For those of you who have never had the pleasure of playing the original, let me tell you what you’re going to get from the Dragon’s Dogma universe. This is one of those games which manages to not only bring some compelling gameplay to the table, but does so while also creating an honest-to-God original fantasy world to play around in. You get the open world exploration of a Skyrim game, the at times fiendish difficulty of Dark Souls (while still being somewhat more forgiving), all spiked with the occasional heart-stopping encounters with humongous, intimidating beasts that feel like they came out of a Monster Hunter game with vastly better graphics. On top of all of this you’ve got crafting, an actually riveting story with great voice acting, and one of the most entertaining instantiations of asynchronous multiplayer that I’ve seen. And that was the original game! Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen gives you all that, and more.
How much more are we talking? Over 25 new enemies, 100+ pieces of new equipment, more skills and pawn augments, along with a huge infusion of new content and the original japanese voice-overs. You also get an absolutely fantastic incentive to finally pick this game up if you hesitated when it originally came out, and slightly less of an incentive to grab it if you already owned and loved the original game. Dragon’s Dogma remains one of the absolute best titles to show up on this generation of consoles, and Dark Arisen simply adds more meat to that particular feast of tasty, tasty gameplay.
For starters, there’s the straight-up gameplay of Dark Arisen. This is a third person open-world game, with a pretty sizable collection of indoor and outdoor areas to explore. As I hopefully made clear with the Dark Souls and Monster Hunter comparisons, this is not an open world in the mere sense that you have a lot of territory to run or walk across now and then punctuated with some throwaway fight. The world of Dragon’s Dogma is dangerous. You’re going to be challenged by humongous, lumbering trolls, roving bands of murderous bandits, squads of goblinoid creatures, and now and then some colossal beasts that are not merely dangerous, but strike against you in a way that conjures up a palpable sense of intimidation. The controls for all of this are also excellent – I quickly found myself getting the hang of blocking attacks, looking for openings to strike against, and most importantly, hauling ass away from the action whenever it became clear that I was simply in over my head.
On top of the great gameplay and entertaining pseudo-multiplayer aspects, Dragon’s Dogma also delivers on a front that I am always mindful of: loot and customizability. There are a wide variety of ways you can play your character – 9 different vocations (aka, classes) in total, each of them loaded up with a variety of skills that you’ll unlock more of as you continue to spend time in said vocations. Your pawns can have different vocations as well, leading to a nice amount of mix-and-matching freedom in order to find a team with a proper synergy. On top of all this you have a large array of weapons and armor pieces you can mix and match, as well as upgrade to more powerful versions. All that outdoor monster hunting I mentioned earlier? Those aren’t merely creatures that threaten you. They’re creatures you will hunt down in order to try and get particular drops related to upgrading those pieces of equipment to their maximum levels. For those of you who love having and pursuing treasure in video games, Dragon’s Dogma offers quite a lot to vie for.
With that in mind, the actual gameplay content added with Dark Arisen is decent, if uniquely punishing. Bitterblack Isle fits with the dour mood of Dragon’s Dogma, with most of the real action taking place in underground locales – tight catacombs with little room to maneuver around in. In fact, this is where the Dark Souls mood really came through strongest in the game, if only because this additional content feels uniquely punishing compared to most of the other portions of standard Dragon’s Dogma. Some of what you’ll run up against are re-skinned versions of old threats, but there’s a good amount of brand new enemies to deal with in this expansion. Actually, ‘dealing with enemies’ sums up the meat of Dark Arisen: this content is first and foremost for high level (45-70+) characters looking for some fresh challenges. For those who are new to the series, well… you’ll at least be glad to know that once you get up higher in level, there’s more content waiting for you than what initially would have if you picked up the vanilla game at its release. Considering how long the game has been out at this point, most past players who actually enjoyed and stuck with the title should meet these requirements easily – but again, treating Dark Arisen purely as an expansion is tough to justify given the MSRP.
Still, original owners clearly weren’t the primary target of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, hence it being released as a stand-alone title. The real target, for better or for worse, are brand new players who haven’t been introduced to Capcom’s newest fantasy property. To those of you who love third person action and open-world exploration and who haven’t yet gone on a dragon-slaying quest, the answer is easy: this is a great buy that chances are you will not regret. Be sure to at least check out the online demo if you haven’t yet, and if you like it, pick this one up as soon as you can.