Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Dragon Dogma: Dark Arisen Review


There are games that offer you rich well-written stories, with deep and developed characters, plot twists and cinematic flare that makes you feel like you are in a wonderland of video-game magic. Your Bioshocks, Heavy Rains, Uncharteds, Metal Gears, whatever “triple A” titles you can name off. Then there are games that are flawed with flat, boring characters, poorly developed plots, but so darnn fun that you really couldn't care less about the actual motivation behind the story… If you are confused, Dragon's Dogma falls into the latter half.

For those of you who have yet to experience the Dragon's Dogma experience, a refresher might be in order. Released a little under a year ago, Dragon's Dogma is a third-person action RPG developed and published by Capcom. Directed by Itsuno (the brilliant mind behind some of my favorite games, including Power Stone 2, SMT Nocturne, Devil May Cry 3, and Resident Evil Outbreak) the game features a lot of his signature style, very evident in the gameplay. Some have compared it to Demon's Souls, having a very action oriented feel, though focusing a lot less on blocking and parrying.

It's a tradition RPG in the sense of progression and classes. You create your own character and a pawn (a weird race of spirit slaves), pick a class from the usual list of fighter, mage, ranger, etc., and then going along your way murdering everything that gets in your way. There is an attempt at a story, you are an Arisen, someone who has had his heart taken by a dragon and are now destined to fight it and get your heart back..or something. There is some side-plots of treachery and love and all that typical crap and, for what it attempts, it works in a sense. The plot makes sense (to a degree) and the ending is pretty cool… But the game never blows you away, and I don't get the idea that it's really trying to either. It's just trying to be fun… And god darn does it succeed.

There is a lot more to the game, the job system is very flexible (you aren't tied to just one and are encouraged to learn / master as many as you can) and there is a system of upgrading equipment. While the game lacks traditional multi-play, you can send your main pawn into this magical realm where he or she can be hired by other players. You can do the same as well. What this means is that on top of your main character and your main pawn, you can hire two other pawns from other players. These pawns have the same equipment and “progress” their players had obtained for them, meaning pawns from further in the game would give you hints on how to solve quests if they had already beaten them. It's a pretty cool system that incorporates a “multiplayer” aspect with out actually doing so. Party of me would have liked for the game to just go the extra step and allow friends to join your game as their main pawns but I can understand why they didn't do this, it's fun none the less.

Now this brings up to Dark Arisen, an ‘expansion” of some sorts that includes the original copy of Dragon's Dogma but also a plethora of tweaks and fixes to the game, make this a kinda of “Game of the Year” edition. Now there is some crap around the whole release… Capcom refused to release the DLC and tweaks by themselves, because apparently you can't “patch” the original game and put this into it… I don't know if that's true, and given Capcom's recent history with DLC, I'm going to assume it isn't… It's poo, we can call it how it is but that doesn't make Dark Arisen a bad game. It's thankfully priced pretty low to begin with, and a simple trade in of the original game can go towards the expansion, which includes the original (as previous stated) so it's not ALL bad. But that aside… How is Dark Arisen?

It's pretty fantastic. The biggest addition to Dragon's Dogma is Bitterblack Isle, an “end game” dungeon that the player can explore for some powerful new gear and the opportunity to level up equipment even more, thus making everything much more powerful. Truthfully there is just a ton of new crap in this expansion. The end result is just simply this, if you liked Dragon's Dogma… There is now more for you to do.

The unfortunate nature of the core original game was that after a certain point, the game became too easy. Your levels became too high and almost everything you ran into was a pretty easy slaughter. Bitterblack changes this. Everything in Bitterblack is designed to murder you. The monsters and bosses are harder (possibly even unbeatable depending on your skill) and you'll realize this as soon as you enter the first set of rooms. Almost as if to laugh at people hoping to “smooth” along, Dark Arisen throws Death at you, quite literally, right off the bat. My first encounter resulted in my entire team of four characters being instantly killed in a second.

While not everything is unbeatable, there is defiantly a large difficulty spike but it gets easier as you get better equipment via the new dungeon. Equipment is also obtained a slightly less conventional manner than the original game. You obtain items in the dungeon (marked as “Gear / Equipment” of a certain level) and then must have it identified by an NPC which will allow you to equip and use said gear. I'm personally not a fan of this method. It eliminates a lot of “skill” from finding new equipment and reduces it to luck. It seems to encourage just simply quitting the game when you don't like rewards you obtain and trying again.

As a whole though, Dark Arisen is a fantastic game and clearly the definitive version of Dragon's Dogma. If you have yet to play the series, it's clearly the version to pick up. If you already own the original, it's tough to be forced to re-buy it, but I would heavily recommend it, especially if you enjoyed the first journey through it. The game still has it's flaws… It's a tough game, it requires skill, patience, and most importantly, time. It's got a pretty dumb story and the DLC's story isn't much better, but it's an impressive game with wonderful gameplay and an adventure you'd be foolish to miss.