I have to confess – there are few games that I have been pining for more than Dragon’s Dogma 2. I hadn’t played the original console release on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, but when I got my hands on Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen for PC, I loved every minute of my time with the game.
Granted, the action RPG genre is right up my alley. Still, CAPCOM crafted something special with this game, delivering a wonderful take on the D&D-inspired Western fantasy RPG that came with some old-school concepts and amazing combat designed by some of the developers behind the acclaimed action series Devil May Cry.
Its boss fights were truly memorable, as befitting a fantasy action RPG (and a CAPCOM game), though the single most innovative system was probably the Pawn one. In the game, the Arisen main character is prompted to create a so-called Pawn NPC companion at the end of the Call of the Arisen quest. Players can customize pretty much everything about their Main Pawn, from their physical characteristics (gender, height, body type, etc.) to their name, vocation (the class), behaviour, and equipment.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg of the Pawn system. On top of the main companion, players can summon another two Hired Pawns, who are the Main Pawns of some other Arisen when the game is connected to the Internet. These NPCs constantly fight alongside the Arisen character, providing the feel of a multiplayer cooperative action RPG thanks to their dynamic AI.
When I first played Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, it was immediately obvious to me that the Pawn system provided the perfect in-universe context for co-op. The game already fully accounted for a party of characters, which seemed like a straightforward stepstone toward proper online multiplayer support in future installments.
That’s why I wasn’t surprised in the least when CAPCOM released Dragon’s Dogma Online, an MMO-like free to play multiplayer game that supported up to eight players for its Grand Missions. While the game was never launched in the West and eventually got shut down in Japan, it retained the Pawn system while mixing it with the ability to play with friends.
There was no conflict whatsoever between them. As such, I was really positive that Dragon’s Dogma 2 would support cooperative multiplayer, especially after the enormous success of Monster Hunter World (and later Monster Hunter Rise).
Unfortunately, after that beautiful in-game trailer aired at the PlayStation Showcase, a CAPCOM press release crushed any such dreams. The publisher said the sequel is going to be a single player only game. Ironically, CAPCOM knows all too well that fans would have enjoyed a co-op mode; here’s how they described the Pawn system in that same Dragon’s Dogma 2 press release:
Up to three mysterious otherworldly beings, known as Pawns, accompany the Arisen throughout their journey. Pawns create the feeling of a cooperative gameplay experience by offering unique characteristics, skills, and knowledge gained from their experiences with other Arisen.
That’s right, they can create the feeling, but it can never truly be the same as when you’re with a group of friends. Foregoing the option to allow Player versus Environment cooperative play in Dragon’s Dogma 2 seems like a huge missed opportunity, and I say that both as a player and as someone who works in the industry. On average, the staying power and longevity of a good cooperative game are far superior to that of single player only titles. Would the Monster Hunter games have been nearly as successful if they didn’t have that? I don’t think so, not by a long shot.
Trying to understand why CAPCOM would miss such a crystal-clear slam dunk is tricky. It’s certainly not because of a lack of resources since the publisher has recently broken records for game sales and stock price. My best guess is that they may want to avoid any direct competition with the next Monster Hunter, but that would be truly misguided as the franchises have little in common when it comes to setting and combat.
Another possibility is that they didn’t want players to have the ability to replace all Pawns from the game with real players, perhaps believing that Pawns are integral to the IP’s essence. However, it would have sufficed to allow people to summon two online friends in place of the Hired Pawns while the Main Pawn created by the host remained in place. The Hired Pawns are, after all, created by other players, so why not permit the summoning of the Arisen characters instead?
Honestly, no online fantasy action RPG comes close to the heights of the combat seen in DD, and I reckon Dragon’s Dogma 2 will further elevate it. That alone had the potential to make it a resounding success. I’ll still play the sequel, of course, but as a player who loves the genre, I can’t help but be saddened that CAPCOM won’t give us the action-packed multiplayer RPG we’ve all been waiting for.