Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen Review

Built on the Devil May Cry 4 engine, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen tries to make its way as a fast paced, combat focused, sandbox typed exploration RPG, but how does it do?

Story
When you begin Dragon’s Dogma, you find yourself playing a Fighter in a dank, dark and eerie dungeon, accompanied by three NPC’s. This opening dungeon area serves two purposes. The first is to help you familiarise yourself with the real adventure you’re about to depart on, giving you a brief taste of what to expect from future dungeon crawls, while the second purpose teaches you the gameplay mechanics, with the whole area serving as the titles opening tutorial.

In Dragon’s Dogma the story is simple. You’re a human destined to become an Arisen and as your character’s about to embark on their adventure, your hometown (Cassardis) is under attack and upon aiding the general populace, your intervention results in you having your heart ripped out and stolen by a huge talking Dragon. You are then forced to take up arms to embark on a quest that will have you reclaim your heart and discover just exactly what it means to be an Arisen, also learning what one is along the way.

Dragon's will become common enemies in Dark Arisen.
In addition to this, adding to the already lengthy standalone title of Dragon’s Dogma, is the Dark Arisen DLC attached to this release of the game. To access the Dark Arisen DLC, you have to visit the Pier of Cassardis at night, where an eerie woman awaits you. You are then taken to Bitterblack Isle which is said to be cursed and holds many secrets for you to discover, with each area considerably harder than the last, as you'll soon discover the further you delve into the dungeons below.

The main purpose of the story here is to help the woman who brought you to Bitterblack (Olra) remember her purpose, discover why she feels compelled to stay on the island and ultimately to retread the path of the Dark Arisen who you presume awaits you below. With nothing to follow but lit up stone carvings, detailing a recorded text history of the mysterious character as he ventures further and further into the darkness, it's a slow process but you'll eventually gain an understanding piece by piece of who he is and what his motivations are. The story of Bitterblack eventually unfolds into a nice little love story, but sadly could have done with a little more detail to help immerse and engross you further.

Olra: The woman at the centre of Dark Arisen's story.
It’s unfortunate, but the narrative is fairly basic in both the standard game and the content of Bitterblack Isle, offering only the bare bones of what could be considered a story. You’ll need to read between the lines a lot to fully understand what’s going on and even then it’s easy to forget certain events, with plot characters often coming across as forgettable due to not having enough dialogue or spotlight across the game, or with climactic closures to characters that had little to no story before their final showdown.

Gameplay
After the opening tutorial, the first step you'll need to take is to decide what you want your character to look like. The character customisation here is nice, offering a good range of face customisation and hairstyles that vary between bland and acceptable, with a tool that lets you slightly adjust the shape of each facial feature separately. You will also notice a large variation of names and nicknames to choose from, which is a nice feature, but doesn't really add a whole lot to the game.

Next up are your Vocations. These are your character classes and will determine what kind of character you have by the end of the game. There are three sets of Vocations you can choose to play as, each one offering their own unique move sets, abilities, accessible weapons and armour.

The first of these are your basic Vocations. These are what you can choose between, upon first creating your character. Fighter is your typical Sword and Shield adventurer, while Mage and Strider are your magic user and Ranger respectively. Mage’s have high damage output with little defence, while Ranger's are good at close range with Daggers and long range with Shortbow's.

Each weapon is as useful as the next.
The next set of Vocations are your Advanced Vocations. These include the Warrior (two-handed weapon attacks), Sorcerer (mage with more options) and Ranger (able to wield better armour and equipment, including longbows).

Last of all, we have the Hybrid Vocations. These are only accessible with your main Arisen, and as such cannot be taken by your main Pawn. Classes here are the Mystic Knight, Magick Archer and Assassin.

Each of these classes can be mixed with one another, weakening or strengthening your character builds depending on how you manage things. On my file, I had my Arisen go through Fighter to final Vocation Rank, unlocking the best universal abilities the class had to offer, then doing the same with Warrior class to combine with my Assassin class, making for one incredibly fast and powerful melee build.

Combat is excellent, greatly enjoyable and fast paced. Each type of weapon has its own set of attacks dependent on the class you're playing as and you can combo between each move. Shields, Daggers, Greatswords/ Hammers and ranged weapons such as Bow and Arrows are all unique in their own way. Ultimately, it's up to you what your character can do. Some players might favour offence, while others may favour a more defensive build or a fine balance between both. There's a lot to play about with.

You'll often find yourself climbing to attack weak points.
As mentioned above, you will reach a point in the storyline where you acquire your own Pawn and can make builds using the Basic and Advanced Vocations. Pawns work mostly in the same way as your main character. You decide how they look, speak and sound within the character creation window and can customise how they interact/speak with you. A lot of the time they'll just be there as an extra helping hand, but through careful planning, you can make some powerful assist builds.

As you level up, your main Pawn will also gain experience and level up with you but hired Pawns always remain at the level you acquired them. As such, you'll find yourself regularly visiting what is known as "The Rift", which is a room that allows you to enlist Pawns of your choice, either through the search system or by talking to those that appear in the room on your arrival. This is also where you can acquire your friends Pawns via the online database. Touching a Rift Stone also re-summons your main Pawn after they've been killed.

If you focus on using one type of weapon throughout the game, I found that when fighting through the Everfall, you need to mix things up a little, which could be seen as a bad thing when you suddenly find yourself in a situation where an enemy’s weak spot isn't climbable. In addition to this, the bigger and faster an enemy, the harder it is to see your character and/or surroundings, through all of the thrashing about. Against certain enemies this becomes very apparent with the camera being terribly placed at times, detracting from the overall experience.

Aside from this, Dragon's Dogma features a day and night cycle which affects what creatures you face. Weaker ones are present throughout the day and much stronger foes await you at night. Now, for those of you who have played Monster Hunter, the item crafting system is virtually the same. For every creature you kill, a reward will be dropped. Each creature has a set amount of rewards they can possibly drop, with some offering rarer materials than others.

On the subject of this, when you eventually get strong enough to fight Drakes and Dragons, for every one you kill, there's a small chance a piece of your equipment will become Dragonforged. Dragonforged gear is stronger than maxed out standard weapon/armour upgrades and thanks to the additional content of Dark Arisen, you can now Rarify/upgrade your Dragonforged gear two steps further by speaking to Barroch (another Arisen) on Bitterblack Isle - The new area introduced where Dark Arisen's story takes place.

And he said unto them all; "Let there be light".
Upon reaching the island, you have the option to teleport back to Gransys (or any of the other locations you frequently visit - Cassardis, Gran Soren etc), which you may find yourself doing often, due to the difficulty of the areas you're about to explore.

Like the main story, there are numerous sidequests and locations you can take up and explore, except Bitterblack Isle feels a lot more like From Software's Dark Souls. This is due to the fact every area is interlinked in some way and the further you progress, the more shortcuts you can unlock.

If you have a save from the standard Dragon's Dogma title, Dark Arisen allows you to continue from the point you last saved, remembering all of your equipment, stats and stored gear. You’re also rewarded with an Eternal Ferrystone for your loyalty, which is a nice little edition as it enables you to teleport to and from locations indefinitely.

The creatures you'll face on Bitterblack Isle are a huge step up in difficulty from those you're used to seeing in Gransys. Each new floor you visit holds an even greater challenge than the last and is recommended for those of you who have already completed the main story at least once before, because this is considered to be the ultimate in game dungeon. I began at level 45, not even finishing my first run and the difference in level becomes pretty clear very early on.

Enemies are incredibly challenging and fun to fight. Occasionally stronger enemies will spawn when you think you're doing well, ranging from Ogre's to giant Hellhound's and even death him/herself. Aside from being the hardest area in the game however, Bitterblack Isle also holds some of the strongest items and gear in the game, making it a punishing but rewarding addition to what was already an enjoyable and lengthy title.

There are a few issues with the game however. Camera angles can often be obstructive, shopkeepers can take a little while to spawn, certain creatures have weak spots that should be reachable but aren't, forcing you to use ranged attacks when you might have made a close quarter’s melee build, and occasionally enemies can disappear completely from combat, offering no experience or reward.

Graphics/ Sound
The graphics are generally what you'd expect from this type of game. There are some frame rate issues, with textures failing to load instantaneously at times, but it doesn't look bad. Facial animations and NPC interaction could be a lot better, but the focus here is on combat, and this is where the game excels.

Tall and intimidating. These guys will get what's coming.
Enemy design is fantastic in Dark Arisen, and character animations are fairly nice. Also on offer is an expansive array of well designed armour and weapons to craft, upgrade and choose between, giving your character a unique look from the rest of the characters you'll be facing throughout the course of the game.

One of the strongest aspects in the DLC of Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is the sound. Offering eerie, dark and hauntingly operatic songs, the audio in Dark Arisen is strangely reminiscent of titles such as Castlevania, serving to create atmospheric and intense feelings of dread.

Other sound effects such as clashing weapons and attacks feel reasonably accurate and satisfying, and although story centric conversations can occasionally become too quiet to clearly hear (due to at times, the bad timing of intensifying music), the sound within Dark Arisen's Bitterblack Isle is one of the aspects of the game that stuck out most to me and is greatly enjoyable to listen to, especially within the safe zones on your first trip through the hellish corridors that await you.

Final Verdict
Although featuring a story that lacks in detail at the best of times, you'll often find yourselves engrossed for hours on end and often unexpectedly challenged.

Overall, I feel Dragon's Dogma has a lot to offer and although flawed, it has a great deal of charm mixed with some excellent RPG elements and enough combat to keep any hack and slash fan happy, and adding to the already lengthy content of the standalone game, Dark Arisen is a welcome, worthy addition to the title, and is something that I feel most RPG fans should at least try once.

Story = 5/10
Gameplay = 8/10
Graphics/ Sound = 7.5/10

Final We Know Gamers Score: 6.8/10