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Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: Oct. 3, 2017

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PS4 Review - 'Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen'

by Michael Keener on Dec. 28, 2017 @ 12:00 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

Dragon's Dogma is an action-RPG that was originally released on the Xbox 360 and PS3 in 2012. Developed and published by Capcom, it was a breakout game, especially in Japan. A year later came the release of the expansion, Dark Arisen, which added more quests, a new game map, weapons, and new creatures that need slaying. Some of the game's most popular features include climbing the bodies of creatures to deal greater damage and a pawn system that customizes the player's experience by introducing them to other players' allies. In celebration of the game's fifth anniversary, it has been re-released on current-gen platforms as Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, which has upgraded visuals, rebalancing, and all the other elements that made it an amazing title.

Upon loading up the game and selecting the difficulty level, you'll control a warrior named Savan. You stand outside of a cave entrance with a friend, who acts as a mentor in the game basics. On-screen help text is present as you learn the ins and outs of viewing and using inventory items. It's slow, but tutorials are necessary, even if they're boring. The intensity of the action is immediately evident as you walk into the structure and witness a red dragon blow fire across the walkway you need to use. It's an early indication of the size and ambition of Dragon's Dogma.

The story takes you into the future, when the red dragon is released upon the world again. He falls from the sky as solid as a statue before breaking into his full form, and he's accompanied by hundreds of other smaller flying creatures. In this cinematic scene, he travels to a fishing village that's located on the coast, which the hero Savan calls home. In an effort to save the village, the player challenges the dragon on the beach. Between his massive size and your underpowered abilities, he gets the upper hand and knocks you on your back before ripping out your heart and swallowing it. This event turns you into an "arisen." The tale follows you on a path of heroic actions across the world as you chase down the dragon. The greater quest is helping the duke of Gran Soren infiltrate and interrupt the Salvation cult, who hopes to use the dragons for its own horrific causes.  

Players can customize the protagonist with a healthy selection of options, including complexion, gender, hairstyle, height, voice, weight, and smaller details, such as facial feature proportions and facial hair. It wouldn't be a decent action-RPG title if it didn't involve a variety of character classes. Later, you'll be able to choose a class, or vocation, such as a Fighter, Mage, Ranger, Strider, Warrior, and more. You can do almost anything with a class, but the advantages each have make an argument that one could be more fun than another. I spent my time as a Strider, which helped with climbing large creatures.  Rangers focus on bows and dagger playstyles, Sorcerers specialize in staffs, and Warriors specialize in great swords and warhammers.

The combat in Dragon's Dogma is one of the best I've experienced in an RPG to date. Aside from the ability to climb on creatures, which can be done on almost any creature of substantial size by running up and jumping, a variety of attacks is available. There's a basic attack and strong attack, but depending on which shoulder button is held, you can also perform other attacks. These may be high attacks that have your hero swinging his or her weapon in the sky to hit flying enemies. I wish there were a target lock, as I often tried to block an enemy's attack, but my guy couldn't turn around quickly enough. The best advice is to use your pawns as bait until you can find which enemy is targeting you, and then quickly pick him apart.

Dragon's Dogma can have a Dark Souls vibe, especially when playing on hard mode. Hard mode gives enemies stronger attacks and makes your hero weaker to all attacks, so you'll need to decide how much stress you want from your playthroughs. After restarting the introduction a dozen times, I contemplated changing the difficulty level to normal. If you do the same, you'll get a notification that says if you return to hard mode at another time, you'll be forced to restart the game, even though your data accompanies you.

The pawns are important for your travels. You'll get a main pawn, which can be fully customized and can travel with you endlessly. Then you can get two other pawns, who act like hired mercenaries. If you connect your account online, the pawns will be other players' main pawns, and likewise, your main pawn can be summoned into other people's worlds to aid them. Allowing your pawn to do this will see him return with rewards and quests. It's a great system, and although I wish it would've been more of a co-op experience to be enjoyed among friends, the subtle connection with the community makes you feel like progression is constant, even in the smallest of ways.

By now, there's a noticeable trend in the re-releases of previous-generation titles. Aside from the fact that nearly every company is participating, re-releases depend on virtually the same changes to propel sales: sharper visuals, brighter colors, and removing the foggy filter that games used to rely on. We've seen the same changes in Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed: The Ezio Collection, Bandai Namco's Dark Souls 2, and Capcom's Resident Evil: Revelations. Who would complain about the opportunity to play upgraded classics on a current-gen console?

Of course, when Dragon's Dogma was originally released, the graphics looked phenomenal at the time, so it underachieves a little when compared to today's releases, but it still looks gorgeous. However, some 3-D elements, like rubble or a pile of rocks, look flat when they should show some depth. This isn't the case for everything, though, as grass is distinguishable from the ground, and you'll often find a pile of enemy corpses lies on environments like it should. Picking up and throwing the bodies also places them in a position that is reactive to the game world.

The music is great, and I particularly liked the feeling from the start, with a main menu theme song that encapsulates the world of swords and dragons. There's a medieval vibe, and a woman sings about a tale regarding the dragon and the lands. It's awesome and sets the precedent that the music enhances the adventure. Additionally, the voice acting is surprisingly well done, although the lip sync is not the greatest. With fewer facial animations, it can be difficult to match lip movements with the speech. The red dragon takes the cake with the voices. His deep and heavy voice is fear-inducing, and his vocabulary is impressive, so the riddles in his words make him feel like a sophisticated beast who will be difficult to defeat or trick.

Almost any RPG fan would love Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, which shares many similarities with games like Dragon Age and The Witcher. The combat is more of a focus, so you're in some epic scenarios with giant monsters. Even better, the giant monsters can be climbed to reach better target spots on their bodies. It's one of the most exciting combat systems in the RPG genre. Dark Arisen is a re-release of a game from 2012, so it has a few graphical setbacks that we'd otherwise find in titles developed for current-gen platforms, but nothing breaks the experience or immersion. Things that we'd usually polished in a sequel have been applied, such as sharper environments, greater contrast with the in-game lighting, less background fog that originally hid hide low details, and better detailed characters and creatures. All in all, Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is one of the best action-RPG titles out there, even though it's an upgraded port from the prior console generation.

Score: 8.5/10

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