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Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: Jan. 15, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


PC Review - 'Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen'

by Brian Dumlao on Feb. 3, 2016 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

Set in a huge open world, Dragon's Dogma offers an exhilarating and fulfilling action combat game with the freedom to explore and interact in a rich, living and breathing world. Alongside your party of three, you set out to track down and destroy a mysterious dragon.

Buy Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen

If you were to ask gamers to name a Capcom RPG, the answer will differ depending on their age or tendencies. Those who are retro gaming fans will likely say Breath of Fire, a traditional JRPG series that began on the Super NES. Ask people with more modern tendencies, and they'll probably name action-RPG Monster Hunter. There is a third group, however, that will answer the question with Dragon's Dogma, Capcom's attempt at marrying its action mechanics with more Western RPG traits. The game, which launched on the PS3 and Xbox 360, had enough of an audience to produce an advanced sequel subtitled Dark Arisen as well as an online version that seems relegated to Japan for the moment. Without any public intentions to bring that to North America anytime soon, Capcom has done the next best thing for PC gamers and brought Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen to the platform three years after it hit consoles.

You start with an unknown knight and his companions as they venture on a quest to slay a dragon. After a few monsters are taken care of, including a rather impressive chimera, the party gains access to the lair of the beast. The game then fast-forwards a few generations as a dragon reappears in the world. Taking control of a different character, you fight off the beast but fail when the creature takes your heart. Miraculously, you're not dead, and as an Arisen (as you are now dubbed in the world), you try to find that same dragon and take your heart back.

The premise is simple enough, and the same can be said for the setup. The various endings are all fulfilling, especially if you go for the true ending and initiate a New Game+ immediately afterward. Everything in the middle, however, seems pretty repetitive as far as the side-quests and twists go. It doesn't help that your character refuses to speak throughout the game, so you don't get constant motivation to hunt down the beast. It is also disappointing that most of the characters are uninteresting, giving you even less of a reason to care about the tale. Some may like the fact that the tale is pretty loose and open to interpretation toward the end, but if you're looking for a gripping and focused tale, you won't find it here.

The rest of the game is rather interesting in several different ways. Like many modern Western RPGs, Dragon's Dogma opts for a more open world to explore, and though it may not look it, the land is packed with loads of secrets to uncover. Various chests with weapons and armor are all over the place, so it helps to go off the beaten path. The world is also completely open from the get-go, so early on, you can wander into areas full of high-level monsters; this occurs  quite often since the hints to progress the story can sometimes be rather vague. That sense of discovery when you've stumbled into an area you're not supposed to is what makes the open-world RPG endearing, and it is great to see it here without any handholding whatsoever. Naturally, all of this means that you'll be forced to traverse long stretches of land to go from one mission to another, but the presence of cheap warp stones helps to ease the experience a bit, especially once you find the one that grants infinite warping.

The class system, while seemingly traditional at first, turns out to have more depth than expected. After messing around with a robust character creation system and getting your heart eaten by the dragon, you can choose between one of three classes. The mage is a perfect distance fighter who has great elemental and healing abilities, the warrior is better suited for melee skirmishes, and the strider is the balance between the two with his great speed, arrows and daggers. The play styles are distinct enough, and you can switch between the classes, retaining their own experience apart from your own personal XP to ensure that your progression toward unlocking new traits and abilities isn't lost. Even better, you'll eventually unlock more classes that act as hybrids between the three core ones, so you'll have the chance to find one that suits your play style.

The combat system is what will really turn people's heads, as it is more involved compared to its contemporaries. You've got standard light and heavy attacks, and some classes also support a jump and projectile attack. Combining them with trigger and shoulder buttons also gives you a few more moves, especially once you level up. While those can be found in other titles, it is the grab motion that sets apart this game. As in a beat-'em-up, you can grab an enemy to drag them to another spot or throw them. You can even use the move to hold enemies in place while someone else inflicts damage on them. Grab is most useful when facing large creatures, as it provides you with a tactical advantage against creatures with hackable parts. You can hack away at a griffon on the ground, for example, but jumping on its back to hack its wings prevents it from flying. The act is even more satisfying when you do it while it's in flight and the now-wingless creature hurtles to the ground. Moments like that are signature pieces of the game and make it feel more involved than other titles.

Likewise, the pawn system is pretty interesting and done well. You create your pawn, which acts as a companion throughout the game. Aside from its appearance, you can also give your pawn a class, equipment and weapons. For the most part, these pawns are pretty competent on the field, and they level up just like you do, so you're never stuck with terribly weak pawns. Aside from your own pawn, you can hire up to two more at any time to go with you in missions. Their allegiance is temporary, though, as they can die, forcing you to hire different pawns if you still need help.

What makes the system more interesting is the fact that every pawn that you meet or hire was created by another player. In a way, this helps facilitate the feeling of multiplayer without having real interaction. Furthermore, you can loan out your own pawn to others. Not only does this benefit you by giving you currency, but your own pawn also provides you with information about an area if he or she has already been there in a hired quest. While not an outright replacement for what you would experience in the MMO version of this game, it's a very good substitute for those who aren't necessarily interested in MMOs.

All of these mechanics, including item crafting, come together to produce something rather memorable even to players who gave this a shot all those years ago. Beyond games that take their cues from the Monster Hunter series, there's nothing quite like taking down a large chimera piece by piece with a party that knows what they're doing most of the time. Even then, doing that kind of thing here feels more fulfilling due to the various moves and abilities you can unleash at any time. For a company's first attempt at a different style of RPG, it feels like Capcom has been doing this for years when you consider how well put together everything is.

There are a few things that can be annoying about Dragon's Dogma. Even though combat is done well, it would've been better if the missions weren't so repetitive. The various fetch quests and escort missions give you a good excuse to roam the world, but they feel rather tired. The food rotting system is inventive and appropriate, considering how the title favors more practical forms of weaponry and armor over the flashy stuff. However, having to manage the menus to constantly get rid of expired foods can be tedious, especially if you're using a keyboard/mouse combination in a menu system that was built for controllers. Finally, while it is nice that your pawns speak to you, it can be frequent enough to reach the point of annoyance, especially when they start to point out obvious things. Luckily, you can mute them if you wish.

Though it arrives on the PC three years after hitting the previous generation of consoles, the game isn't a remaster but a straight port. Compared to more current games, some of the character models could use some more detail, and their mouth animations outside of cut scenes seem nonexistent. Evidence of this being a port is also apparent since a number of textures are rather blurry, such as the simple clothes you start with and the ground in most areas. Even the lighting could use some improvement, as the gradual glow of a lantern being fired up for the first time is too jarring to be realistic. To make up for this, the game supports loads of video options and 4K resolution if you have the hardware for it. It also has stable frame rates ranging from 30 if you want the console look to an uncapped max frame rate if you want a butter-smooth experience. Those two things help some of the more beautiful elements look gorgeous, like the larger creature designs, especially when you bathe the area in loads of particle effects. Animations are well done, and some of improved textures give you an idea of how the game would look if Capcom were to release this on the current crop of consoles. One interesting thing to note is that the game sports a more normal 16:9 resolution instead of the original's widescreen ratio, taking away the cinematic look but giving you more visibility for your environments.

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is a great RPG that can really shine on more powerful hardware. Without any restrictions to the graphical fidelity and frame rate, players can appreciate the game's depth and engaging combat system. Although real multiplayer would've been nice, the pawn system more than makes up for it, and the sheer amount of content and a New Game+ mode makes this an experience to savor. Unless you're burned out by open-world RPGs, Dragon's Dogma is worth checking out.

Score: 8.5/10

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