— Capcom

I never expected an innocuous side quest in Dragon’s Dogma 2 to take my breath away, but stumbling upon the hidden glade of the Elves suddenly thrust me back to when I was 10 years old, watching in awe as the Fellowship of the Ring arrived in Rivendell. After playing 100 hours of Dragon’s Dogma 2, I had a revelation: this is the high-fantasy Lord of the Rings adventure I’ve always wanted. Despite a handful of great games from Tolkien’s universe, Dragon’s Dogma 2 made me realize almost all of those lack a crucial element — a deeper, permeable spirit of adventure.

When you look at the breadth of Lord of the Rings games, they all typically focus on some specific elements. Games like Return of the King on PS2 or The Battle for Middle Earth recreate the massive battles of the franchise, integrating them with unique gameplay elements. The Lego games hone in on the beloved characters and sense of humor. Then there’s the Shadow of Mordor games, which hinge on emergent features like the Nemesis system.

Arguably the most important aspect of Lord of the Rings is the “adventure,” the grand journey that encompasses a massive world filled with people and cultures. The original books and Peter Jackson’s films capture this idea effortlessly. It’s admittedly hard to put into words, but in the books and films, there’s this sense of a journey — a world that you’re immersing yourself in and making your way through step by step.

As much as I’ve loved certain Lord of the Rings games that sense of progression, of a boundless world of possibilities, is mostly absent. So often the series’ video game adaptions feel too shortsighted, failing to capture the beating heart of Tolkien’s series. The Lord of the Rings Online is the exception here, as it focuses more on exploring and fleshing out Tolkien’s world, but even that gets buried under some of its MMO trappings.

That’s where Dragon’s Dogma 2 comes in, a game that mercilessly thrusts you into a vicious fantasy world that tests your preparation. A big part of this is your Pawn companions, NPCs that slowly start to feel like steadfast friends who don’t just accompany you, but enhance your journey. Pawns are constantly chatting about things you’ve seen, suggesting new routes to explore, and generally providing commentary on the state of the world. Dragon’s Dogma 2 is a single-player game but it’s remarkable how the Pawns obfuscate that, making it feel like you aren’t just on your own.

This party dynamic then extends to combat, and how the different Vocations complement and play off each other. Battles feel like collaborative efforts between you and your Pawns, and those companions grow and learn alongside you, using new strategies the further you get into the game. For all intense you’ve created your own Fellowship, on a discovery quest to save the world.

The hours I spent combing over the verdant hills of Vermund felt like playing those sweeping environmental shots of Aragorn and company traversing the wilderness. Stumbling into a cave put into a desperate struggle with goblins and a cyclops, just like the Fellowship’s battle in the Mines of Moria.

It certainly helps that Dragon’s Dogma 2 has the essential high-fantasy elements: mysterious Elves and languages, deadly monsters, dwarves that love to forge, and dazzling magic spells. Those are all elements Lord of the Rings helped define, but that spirit of adventure is what makes the two series feel similar.

Everything in Dragon’s Dogma 2 is about your experience as a player, the narrative molds itself around your actions and decisions. Yes, you’re the “Chosen One,” but you’re still just a small part of larger events, and each step of your journey teaches you about your place world. That’s ultimately what helps Dragon’s Dogma 2 capture that spirit of adventure, it’s all about your minute-to-minute experience.

Of course, it’s worth mentioning that any Lord of the Rings game has extra hoops to jump through with licensing, and creating an original fantasy world is likely much easier than playing around with one that already has established lore and story.

Even considering that, though, I can’t remember a single video game that gave me that same feeling I had when watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Clearly I’m not the only one, as tons of players have been using Dragon’s Dogma 2’s character creator to craft Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, and more.

The sense of wonder and discovery that Dragon’s Dogma 2 is second to none, and those feeling are what have kept me enraptured by Lord of the Rings for most of my life. Now if only we could get an actual Tolkien game that manages to hot those same notes.

Dragon’s Dogma 2 is available for PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.

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