I've had bad luck with AI companions in games, but Dragon's Dogma 2's approach to party-based RPGs might change that

Dragon's Dogma 2
(Image credit: Capcom)

Keeping my Pawns alive in Dragon's Dogma 2 is not always easy. Smart as the AI can be, a busy battlefield leaves plenty of room for the odd misstep. If my Level 26 archer isn't getting repeatedly body-slammed by an enraged ogre, you can bet that a gore harpy is dropping my newly-recruited mage into the brine. I don't have total control over where my party members choose to stand, so naturally, my Arisen and her merry band of devotees have run into many sticky situations that often end with me staring at three corpses, sighing, and quitting to the main menu to save them all the embarrassment of dying.

That being said, I'm enjoying these bots far more than I did many scripted, controllable companions in some of the best RPGs. Pawns are exactly what the name suggests: a vast pool of passionate, somewhat expendable AI companions that can be recruited and dismissed from your DD2 adventuring party at will. I thought I would miss having scripted NPCs accompanying my main character, each with a backstory and stakes in the game's proceedings, but Pawns have proven the best possible sidekicks in the grand scheme of things. They add to your story instead of insisting upon their own, but that doesn't mean you can't grow fond of them. It's making me wonder if Dragon's Dogma 2's more stripped-down approach to storytelling might be the best way forward in party-based RPGs, and it boils down to one thing: player choice coming first.

Hear me roar

Dragon's Dogma 2

(Image credit: Capcom)

It all started with Lion. The Beastren fighter was the first Pawn I'd recruited that possessed the straightforward inclination, a personality trait that I'd feared might make Pawns more reckless in battle and therefore needier of constant heals. Memories of Mass Effect 1 flashed before my eyes as I recalled having to fight Saren entirely by myself after Garrus and Wrex, dumb AI in tow, died within the first two minutes of battle. The memory fills me with annoyance even now; as much as I loved exploring their character arcs, I absolutely loathe fighting alongside my ME1 companions.

These kind of experiences have served to steer me away from many real-time tactics or party-based RPGs over the years. I'm a single-player kind of person, but if I'm forced to work with others, they need to back me up reliably and have a modicum of autonomy. Literally even just one degree of autonomy, thank you very much. That's where Dragon's Dogma 2 fits the bill. I was so concerned about choosing anything other than kindhearted Pawns for fear they would just abandon me on the battlefield, but through Lion, I found the error of my ways.

I'm not sure if it was his voice, sarcastic and snooty and clearly tired of my bullshit, but Lion was the first Pawn I met in Dragon's Dogma 2 that made me delighted to be in his company. I'd met him soon after arriving in the kingdom of Vernworth, and I delayed our inevitable parting of ways for as long as possible. His straightforward attitude complemented the kindhearted and calm inclinations of my other two party members respectively, and his tanky build meant that I didn't have to worry much about stopping to revive him. 

Dragon's Dogma 2

(Image credit: Capcom)

It just goes to show that nobody knows what works best in a game more than the players themselves.

When I eventually relieved Lion of his noble service to my Arisen, he had some final thoughts for me that made me surprisingly emotional: "It's a shame to leave your side after sharing such an adventure, but I know we will meet again soon." 

Immediately I opened up his master's Xbox account to shoot across a quick thank-you message, and that's when I stopped to think about long and hard about something I'd been taking for granted this whole time. This Pawn named Lion was not some randomized Sim, but someone's main right-hand man that had been crafted and built for a purpose. I hadn't needed to worry about Lion's inventory, loadout, skill build, or anything else I'd usually be tinkering with if he were some other scripted NPC consigned to me, because someone else out there had done it all for me and made him a more valuable party member because of it.

Recruiting one another's Pawns is a core element of Dragon's Dogma 2's gameplay, a unique way of linking people up without actually making it a multiplayer experience. In a way, Capcom removes some of the storytelling onus from itself by letting players craft a party using characters designed by other people, but it also means that the actual functionality and survivability of each Pawn feels far more considered. I don't have a strict, preset pool of eight companion characters to choose from, as in Baldur's Gate 3; I have hundreds of them, and they're a damn sight more useful than anyone in Dragon Age because an actual human brain has made them so.

At the end of the day, combat is the undisputed king of Dragon's Dogma 2, and our main Pawns have been designed with utility rather than storytelling in mind. It just goes to show that nobody knows what works best in a game more than the players themselves, and the fact that Capcom has entrusted that responsibility to us makes each victory all the more satisfying.

Check out some of the best open world games to play next

Jasmine Gould-Wilson
Staff Writer, GamesRadar+

Jasmine is a staff writer at GamesRadar+. Raised in Hong Kong and having graduated with an English Literature degree from Queen Mary, University of London in 2017, her passion for entertainment writing has taken her from reviewing underground concerts to blogging about the intersection between horror movies and browser games. Having made the career jump from TV broadcast operations to video games journalism during the pandemic, she cut her teeth as a freelance writer with TheGamer, Gamezo, and Tech Radar Gaming before accepting a full-time role here at GamesRadar. Whether Jasmine is researching the latest in gaming litigation for a news piece, writing how-to guides for The Sims 4, or extolling the necessity of a Resident Evil: CODE Veronica remake, you'll probably find her listening to metalcore at the same time.