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Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen

Score: 85%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Media: DVD/2
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ RPG/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Most of the opinions I have about games stay the same; I can look back at most of the games I've reviewed and stand by my opinions on them. But like all human beings, I'm capable of erring, and that's exactly what I did with last year's Dragon's Dogma: I got it wrong. Now, don't take that the wrong way: it's nowhere near perfect. But I allowed the frustrations I had with the game to get the better of me and ultimately blind me to all of the great ideas and satisfying gameplay the game featured. So here we are, a year later, and Capcom has delivered Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, an updated version of last year's intriguing action role-playing game that makes just the right improvements and offers an expansive new area in which to continue your adventures.

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen's visuals alternate between bland neutrality and stunning animation work. The world of Gransys is not visually striking when compared to other fantasy worlds. Greens, browns, and grays dominate much of the landscape. However, as you progress, the game becomes far less hesitant to flex its muscles and show off. Haunted forests and windswept valleys have a mystical, yet organic look to them, and they look as if they are absolutely full of secrets (which they so often are). By far, the best visual element in Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is in the monsters. The animation work is stunning; each of these terrifying beasts may borrow pages from several mythologies, but this is perhaps the first game to successfully convey the majesty and sheer power of griffins, chimeras, and cyclopes. It's not quite up there with Shadow of the Colossus, but it clearly uses that game as an inspiration. And what a fine choice for inspiration.

Sound-wise, Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is decent. Pawns are still annoying as hell, but they're chatty for a reason. For every four or five redundant quips regarding a goblin's weakness to fire, one of them might actually say something relevant to your current quest. If the English dub proves too teeth-grindingly awful for you, you have the option to install the Japanese voice pack. The music scrambles to keep pace with the intense action and largely succeeds, though a lot of it is overused. Sound effects give the monsters a fearsome edge and your own attacks a sense of weight and power.


Gameplay:

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is an improved version of Dragon's Dogma, plus an expansion. So all of the content from the original game makes an appearance.

Dragon's Dogma is the story of an ordinary man or woman whose life in a fishing village is simple and carefree. Until the day a giant red dragon razes the village, knocks you on your back, and devours your heart. Incredibly, you survive the maiming, and reawaken as the Arisen, a hero of legend who is destined to bring down the dragon with the help of special assistance from a dimension known only as the Rift. It's standard open-world adventuring that happens to benefit from a robust and exciting combat system.

Dark Arisen constitutes the questline that takes you to the new area, Bitterblack Isle. This is a bleak, dank place suffused with death. Powerful monsters lurk everywhere, and even the act of killing a monster has consequences here. You spend much of your adventure fumbling in the dark, with unseen monstrosities shrouded in the darkness, waiting for the right moment to jump out and introduce you to your maker. This new content starts very strong, but things get very ugly very quickly once you hit the halfway mark. I don't recall being instakilled so many times when playing the core game, nor do I remember being funneled into nasty chokepoints where monsters attack you from literally every angle.


Difficulty:

I'll offer you some advice. In Bitterblack Isle, if you encounter Death (and you will), do not attempt to fight him. Run for your life. In fact, Bitterblack Isle as a whole is a punishing place. The game suggests that this new area is best suited to players at level 50 or above, but that's a stretch. I went into Bitterblack at 50 and still got my ass kicked. It's a tough, comparatively joyless place that seems evocative of Dark Souls' Lordran, but without the sense that every death is entirely your own fault.

If there's one thing Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen fails to address, its the fact that you can fail quests suddenly and without explanation. Progressing down one questline might lock several others out. Looking carefully at the details surrounding the quests might illuminate the reason, but some sort of warning system would have been welcome, as this is sure to piss off completionists.


Game Mechanics:

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen plays kind of like Monster Hunter, but with a much more entertaining combat system. It's great fun, though a lock-on mechanic would have been great. Boss fights are the best part of the experience. Most of these beasts are much taller than you, and hacking away at their feet is not often a good strategy. Luckily, you can climb on them, which adds an exciting dynamic to the combat, whether they try to buck you off or (more incredibly) take to the skies while you hang on for dear life.

As you level up, you earn discipline points which can be spent on new abilities and augments. Abilities are essentially special moves that are vocation-specific, while augments are passive buffs and stat increases. You can only manage the skills of your character and your primary Pawn; if you want something special from your secondary Pawns, you'll need to examine them closely before hiring them.

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen's most interesting facet is its Pawn system. You simply cannot survive alone in Gransys: you need help. Being an Arisen, you are gifted with the power to walk through the Rift and call on Pawns to assist you. One Pawn stays with you throughout your entire adventure: you can design that Pawn from the ground up and grow/equip him/her as you see fit. The other two Pawns do not level with you or your primary Pawn, so you will need to change them out when you outlevel them. What's truly fascinating about the Pawns is how they relate to the online world. When you complete quest objectives, they become more knowledgable about the quests in general. When you log off, the Pawns can be used by other players, who can capitalize on the knowledge that was gained during your session. Not all quests tell you exactly where to go, so having a knowledgeable Pawn is extremely helpful.

One more thing: if you played the original Dragon's Dogma, starting up Dark Arisen will automatically reward you with 100,000 Rift Crystals. These can be spent in the Rift to purchase Pawns who are higher-leveled than you. If you're trekking through Bitterblack Isle, you'll undoubtedly find a different use for them. Either way, thanks, Capcom!

The first thing you do when you reach the first encampment is access your item storage and retrieve an Eternal Ferrystone. This single item is the bane of the grief countless players felt when playing the original game. You do not need to backtrack in Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen: you can fast travel to any portcrystal you drop, and you can do so without limit. As the name suggests, the Eternal Ferrystone does not disappear after a single use, and it never goes away. This will save you from the headache of having to repeatedly slog through areas that are far beneath your level.

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is loaded with great ideas, though its execution is admittedly uneven. The new content has value, but it doesn't hold a candle to the original game. If you haven't played the original, this is a great game at a great value. It's titles like these that make me appreciate the idea of the sequel. In this case, I can't wait to see the next one.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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