeing how this brewing conflict shakes out. They make dialogue choices and mission decisions that impact the story. These political and personal choices affect relationships that players build through the campaign.

Transparency with combat and decisions

Unlike Dragon’s Dogma 2, everything in Rise of the Ronin is transparent. Players will know which choices influence the story. They’ll know the rewards for befriending one faction and accomplishing each mission. All of this helps players craft a more effective warrior and that’s important because the game can be difficult.

Thankfully, Team Ninja lets players adjust the difficulty level and that move makes this entry one of its most accessible projects. Even if a mission is too difficult or easy, players can always level up by doing side quests or obtaining better gear so that eventually, with enough grinding, Rise of the Ronin can be completed.

Stealth or sniping foes with bow or rifles are viable paths to victory, but eventually, encounters usually boil down to face-to-face combat. — Sony/Team NinjaStealth or sniping foes with bow or rifles are viable paths to victory, but eventually, encounters usually boil down to face-to-face combat. — Sony/Team Ninja

Ideally, players should explore the complex combat system that features multiple fighting styles and weapons. Team Ninja makes it easy to identify which styles do well against certain opponents (look for the blue arrows). It also offers a rewarding sparring mode within the campaign so players can figure out the timing of attacks and know when to parry to open up enemies to a furious counterattack.

Players can also opt for other methods of completing a mission. Stealth or sniping foes with bow or rifles are viable paths to victory, but eventually, encounters usually boil down to face-to-face combat. That falls into Team Ninja’s wheelhouse and the push to make its deep and complex fighting system more transparent serves the game well. It makes it more accessible so that newcomers can easily understand and mastering it.

Rise of the Ronin is just demanding as Dragon’s Dogma 2, but the focus is on gameplay than role-play. Its quality-of-life features, combat and diversity of missions make it a more compelling adventure for those who just want to have fun. – The Mercury News/Tribune News Service

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Dragon’s Dogma 2

3½ stars out of 4

Platform: PlayStation 5, PC, Xbox Series X and Series S

Rating: Mature

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Rise of the Ronin

4 stars out of 4

Platform: PlayStation 5

Rating: Mature

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