*This review was originally published back in September but website issues mean it was lost during the transfer to our new host. I’m republishing today because I feel like it.*
Experience has taught me that returning to something that holds fond memories from younger days is rarely a good idea. So it was with some that hesitancy that I approached my now Xbox One copy of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen.
For the unversed, Dark Arisen or DD:DA as it shall be know from this point on, is an open world RPG of Japanese origin. In the opening hour, your player character inexplicably has his heart plucked from his chest in one of the oddest video sequences I’ve seen in my years with gaming. From that point forward, quite understandably, it’s your raison d’etre to claim back your missing chest muscle and solve every single NPCs minor problems on the entire planet.
I’m being flippant of course. DD: DA is a more than competent action RPG. The beginnings (heart-rending aside) will be familiar to modern gamers. Choose your characters from a selection of pre-sets or create your own in significantly more detail. Classes are fairly traditional but each can be crossed with a selection of abilities from another part of the development tree to give you a little more flexibility in the combat.
My opening class choice (you can change later if you want!) was Strider. This is your typical double-bladed rogue type character who inflicts reasonable damage but can still run away quickly if required. And run away you almost certainly will in places. Dark Souls (as was the comparison to at the point of original release) this ain’t – but it still challenges in stretches.
For that reason, you’ll need some help to get through the tougher battles. That’s where your Pawns come in. At a certain point in the story, you create your own Pawn and they remain by your side throughout the adventure. But, as the Arisen (chosen one effectively) you’re granted access to a non-earthly realm filled with wandering characters just waiting to receive your call to arms. Two further characters can be recruited to your party.
The Pawn system has me a little bit torn if I’m honest. Once created your Pawn heads off into the ether and can be selected by other players in their world – a very loose asynchronous multiplayer if you will. Even a few years on, kitting your Pawn out in whatever garb you choose and sending them off to someone else’s war still feels like a clever innovation. Further still, if you recruit a Pawn that’s at a higher level than you and they’ve already completed a particular quest with their own master, they will give you useful advice relating to that quest.
On the other hand, aside from a bit of chat about enemy weaknesses or similar, these Pawns can feel pretty one dimensional as characters. There’s no drawn out chats and backstory quests a la Mass Effect or Dragon Age here.
Parts of the combat system haven’t held up too well over the years either. One of Dark Arisen’s unique selling point was it’s huge battles against overwhelmingly big opponents. You could clamber up a cyclops to stab it right in the eye, or grab onto the tail of a Chimera to lop it off. Again, it just doesn’t feel as fresh in 2017 in the presence of Shadow of War and the like. The climbing animations in particular often have you clipping through the enemy your trying to ascend.
Party dynamics in combat on the other hand still work well. NPCs seem to make good decisions during hectic battles. Often you’ll find they have imbued your weapon with the element the enemy you’re fighting is weakest to. Similarly, healing comes at the right time – even if I’m still not quite on board with Capcom’s decision to make healing spells area of effect instead of targeted.
Each class has a good selection of abilities to pick from, although I did find over time that I feel back on using the same ones time and and time again. As soon as I heard the sound effect the daggers made using the particular ability I’m referring to I realised that I had done exactly the same thing on my first play through. Only 31 year old me had a little less patience for the repetition.
Dark Arisen was the subtitle given to the original Dragon’s Dogma when it was re-released on the Xbox 360. There were multiple quality of life improvements such as giving you a infinite use Ferry Stone (used for teleportation) rather than making them like the proverbial rocking horse excrement as well as a massive new dungeon.
Bitterback Isle is the best of Dark Arisen. Narrow hallways filled with huge creatures open up into vast cavernous halls – all of it high level, tough end game content. It’ll take you 30+ hours to get there mind – not that that should be considered a bad thing.
HD upgrade this may have been on Xbox 360; textures haven’t fared anywhere near as well in the five years since. It was never a looker to begin with in truth and the bland looking greys and greens do tend to blur together on today’s larger sharper screens.
I feel like I’ve been writing a lot about what hasn’t really stood the test of time. The score is not one of those areas. I play most of my games with a headset these days and Dark Arisen really does have some stunning orchestral numbers, be it quieter soothing pieces for when you’re exploring the world or deep and sinister tracks for your descent into dungeons.
NPCs do a reasonable job of sounding like they aren’t phoning in their performances although it should be noted that not all the writing is voiced.