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Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen Review

by Mike Guarino

When Dragon’s Dogma released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 back in 2012 it introduced RPG gamers to a fantastic Tolkien-esque fantasy world sprawling with humongous mythical beasts to thwart and various dungeons, fortresses and towns to explore. This admittedly standard RPG framework was enhanced by the game’s ingenious Pawn system, which allows you to enlist allies created by the game or other players online to accompany you on your adventures. The game’s character customization was very deep, resulting in a wide variety of Pawns for you to enlist in your group for you to tinker around with to regularly shake up the already stellar combat.

The very next year saw the release of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, an expansion upon the original game that tweaked some of the gameplay while also adding a big new area called Bitterblack Isle. This is essentially one big challenge dungeon, as you and your team are tasked with fighting deeper and deeper into the area to encounter increasingly difficult foes. It’s a great addition to the game as the vast majority of the monsters inside are not found in the main game and the difficulty is so high that it will give even veterans of the base game a run for their money.

However, it’s been a few years since Dark Arisen released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and the lack of updates regarding a sequel lead many to believe that the series was done for good. Then comes in Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen for PC, an update on the already updated Dark Arisen for consoles that offers all of the previous content along with increased draw distances and uncompressed textures. If you’ve yet to experience the series then the PC version is definitely the way to go as it runs very smoothly, but how does the game itself hold up these days? Very well!

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Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen puts you in the shoes of a warrior who lost a hopeless battle against an apocalyptic dragon that has killed countless others. This Dragon plucks the heart straight out of the hero and eats it, yet you arise from those events afterwards in tiptop shape. The people of the land flock to you and believe that you’ll be the one to finally slay this evil dragon that has been the bane of the land’s existence for so long, which results in you heading out for an adventure almost immediately as the Arisen to kill that dragon.

The game doesn’t try to do too much in terms of delivering a groundbreaking plot, but it nevertheless delivers what it does well enough that it doesn’t matter. There is a massive dragon out there that needs to be slayed and there are other viscous beasts for you to obliterate along the way and that’s all you need to know. The game’s world of Gransys is in a constant state of peril and you and your crew are the ones tasked with helping them out whenever duty calls. You’ll have the main story missions to choose from and the many side quests offered via the game’s Notice Board, and once you pick one it’s off to fight evil.

A straightforward and basic plot works great for a game like this, as it instead focuses more on where the real fun is: combat. Dragon’s Dogma’s world is overflowing with gigantic beasts like cyclopses, griffins and dragons that are marvels to behold, and the resulting spectacle of the combat is regularly exhilarating. These beasts have tons of HP to slowly hack away at, but there is always a secret of their’s for you to discover that can turn the tide in your favor. For example: taking a cyclops on from the ground will get you nowhere early on, but if you can get behind it and climb up its back to take stabs at the head then you’ll come away the victor in no time.

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Scaling the game’s massive foes is probably the best thing about the game’s combat, as it gives the encounters a Shadow of the Colossus-esque feeling even if they aren’t quite on that big of a scale. Climbing up the legs, backs and arms of a beast will result in them flailing around in rage trying to swat you off of them, and if they grab you it’ll end in you being tossed like a football. Climbing up to the head of any particular beast can be a real challenge, but just getting up there to deliver some big damage is a reward all on its own.

As you level up you’ll be able to increase your basic attacks and learn new moves that suit different types of enemies and situations. Lunge attacks work well for quickly narrowing the distance between you and a nimble opponent, whereas aerial strikes will help you take down some of the game’s hard-to-reach flying foes. You’ll also be drowning in tons of loot from your felled foes and meticulously-explored areas that will get you better equipment or items to craft to make better equipment, so the sense of progression in the game’s combat is on-point and very addicting. The 3 base classes of Fighter, Strider and Mage can also be enhanced and combined with the others to form some pretty sweet hybrid classes like the Mystic Knight and Magick Archer.

Gransys is also littered with smaller foes like goblins, wolves, ghosts and other humans that can become a real pain when they attack you in swarms, but luckily you’ll have backup from the game’s previously-mentioned Pawn system. You’re able to create and fully customize one Pawn on your own to always be by your side and then enlist two more randomly-generated or player-created pawns from a zone called the Rift, and these Pawns all come with their own classes, abilities and personalities. The greatest thing about this system is that it allows you to customize how you play even deeper, choosing Pawns that can do things like magically-enhance your arrows to deal more damage or provide aerial support from afar. Different situations call for different Pawns, so it’s all about playing around with the different types to see which ones work best for your current mission.

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Pawns are also very talkative during any given situation, though that is a double-edged sword. While having a Pawn come over to you to tell you not to overdo things when you run out of stamina or give insight on where to go next does make the experience more fun, the fact of the matter is that they’ll repeat themselves a lot. Battling a foe whose tail must be severed in order to deal real damage for the hundredth time will still garner the same cries from your pawn instructing you that the tail must be severed. Likewise, locations that you pass through regularly will result in the Pawns making observations regarding the area as if they had never been there before. Pawn chatter can be turned off completely in this new PC version, though that’s taking it to the other extreme and is more of a case of taking an eraser to the problem rather than actually fixing it.

It also doesn’t help that the game doesn’t have the best fast-travel system. While Dark Arisen made the cost of the game’s fast travel-capable Ferrystones cheaper, it still isn’t enough to accommodate for all the times you’d just like to warp to where you want to go. Gransys is a big place and traveling from one spot to another on the map can sometimes be very time-consuming, resulting in you backtracking through places you’ve already been over and over again. Exploration is definitely a big part of the game and scouring new locations is fun, but when you just want to get to the next quest location and are forced to spend several minutes running from point a to point b it gets annoying pretty quickly.

The game is also showing its age a bit from a graphical standpoint. While everything is very-well designed and the sheer scale of it all is impressive, certain character models and animations are still a little stiff looking. Some technical issues will also pop up with Pawns and other AI-controlled characters, as sometimes they’ll just be standing around when they should be fighting or ignoring you no matter how many times you call for them to leave the battle to follow you instead. Still, these aren’t major issues and don’t detract too much from the epic battles and adventures you’ll take part in on a regular basis.

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The Verdict

Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen may be a few years old now, but the new PC version is still a blast to play and offers a nice mix of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and From Software’s Dark Souls. There are dozens of hours of epic RPG action to be had here and while the complete package isn’t perfect, that doesn’t stop the experience from being a heck of a lot of fun.

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Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen for PC

  • Available On: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
  • Published By: Capcom
  • Developed By: Capcom
  • Genre: Action-RPG
  • US Release Date: January 15th, 2016
  • Reviewed On: PC
  • Quote: "Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen may be a few years old now, but the new PC version is still a blast to play."
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