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Dragon's Dogma 2 is a better game because it makes fast travel a hassle

 Hitching a ride on a harpy.
Hitching a ride on a harpy.

Every RPG set in a massive open world expects you to spend a large amount of time exploring its multitude of nooks and crannies, but most of them also let you take a load off, zipping between previously visited locations instantaneously. Robust fast travel options have long been standard, but while they are undoubtedly convenient, they remove some of the magic of exploration. Not so in Dragon's Dogma 2, however, where fast travel is a treat that must be earned.

By the end of the game, you will have only discovered a few fixed fast travel points, leaving the vast majority of the world only reachable by hoofing it. There are portable fast travel devices you can plonk down anywhere, but these are also few in number. And in both cases you'll still need to waste a ferrystone to travel to them, one-use stones which are usually hidden away in chests and dungeons, or doled out for completing specific quests. Eventually you'll have quite a few, but for much of the game these will be precious, always making you second guess if the trip is worth the cost.

Using an ox cart
Using an ox cart

There are also a couple of ways to get around faster that aren't technically fast travel options. Ox carts connect some of the world's settlements together in a public transit system, departing from towns each morning and reaching the end of the journey in the late afternoon. This taxi service ain't free, however, and while you can choose to take a nap to speed up the journey (it's even slower than walking if you don't), there's a very good chance you'll be rudely awoken by an ambush—wolves, goblins and bandits, mostly, but occasionally nastier foes. Sometimes the cart is destroyed in the fight, forcing you to walk the rest of the way. Sorry, no refunds.

By visiting Battahl's ropeway stations, you'll be able to get around the arid beastren land more easily than normal. Standing on a platform connected to a pulley system, you'll be able to avoid a lot of fights and give your tired feet a rest, but you or a pawn will need to work the winch the entire time. You'll also still be vulnerable to harpy attacks. At the best of times, a harpy attack is a pain in the arse. When you're trapped on a tiny platform, suspended in the air? So much worse.

Every time you try to skip a journey, then, there are some caveats. It's a hassle. And that's great! What makes these fast travel limitations a positive thing is the liveliness of the world you're temporarily inhabiting. Even when you're walking down routes you've explored a dozen times already, there's a good chance you'll encounter something new.

Wanderlust

Running down a path
Running down a path

Wandering pawns looking for a new master, big monsters causing a ruckus and NPCs in need of an escort make repeat trips extremely rewarding. I've lost count of the number of times I've been sauntering through a region I assumed I'd fully explored, only for one of my pawns to pipe up, informing me that on a trip with a different Arisen they found a chest or a cave entrance, sending me off on a new adventure. By recruiting new pawns, or by letting your own pawn travel with other Arisen, the world's mysteries are slowly revealed to you, and you're never going to have the full picture after just one journey through a new area.

The world is also full of wee environmental puzzles that might take some time to figure out. Or dungeons that you're not yet prepared to tackle.

As your knowledge and experience grows, the world becomes so much more accessible than the first time you wandered across it. Even those dungeons you do visit can be worth a second look. Where other RPGs might consider a dungeon cleared and then never expect you to set foot inside it again, there are plenty of reasons to revisit old haunts in Dragon's Dogma 2. Monsters respawn after a couple of days, as do resource nodes, and everything you loot from corpses or mine from veins of ore can be used to upgrade your gear.

Starfield was one of the last massive RPGs I played before embarking on my adventure in Dragon's Dogma 2, and while Bethesda has historically put a lot of emphasis on exploration, it's one of the weakest parts of its cosmic adventure because it relies so heavily on fast travel, expecting you to zip around at faster-than-light speeds. You've got all this space to explore, but so much of it is devoid of life, so you might as well skip it. It's a good reminder that the scale of an RPG means absolutely nothing. The first Dragon's Dogma was tiny, but overflowing with diversions. The sequel is considerably larger, but by modern RPG standards really isn't all that huge, but it feels absolutely gargantuan. How the space is filled is so much more important than how big it is.

Climbing a dragon
Climbing a dragon

I'm already on my second playthrough of Dragon's Dogma 2, and I've been using fast travel a bit more than last time, mostly because I've been more direct in my adventures—less aimless wandering, more going to specific locations to do specific things. I've also got lots of ferrystones. But even now I'm frequently choosing to walk when I really don't need to. And I'm still uncovering new things. But even if I wasn't, I'd probably keep doing it, simply for the thrill of the fights.

Beating the snot out of monsters simply doesn't get old when you have a combat system this dense and refined. Unlocking a new vocation that I'd been unable to get in my first playthrough has dramatically changed how I approach fights, too, which has in turn changed how it feels to explore the wilderness. The prospect of a long journey is an exciting one when you know you're probably going to murder a dragon in creative ways during it.

There's been a bit of pushback against fast travel over the last few years, but Dragon's Dogma 2 shows that the solution isn't simply getting rid of it. Convenience is good! And you actually need to have some reasons to ignore it. The Assassin's Creed series, for instance, really wouldn't support these limitations, because once you've wandered through an area a couple of times there's little left to explore, and the fights quickly stop being challenging. This is not a one-size-fits-all solution. But for Dragon's Dogma 2, it undoubtedly makes it a better game.