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.
Dragon’s Dogma from 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.
Hacking 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.