If you hear the phrase “that dragon stole my heart” you might be inclined to think that there was some romance afoot, and then if you’re anything like me – immediately tune out afterwards. Lucky for me though, when a game like Dragons Dogma: Dark Arisen says a dragon comes along and steals your heart, they mean it literally! Dark Arisen is essentially an expansion of last years’ Dragons Dogma done by the guys and gals over at Capcom, and for a game that I hadn’t heard a lot about it did bring a surprisingly decent RPG to the table that is well worth the look.
So as I mentioned above the game focuses on the rebirth of a rather large dragon who is set on destruction and setting everything on fire – enter you character, who picks up the closest rusty sword and decides to pick what turns out to be one of the most one sided fights known to mankind. The dragon hands your butt to you on a silver platter, but before our fire breathing foe departs the scene of the crime he decides to take your heart out and then eat it … yep, bit of a setback for our hero right there. But fear not dear adventurer, for you will be reborn as ‘the arisen’ and set out on the path to find the dragon and have some vengeance. In Dark Arisen you get this main plot that was the original Dragons Dogma, and you also get an additional dungeon on Bitterback Isle which will throw an extra 10-ish hours of gameplay at you as well. Now I’m not entirely sure why this wasn’t just released as DLC to go along with the original Dragons Dogma, but here we are anyway.
Dragons Dogma at its core is an RPG, and playing through it for a while it had a distinct Japanese RPG flavour to it, but not entirely. The game will let you do some extreme character customisation if you want to take it to the tiniest of details to create a look all of your own. You get a couple of character classes to pick from to get you started and then you jump right in. The game delivers a pretty solid combat system and you’ll find yourself enjoying hacking and slashing your way through waves of monsters, the control system is pretty simply to get your way around too. It’s had some thought given to planning your attacks a little with things like a quick but weak attack option, or the slow and heavy one – allowing you to put together some combo’s. I did find combining them to be a little clunky though, so stuck with a style to suit the enemies I fought which was usually lots of the weaker attacks. When fighting some of the games larger bosses you also get the option to jump on top of them and start attacking them from whatever part of their body you climb on to. This makes for some more interesting strategy options during combat as well, for example there is a large troll like monster early on in the game and if you climb on its legs and attack you can throw him off balance and cause him to trip and fall, leaving him vulnerable for your comrades to attack.
Which leads me to the next thing about this game – there is an interesting little system around creating a party of AI characters called ‘pawns’ (I love it when a game just calls a spade a spade!). It’s an interesting concept in its implementation though – basically you create yourself a main pawn and they play alongside you. Each time you save your game though data about your game and your pawn is sent back to the servers and your pawn can go and play in other peoples games as an extra (you get a few of them to your party). You can set the scope to any games, or just your friends – but when your pawn returns they can bring back skills and knowledge that can end up being useful to you in your game.
Graphically the game is not at all shabby, but there are some chinks in its armour though. There will be times when your pawns might go chasing an invisible enemy, or there are times when the screen tearing will really drive you bonkers. When it’s firing on all cylinders the game is pretty nice to look at, the scenery is pleasant enough, the character models are ‘alright’, and the enemies aren’t too bad either – although they will get very repetitive. It’s these types of technical issues that stop the game from being so much more than what it could have been though, and with a bit more polish Capcom could have really hit a home run with this one.
The games soundtrack isn’t anything to write home about, some of the musical scores suit the moments quite well, while others are a bit bland. There is a good amount of voice acting from the NPC characters that you’ll interact with throughout the game which makes it all a little more engaging also and helps to draw you in to the world.
One of the biggest problems I faced with this game, in particular the new Dark Arisen content, was the difficultly level. As with any open world RPG there are parts of the world you can stroll in to where your body can become a thin smear of goo on the walls in a matter of seconds because some large monster has destroyed you before you knew what hit you – and that’s fair enough, you go level up and come back to get him later – but on Bitterback isle for the extra content, you might want to put a safety band of some sort on your controller for when you lose the ability to control that urge to throw the controller across the room. The whole dungeon feels so off balance and is a shame to see it ruin what is otherwise a fairly solid RPG.
It doesn’t quite have the same ‘epic’ feel of something like a Skyrim or anything like that, but Dragons Dogma: Dark Arisen is still a pretty solid effort in its own right. If you’re an RPG fan and have been scratching your head wondering what to play lately, this game is at the right price to pick up on the cheap and can provide you with a game that for the most part worth the hours you will put in to it.