Back in 2012, Capcom released Dragon’s Dogma for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Now, four years later, the PC port has finally arrived. Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is a port of the expanded version that was released in 2013, which included improved features and a new area, forebodingly christened Bitterblack Isle. As this is more or less a straightforward port, you will know exactly what to expect if you’ve played the previous versions. If you haven’t, then here’s a quick run-down of why this ambitious action RPG still stands out as an impressive but flawed achievement.
The story begins with a prologue showing an unknown warrior battle through a mysterious temple as he and his company are attacked by a fierce dragon. After this action-packed prologue, the story jumps forward to a sleek cinematic that would give the opening of The Hobbit a run for its money. The titular dragon, glimpsed at in the prologue, attacks the peaceful village that is home to your avatar. Failing to put an end to the destructive beast with a few gallant swings from your rusty sword (like that was going to do anything), you are thrown across the ground and promptly have your heart snatched out of your body by one of the dragon’s gigantic claws. But, surprisingly, this doesn’t kill you. Instead of dying, you have become the Arisen, a special ‘chosen one’ who is the only person capable of slaying the heart-stealing monster, a terrifying task that must be done if you wish to reclaim your heart and become whole again.
This is not a game for casual players, and its tough difficulty will be what either attracts people towards it or drives them away. Simply traversing the landscape is a challenge by itself. Not only will you have to prepare yourself for the missions, but you will also need to make sure you are ready for any battles during the walk over to the mission. Once you move outside of a city’s walls, you become fair game to any gangs of goblins and bandits lurking in the shadows. These fights certainly are no easy feat and can swiftly send you back to your last checkpoint if your combat skills are not up to scratch. As a result, I often found myself favoring fleeing rather than fighting.
The combat system is brilliant, though, featuring an impressively varied move set that makes you feel like you are controlling a skilled warrior, not just randomly hitting buttons to win, as can often be the case with hack-and-slash style gameplay. Hitting the shoulder buttons will bring up a set of new combat skills to be unleashed, which can be changed and modified as the game progresses. The different types of actions, from sheltered spike to skyward slash, make every enemy encounter fresh and exciting and are all accompanied by unique animations.
Your party in Dragon’s Dogma is made up of pawns, who are followers that exist to serve you as the Arisen. You get to design your main pawn very early on and can choose up to two others to accompany you later in the game. These two additional pawns are chosen from the Rift, a mysterious realm where pawns wonder about aimlessly, looking for a master.
Providing that you have access to a Rift Stone, these supplementary companions can be swapped out at any time if you find that your current choices’ skill sets and levels are not fit for a particular quest. (You will find that you will need to do this often, as these extra pawns do not level up.) The use of the Rift is where the game comes closest to a multiplayer experience, as the pawns that can be found wandering about the Rift are the creations of other players online. It’s a neat idea that adds a fun sense of community to the game without ever actually turning it into a co-op experience.
The game offers an impressive amount of character customization for both your main pawn and yourself. While the character models can suffer from looking a bit too generic, there are enough options here to make your character feel personal to you, with the ability to control their voice, weight, height, posture, and individual facial features. You also get to assign one of three major classes to your character—fighter, strider, or mage—each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages in battle.
The medieval setting looked great back in 2012, and it still looks great today. With the PC port, technical limitations have been lifted, and the frame rate problems that were present in the earlier versions are now non-existent, with the game running at a constant 60fps. The textures have been enhanced too, although I did experience a lot of texture pop-in with distant buildings and trees, which became very distracting.
Despite this, I have to admit that standing in an open field and looking out across the horizon filled me with such a heroic sense of adventure that, along with the rise and fall of the terrific choral soundtrack, made Dragon’s Dogma have a feeling of grandeur that most fantasy games fail to achieve. You really believe you are about to embark on something epic.
It’s unfortunate, however, that while the landscapes are undoubtedly vast and realized in impressive detail, they still seem dull and empty. The scale of the locations feel huge, but there isn’t enough compelling content placed in them to make having to journey across the map an enjoyable task. And believe me, you will have to travel across the map a lot during quests, causing the game to feel more like a test of its player’s endurance and patience than it really should have been.
The beasts that roam the game’s world are what injects the whole experience with the appropriate amount of awe and wonder, and are, in my opinion, what makes the game worth playing. The creature designs look utterly gorgeous. Like Shadow Of The Colossus before it, which its gameplay owes a debt to, Dragon’s Dogma has players drawing their swords against towering foes, boasting a menacing cast of mythological titans.
The developers seemed to have visited the fantasy archives to compile the list of enemies, causing the game to feel like a roll-call of every famous fantastical monster that has ever existed in film and literature. Within the first ten minutes alone, you are thrust into battle with goblins, harpies, and a Chimera, as well as being attacked by the ferocious dragon. Not long after, you will have to defend a village from attacks by a hydra and a cyclops. Then, later on, you will be clinging on for dear life to a griffin as you try and take the enormous flying pest down.
As mentioned before, Dragon’s Dogma borrows inspiration from Shadow Of The Colossus in its boss battles, allowing the hero the ability to climb their gigantic foes so that they can attack its weak spots. I frequently encountered glitches doing this, with my character disappearing into the model of the creature, which tarnished an otherwise great idea.
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is still the same game as it was four years ago, with the same flaws and the same strengths. The good just about manages to outweigh the bad, in my opinion, but it does mean that I would only recommend the game to hardcore RPG gamers who perhaps have a love of the Dark Souls series or, as a more recent comparison, Bloodborne. At times exhilarating, at others laborious, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is a grand adventure for those willing to look past its shortcomings.
This review was based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with.
While its gameplay can become slightly monotonous, Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen still has the power to amaze with the scale of its world and its brilliant boss battles against legendary creatures.