“Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen”
Video Game Review by Khelek
Title: Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360
Type of Game: Action RPG
“Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen”
Review by Khelek
Synopsis: Disclaimer: technically this isn’t a sequel to Dragon’s Dogma, this is actually the original game + the Dark Arisen expansion.
Essentially the game is the standard “hero saves the world” type of game set in a fantasy universe, however the intricate “pawn” system and multi-tiered class system, as well as the open-world exploration give this game a unique feeling I haven’t experienced in any other title.
STORY: The game begins with your character as a simple fisherman, who through a stroke of luck has his/her heart stolen by the Dragon, Grigori. Thus you become the “Arisen,” a legendary hero destined to save the world and the only one capable of slaying the dragon. As another part of being the Arisen, you gain control over “Pawns,” entities that come from another dimension called the Rift, which oddly resemble humans. However, their lack of emotions make them perfect allies for a hero. You create your own custom Pawn, and can recruit up to two other pawns (made by other players) into your party.
You travel from your humble fishing village, across the countryside, through the mountains and the treacherous Witchwood, until you reach the capital city of Gran Soren. There you meet many quest givers and join the “Wyrmhunt” in an effort to stop the dragon. Along the way, rival factions rear up, as well as the standard bandits and assassins. There’s even a cult dedicated to worshipping the Dragon. Eventually you challenge the Dragon, and depending on your choices you may succeed. This is where the game stands out, once the Dragon is defeated there is much more content to the game, and you may discover the conspiracy left by the Duke of the realm. The entire world changes and you can explore every corner with renewed vigor. Some allies become enemies, and some enemies become more badass enemies. And you finally discover the truth of this world, and find the “true” ending of the game. But I won’t spoil the surprise.
The last segment of the game is the expansion: Dark Arisen. This takes place in an area called Bitterblack Isle, and is accessible from the start of the game. However, the difficulty is extreme, so it is recommended only after beating the story. There is a story to Dark Arisen itself, which unfolds as you fight your way deep into the dungeons of Bitterblack, ultimately to fight the lord of the island: Daimon. Much like the Dragon, the island only expands once you’ve defeated Daimon. The denizens will prove a difficult fight for even the strongest player.
GRAPHICS: Graphically the game is beautiful. It won’t stand up to games like Far Cry 3, however the environments are lush, and the color scheme matches the mood of each place well. The dark dungeons are indeed dark enough that a torch is needed, while the wide-open plains are brightly lit during the day. At night you can spot goblin encampments in the hills by their bonfires.
AUDIO: The soundtrack for this game is amazing, the musical score really fits the title, and gives you a sense of purpose and wonder. The combat sounds (sword swinging, grunting, etc) are pleasing and realistic. Some of the voice acting could use work, and the limited number of statements the pawns are given is annoying (if I hear the phrase “aught of use” one more time!), but it’s a minor annoyance at best. Grigori himself, the Dragon, was expertly voiced.
GAMEPLAY: This is what made the game for me. The combat system is much like Dark Souls, except your character is much more responsive and it doesn’t feel like you have a lead weight in your pants. The game is third person, however the controls are fluid and the camera has free move without being difficult to control. It feels good to sprint down the road. And the grapple system allows you to throw small enemies, or climb up large enemies (like a drake) and pummel it from behind. Although the first time you get thrown off the back of a griffon in flight and die, you think twice about where you climb. Death is not the end, however, because there are Wakestones which, albeit expensive, can revive you without having to load a previous save.
Travel is perhaps the only disadvantage because you have to walk everywhere, but when you reach Gran Soren and gain access to Ferry Stones you can teleport to the major cities, and later you can place custom waypoints to teleport to.
The basic attacks and combos in the game are limited, however the overwhelming number of skills and combinations of skills mean endless replayability. You can be a mage, archer, or warrior. And there are two variations of each class (the game calls them vocations), and 3 hybrid classes. You can be an archer that supplements her arrows with magic, or a mage who enchants his shield to provide elemental defense. Or just a powerful mage and summon meteors to bombard your foes. Each class levels up independently, so at the beginning you will have a main class, but potentially you can have all classes max level and mix and match to find the best combination to take on certain bosses (believe me, you will).
The item system is very intricate and there are a number of rare weapons and gear that you will lust after (particularly the easter egg gear from the anime Berserk.) Based on how much gear you are carrying determines your character’s weight. A heavily armored player with lots of potions and food will be slow and use more stamina than a cloth wearing assassin with minimal supplies. However, the trade-off is sometimes important and sometimes it doesn’t matter based on player skill. A good player can avoid damage just as much with light armor as a heavy armored player can block. I will go out and say that in many circumstances it is essential to have a bow for ranged attacks, so this reliance on ranged is a slight drawback. However, you can always recruit a ranged pawn.
This leads me into the pawn system, you create your pawn using the same character editor as your player character (which is an extreme extensive character creator, better than Skyrim in my opinion). You then give your pawn a class. He/she can be any class with the exception of hybrid classes, so they have a specific role. For example, I play mainly as a Mystic Knight (warrior/mage hybrid) while my pawn is a Mage (healing/debuff/buff mage class). I can recruit my friend’s pawn who is a Ranger (advanced archer) and another friend’s who is an Assassin (archer/warrior hybrid). The best part of the game, is that unlike other character creation games, once you have beaten the game (and even to some extent before then) you can completely edit your character’s appearance, voice, and other attributes. With the exception of their level growth (there are 200 levels, and depending on which classes you are when you level up determine which stats raise higher). The amount of pawns is deafening, you can find original creations, or ones based on pop culture. Don’t be surprised if you run into a few Robb Starks or Narutos. The pawns also have a personality, or rather an inclination. For example, an aggressive pawn will charge into battle, while a defensive pawn will stay by your side and defend you. This personality is changed by talking to your pawn and answering a series of questions, as well as how you directly order them to participate in combat. (ie if you order your pawn to charge in a lot, they will slowly become an aggressive type). As I said earlier under audio, they have a limited number of lines, and sometimes it gets annoying when they repeat the same statement over and over again. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Will show up a lot. But, it’s not a game breaker.
Lastly I’ll mention the enemy types and environment. Enemies range from standards such as bandits, giant rats, and goblins; to your large enemy types like hydras, griffons, and drakes (of which there are 3 specific types). The addition of Dark Arisen adds even more enemies such as giant hell hounds and Gorecyclopes. Enemies can be flying or ground based, as well as lizard enemies which stealth. Some enemies such as the cockatrice use petrification and can turn you to stone if you’re not careful. Each enemy will require a different strategy to defeat. For example, Golems are immune to magic, so a mage character would do best to stand back and allow his/her allies to fight, while supporting from the rear. Enemies won’t all attack the player, if a griffon and some direwolves both encounter you, they may end up fighting each other just as much. As for the environment, there are many locales ranging from the heights of the mountains and the Crescent Moon Pass, to the dark and foggy forest of the Witchwood. Each offers different encounters and some enemies may only be found in certain areas. In addition, time of day also affects the environment. The outskirts of the capital’s walls may be safe and patrolled by day, but at night the undead rise and pray on the traveler foolish enough to be out before dawn. Another random note, the undead are actually like zombies and will grab and bite you, rather than some games where they are just corpses holding swords. I thought that was kind of unique to this genre. Also, do not go to deep water, as you cannot swim. Your character will simply be swallowed by a mysterious entity called the “Brine” and wash up on shore somewhere else. There is a law system in the capital, but should you break the law and go to jail, you can just walk out. I thought that was kind of disappointing as other than personal emotions, there’s nothing really stopping you from being evil.
As far as multiplayer, you can share your pawn with other players and they gain experience by fighting with others. But with the way the game is designed, it would have naturally synced with even one other player in the same game. I hope Capcom makes a true sequel with fully realized co-op. Until then, you’ll have to slay the Dragon solo.
OVERALL: The “epic” story combined with the overwhelming amount of items and customization for both you and your pawn add unfathomable levels of replayability. The large variety of quests and the open world environment keep you coming back for more. I really can’t adequately explain this gem of a game. Sure, maybe if you’re like me and beat the game 50 times while putting in 200+ hours you will get bored. But for close to $20, that’s a hell of a deal.
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