Title: Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
Platform: PS3, 360
Release Date: March 23rd (US), 25th (JP), 26th (EU), 2012
Genre: Action RPG, Adventure
– Fast paced and enjoyable combat
– Bitterblack Isle is insane and exhilarating
– High amount of replay value
– Interesting and fun boss fights.
– Frame rate issues
– Clumsy and occasionally non-responsive AI
Prices as of June 10th:
Reviewed by FrontalSpy
There were many heroes that dared to venture the mad world of Gransys, the fantasy land of 2012’s Dragon’s Dogma. Featuring a large spawning landscape of the green meadows and grand castles populated by noblemen and mythological beasts, Capcom’s open world RPG crafted a well kindled experience albeit not entirely perfect. Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is an update to the 2012 game which adds an entire new land to explore that are more dark and fiendish, which comes with its own secrets and challenges. All of which is entirely intense and will keep you on the edge as you turn around each corner in fear of the unknown, and in fear of death.
In the base game of Dragon’s Dogma, you play as the hero that was bestowed upon the mark of Arisen by an almighty dragon. The dragon tears out your heart and devours it yet keeping the newly appointed Arisen alive and forcing you on a long journey to seek out the Dragon. Starting in the clam fishing town of Cassardis you begin your journey alone to the nearest encampment surrounded by monsters on either side. There you reach the rift stone, where you can summon your first personal pawn, a computer controlled follower. An enraging Hydra suddenly attacks the encampment, the first of many mythological beasts, but thanks to your help and your trusty pawn, the Hydra slithers away in retreat missing one of its heads. Tasked with escorting the head to the next city, your real adventure begins to unfold as you begin to explore the landscape of Gransys and its unique inhabitants, before reaching the land’s capital: Gran Soren.
Your initial adventure to seek out the dragon to reclaim your heart will take you across the vast fantasy land of Gransys, segregated into these main areas: lush green pastures, steep cliffs and treacherous mountain paths, a dark forest enveloped in fog, and ancient structures. Each of the locales have their own unique challenges in the form of navigation and hostile monsters. The steep mountain passes contain large loose boulders that can crush anything in its way and the foggy forests provide its own challenges since sight becomes an issue with the surrounding, gleaming red eyes. Although, many of these areas are text-book fantasy settings; large open fields of cattle, a Witch inhabiting a forest governing a spell over canopy, and vile swamp full of disease and sludge. As a whole, the environments do look magnificent with a large draw distance allowing you to see the looming castle in the distance as you narrowly escape an Ogre filled cave. The world is very open, in fact the nature of the game encourages you to go off the track and explore what it has to offer.
The beastly inhabitants of the land you pass by are all taken from various mythologies and are brought to life in a daunting manner. Harpies loom in the sky watching unfortunate prey briskly walking pass their domain before singing and latching onto the victim, Chimera’s roam the earth- half lion, half goat and a little bit of a snake- using the lion’s physical strength, goat’s magical prowess and snakes venomous breath, or the typical goblins that swarm in tribes and mindlessly attack anything interesting. All the monsters have interesting and detailed designs, which make them much more frightening or much less- depending on your taste. From the dark fire spitting hellhounds to what I believe is the most hideous beast ever conceived, the Cockatrice- a giant rooster with talons and giant wings, ‘tis a formidable foe. Although it is a particularly tough world to wade through, each of the monsters may prove to be difficult, but they all have their own disadvantages. This is where the boss fights become more interesting.
Your initial contact may be of awe of how amazing the monster looks or of horror of how terrifying the monster looks, but learning of their weak points and actively trying to exploit it is all extremely fun. It also heaps that you are able to grab onto the larger bosses themselves, positioning yourself in the face of a Cyclops before you thrust your mighty sword into that damned eye. Not only physical weaknesses but magical and elemental attacks can also deal massive damage and stagger the enemies, enforcing a more tactical approach.
The most obvious comparison to Dragon’s Dogma is From Software’s Dark Souls, which also pitted the player in a large open world surrounded by monsters and grief. The combat as well is quite similar though the combat in this game is less stressful and more magical. The game employs a class system called Vocations, where you equip different weapons and skills based on that class. The classic warrior, mage and thief (in this case Strider) classes are all present but there are more offerings in advance vocations and finally hybrid vocations. The advance vocations are further extensions of the basic classes with more powerful skills and weapons at your disposal. The hybrids are a mix of two other classes allowing more flexibility to use the two classes’ skills as well as some unique hybrid abilities.
Combat is somewhat more of a typical third person action RPG, where you and your Pawns travel around dealing damage whenever you see fit. The different types of weapons and vocations handle differently with their own advantages and disadvantages that target specific roles during combat. There is a large selection of skills for each class, which can be purchased with Discipline Points, which can be mapped to the controller’s buttons. In most of the classes you can equip two weapons at a time and switch in between when one of your weapons isn’t enough or you found a new weakness. The vocations themselves can level up which unlock additional active and passive skills, and stronger versions of existing skills. Your stats will also increase depending on what vocation you levelled up, being in the warrior class will increase your strength and as a mage your magic will increase. You can also change your vocations at any time by visiting an inn so you can experiment with all the classes and choose the best for you.
The game also features a unique indirect co-op mode as Pawns and Rift stones. Rift stones are portal into a separate dimension known as the Rift where you can search and hire up to two additional pawns on top of your main pawn. These pawns from the Rift are pawns that other players have created for themselves, so you are essentially helping out another player by making your pawn stronger. Your main pawn will level up as you do but the two additional pawns do not. Of course, that would mean that in time the other pawns would be much weaker and need to be replaced for much stronger allies, but before you send the pawn away you can give it a gift as it returns to its master, another Arisen in a faraway place. That way you can help each other further by gifting rare or expensive items, or rotten meat.
That is the general overview with the base game of Dragon’s Dogma, so now it’s time to see what Dark Arisen has to offer.
The Dark Arisen expansion entirely takes place on a new island called Bitterblack Isle. The majority of the time you will be exploring through the windings of the mysteriously crafted dungeon below. You are led to this mysterious place by a woman named Olra who has lost her memories and surprised you are able to see her. You meet her in the Cassardis pier at night where she notices that you bear the dragon’s mark since only they can see her. She pleads for your help in hoping to regain her memories and discover the secrets of Bitterblack Isle, which have been long left untouched. Arriving by boat, you arrive in front of a large ominous building where Olra tells you that the secrets of the land lie within its deepest section, under the large labyrinth and maze of underground tunnels.
Olra herself is a new character seemingly has no ties to the main story. She is not just a central character but a vital NPC in the new expansion since she can cure cursed items. In your exploration of the dark and haunted labyrinth you will find many cursed items and equipment but they need to be cured- or appraised- in order to know what it is and be able to use it. Curing the items require Rift Crystals, which can be earned when your pawn is shared with another player or randomly dropped by monsters. In the new location, the drops will be more frequent since you will need a number of the crystals to clear the death ridden place. There are broken Rift Stones found throughout the place that requires Rift Crystals to repair and activate them. It is quite vital to repair these since they heal your pawns, allow you to recruit new pawns and act as a checkpoint.
There is also another use of Rift Crystals, which is tied with another new character. Barroch is a shady person with a smug look and even more smug personality. He ridicules you for arriving on the island and guesses on your life expectancy on the island. Apart from that, he will be your vendor for most of your expedition. Barroch will allow you to buy, sell and store items, and further upgrade your weapons from Dragon Forged- received when you defeat a dragon- for Rift Crystals, into more malicious weapons that will slay your foes with ease. And you will need every single upgrade you can get since Bitterblack Isle is no pushover, even for those that finished the main quest. The entire architecture of the labyrinth is just that, long corridors that twist and wind about that hide all the foul intents around the corner. Not only are you exploring unknown lands, there is a ghostly voice that guides you in a not very helpful manner. The voice itself is rather contrived at guiding and mostly laments over the past with small warnings about what you’re about the face.
What you will be facing are new monsters, bosses and more sinister variants on existing foes from the mainland. Not only will you have to deal with the darker monsters, but the looming threat of the grim reaper, who is able to annihilate your party in a single swipe, as he randomly appears out of thin air with its eerie lantern and surrounding shadows, will make you scream in horror when the only choice you have is to run. But running itself is difficult when monsters such as the Eliminator and the Wandering Warriors are in your path ready to take you down. The Eliminator is a brute minotaur that wields a massive hammer, and when you’re on the floor, it will execute you in one shot, and the Wandering Warriors are cursed pawns that have been forced to live eternally in this hellish labyrinth. The variations on the existing monsters are all much more challenging and sinister looking, and have been given many buffs such as additional life and more damage. In the case of the Elder Ogre, the male hunting equivalent of the Ogre in Dragon’s Dogma, damage output, life and speed has been increased. The bosses themselves are even more enjoyable but I’m not spoiling any of those for the sake of surprise and immediate regret.
With the setting of an underground location with few areas opening up and frequent sewers, the new expansion has even more similarities with Dark Souls. Primarily the feeling and experience of exploring a sinister location where every second could be your last and every turn you make could lead to death; the first time you tackle the levels and find out about the new disturbing monsters and the curdling screams of the banshees, it is a very exhilarating experience. Not only that, you will be swarmed in darkness when your lantern goes out due to getting knocked into the sewerage water as you advance down the steps and deep caverns away from sanity.
The Dark Arisen expansion will last around 20 hours depending on your level, speed of descent and you gear. It is recommended that you tackle this evil infested labyrinth at levels 50-70 to get a challenging experience and fully understand the frightening feeling of despair. For people that have played the original Dragon’s Dogma and have a copy of their save data on the system, you will be rewarded with some goodies: an unlimited ferrystone which allows you to teleport to marked locations, 100,000 Rift Crystals and some new armour. The new expansion also has changes to Gransys with new monsters spawning in different locations, more equipment, more portcrystals to make traversing between cities easier, prices of items, new skills and much more.
While Dark Arisen adds much more to the game making it more enjoyable overall, there are still persisting problems that exist in the game. Namely, the game doesn’t run at a consistent frame rate throughout the game. There will be frame-drops from time to time and massive slowdowns when everyone casts a magic skill. And to be honest, the game impressive technically; the view distance of monsters is not very long and moving quickly between areas will cause massive pop ups, the textures are low resolution and there are black bars on the screen to compress the resolution. In addition, there are some AI problems on both monsters and your fellow pawns. In most cases, your pawns will handle everything smoothly acting on their own, attacking when they need to and healing when someone is low on health. When you are commanding your pawns to do something specific (via the D-pad) they don’t tend to react quickly and sometimes disobey your orders, causing much frustration as you run away from the grim reaper as they admire its scythe. As for the monsters, they tend to get stuck in weird places and in some cases ignore you outright.
Audio plays a big role in the game since at night; it is pretty much pitch black and listening to the sounds the monsters will make surviving much easier. Also, the soundtrack of the game is well done. The menu theme itself was changed from a Japanese rock song to a more solemn piece, which reflects the dark theme of Dark Arisen. The music pieces that play during battle are all epic and help you further that adrenaline rush as you jump out of the way from a massive axe or go in for the final kill. The game also offers a Japanese dialogue option and can be changed in the main menu. The Japanese voices are well done and are a good option for those who want to listen, but the English voices themselves are just as good.
Built upon the fun yet flawed system of the original Dragon’s Dogma, Dark Arisen gives the game a more fulfilling and intense experience in a compact twisted labyrinth. The game offers a load of replayability and offers a great deal of length- about 65 hours and the option of new game plus, with a multitude of quests-while not all very inspired and varied. Returning fans can eagerly anticipate and await their return to the troubled world of Gransys and the new island, and newcomers to the series can expect a fully fledge adventure into the realm of beasts, twisted men and natural wonders.