Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (PlayStation 4) Review – A Soulless Pawn

Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (PlayStation 4) Review - A Soulless Pawn

From the game’s opening battle against a Chimera, to a throw-down with a dragon moments later, and then finding yourself scaling a Cyclops after that, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen often plays like a frantic action game with an open world shell. Doing so with a party of custom chosen AI killers only adds to this wild feeling. Yet there’s something about the game that feels oddly lifeless and empty, dragging down what should have been an exciting fantasy hack and slash romp.

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Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (PlayStation 4) – gameplay image via Capcom.

The game features a highly robust character creation system, allowing players to run a gamut of sizes, heights, and ages. Not that this is uncommon for character creators, but the visual appearance of these differences in weight, and age, all make sweeping changes to the character. Geriatric swordsmen, child mage prodigies, and true monstrosities are open to create.

Players can also choose from several classes—melee, magic, range, and speed—at the start, with more becoming available later. These have their own combat moves, most of which can be equipped to whichever button you like to be used on the fly during battles. They can also easily swap between two weapons with another button press, allowing players to shuffle through several combat builds in seconds.

This is handy since the fields throughout the game are far from empty. Many open world games offer a little bit of solitude, with enemies only showing up periodically—Skyrim and Fallout 4 can often be pretty quiet—but Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen has foes popping up constantly. Rest feels like the most uncommon experience, making travel more exciting and dangerous, but also more tedious when you’re in a hurry and keep getting flanked by wolves or thugs.

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Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (PlayStation 4) – gameplay image via Capcom.

Don’t expect easy fights, either. Taking a page from the early Dragon Quest games, if you head somewhere you really shouldn’t be yet, you’ll find high-powered enemies that will stomp you flat. This might have been a good way to indicate where the player should be going, but the game autosaves infrequently, and dying means going back to your last save, forcing some constant—somewhat annoying—manual saving, or even more frustrating losses of progress.

You would think you’d be able to survive a little easier when you have three AI companions with you. Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen’s pawn system is arguably its most interesting feature, having players create or hire a couple of extra AI warriors who follow them into combat to back them up. These characters can be quite helpful, as they’ll fill in gaps in your character’s abilities, but they’re still just AIs, so don’t expect amazing quality backup.

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Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (PlayStation 4) – gameplay image via Capcom.

Players will custom build one character, giving them a solid constant companion. The others can be drawn from an online pool of characters made by other players. The neat part of the online ones is that they come with experience based on what their creator has done with them. If they have already fought an enemy or know an area, they will provide you with information or walk the best routes—although these ones have a cost to hire especially if they’re higher than your level. Also, if someone uses your character online, they will bring back handy items.

The worst part about these characters, though, is they never, ever shut up. Turning off chatter is a must. However, they will still babble their words on screen, which can cover a section of the battle, which is almost more annoying.

Having a group makes each fight feel like a grand melee. The game isn’t shy to have you fighting almost constantly because you always have some backup to heal or battle alongside you, keeping the player swept up in the excitement of the fray. It can get irritating when they won’t disengage with a powerful enemy you’re trying to flee—as you need to revive them if you don’t want them to disappear from your party—though.

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Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (PlayStation 4) – gameplay image via Capcom.

As for fleeing, running requires stamina—it’s the only thing that does—and your character has awful cardio. It’s very hard to put distance between you and a dangerous foe, as your character is constantly stopping due to exhaustion—although AI partners can refill some of it when they catch up to you. It’s worse when just travelling the fields, as you’re getting exhausted every few steps. It’s a nuisance when fleeing, but its downright enraging when taking a long walk.

Considering how often the player, three AI characters, and a ton of wolves or thieves might be duking it out, the game’s visuals run smoothly with few hiccups. The upgrade to PlayStation 4 visuals also looks nice in motion, but don’t expect something on par with Yakuza Kiwami. The game shows its age, with some weird looking faces and monsters—for example, the dragon from the opening battle. Its music is still gorgeous though. It has the ability to create a soothing mood or stir up a will to fight when the situation calls for it.

Despite all of these aspects to make combat exciting, it feels like there’s little narrative impetus to go out into the world. While players often just strike out into the world and do what they want in open world games anyway, it often feels like that’s all there is to do in Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen. Beyond taking on quests on boards that ask you to kill a set amount of enemies or foes in a certain place, the game’s vague, dull story rarely makes an appearance. It often feels like you’re just filling out grocery lists of monster executions instead of working through an epic quest.

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Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (PlayStation 4) – gameplay image via Capcom.

It’s that lack of story and reasons to do things that left the game’s world feeling as lifeless as the AI pawns you create. Fighting is solid, having partners makes those battles feel delightfully chaotic, and the game can be a real challenge, but it feels like Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen can’t create a good reason to go out and put these things to work.

Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen was reviewed using “retail” PlayStation 4 download codes provided by Capcom. You can find additional information about CGMagazine’s ethics and review policies and procedures here.

Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Joel’s review of Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, or his review of the cyberpunk thriller, Ruiner!

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Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (PC) Review

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen (PC) Review

After 2015, the last thing I ever wanted to see was another open world game. These time-leeches feel like they have infiltrated just about every other major release from the past few years, and quite frankly I’m exhausted. So that should ultimately stand as a testament to how fantastic Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen can be that hours into this sprawling adventure, the last thing I felt was tired.

Originally released for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 many moons ago, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is an fantasy action RPG that borrows shades from Capcom’s Monster Hunter series and From Software’s Dark Souls, combining these elements and many more to create a world that is at times bizarre, dangerous, and always memorable.

Arguably the biggest disappointment marring the original release was that Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen was simply too ambitious for the hardware at the time. The performance issues plaguing each version on consoles weren’t devastating to the whole experience but they absolutely held it back from being truly great. Fortunately, many of these problems are fixed by the PC version. During my time with Dragon’s Dogma, the game ran at a silky 60 frames per second, and some of the new graphical options and uncompressed textures look remarkably better than the washed out console versions.

dragons dogma dark arisen insert3Dragon’s Dogmafrom showing the wrinkles of its age and limitations made to make the experience fit on last generation consoles. Uncompressed textures can make certain assets, like armour, look pretty great, but overall the character models and landscape look especially dated. Loading screens between zones can still be longer than I would have hoped, and characters popping into the environment at short distances is still an issue but nowhere near as bad as it was on console. You won’t have to wait five seconds for vendors to load when strolling the streets of Gran Soren, but I was still disappointed with the way enemies would sometimes appear only feet in front of me.

Though the game was obviously designed to be played with a controller, and many would still prefer it, I found playing with a keyboard and mouse to be surprisingly enjoyable and easy after adjusting to some of its quirks. Though some keys can be remapped, certain keys for navigating menus can’t, which is disappointing as the menus weren’t well built for keyboard and mouse use. These little foibles aren’t terribly annoying though, and after a few hours I was comfortably navigating the menu even if I was having to reach to hit keys on the other end of the keyboard.

It’s a relief to say that the PC port of Dragon’s Dogma is as good as it is (even if it could still be better) because it means very little can come between enjoying one of the most unique and original RPGs released in the last few years. If you, like me, are exhausted by the proliferation of boring open world tropes like pointless filler content that constantly barrages you in an effort to keep you playing well after the credits have rolled, you’ll be happy to know that Dragon’s Dogma avoids many of these tired designs almost entirely.

Without a doubt, exploration and combat are the pillars that hold the whole experience up. The world of Gran Soren is a vast place to explore and so delightfully bursting with secrets and treasures that I felt compelled to explore every nook and cranny on the map. If you spy an inviting looking ledge you can jump to, chances are a treasure chest is waiting to reward you.

Combat remains the single best aspect of Dragon’s Dogma, so much so that it’s almost disappointing how few games have repurposed it. With a handful of classes to choose from and swap between at will (and more that combine two playstyles like the Magic Archer or Mystic Knight), each represents a unique and rewarding playstyle. Whether you’re throwing fireballs as a mage or scaling a towering ogre as a ranger, each discipline is worth investing in.

dragons dogma dark arisen insert5Hacking and slashing your way through hordes of enemies is fun, but Dragon’s Dogma is at its best when you’re battling against the monstrously large foes of Gran Soren like vicious chimeras, golems, and griffins. Each will need proper strategies in order to kill effectively and many will push your skills to the absolute limit. Combat in Dragon’s Dogma can frequently be white-knuckle hard, as enemies tear through your defenses effortlessly. But climbing onto the back of a cyclops and ramming your sword into its eye, riding it down as it tumbles to the ground, is a thrilling moment you’ll want to experience again and again.

If Dragon’s Dogma has any major faults, they mostly lie within how bland and forgettable the story can be. Any promise hinted at in the opening cutscene is mostly abandoned until the final moments of the game, which almost makes up for the hours of forgettable characters and nonsensical plot to deliver a finale that is positively bonkers. If you’re a fan of absurdity, Dragon’s Dogma has a pleasant surprise awaiting you.

The Dark Arisen expansion adds another 15 hours to the adventure in the form of a new island for you to test your mettle. But honestly, I doubt few will ever reach the lower depths of Bitterblack Isle. The experience can be so punishing, so fist-shakingly brutal, that it will remain an experience for only the most devoted and stalwart of players.

Dark Arisen does add a host of improvements to the base game which I do find myself conflicted over. Features like the danger of being stuck outside when night falls are trivialized by freely given items that allow you to fast travel around the world. They used to be a resource that you’d have to purchase for quite a sum of money, but now you’re free to teleport around the map at your leisure, which harms the adventurous feel of the game. New armor sets provided at the beginning of the game can also trivialize the growth of your characters as they outclass other items until much later in your journey.

But even in the face of these issues, I cannot help but smile every time I think about Dragon’s Dogma. Even if every new idea presented doesn’t always work or make sense, there is still so much originality and adventure at its heart that I’m inclined to overlook those moments of frustration. As open world games continue to cross-pollinate into one breed of the same, Dragon’s Dogma is endearingly quirky, flawed, and, above all else, fun.