Dragon’s Dogma initially released back in 2012 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 to almost critical acclaim. Since then it’s been expanded on and re-released, enhanced and re-released, and now it’s back in full swing on current gen hardware under the name of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen. I never had the chance to play the game before now, so I went into the experience with no preconceptions whatsoever. Being a fan of the formula I was naturally excited when the game was announced (following a few leaks), but far from surprised given Capcom’s current plan to remaster a grand selection of hit titles from their impressive portfolio. So what does Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen entice new and returning players with? Despite the fact that this version doesn’t differentiate too much in comparison to the PC version, we do get to enjoy better visuals and stability, as well as all previously released paid DLC. It helps of course that the asking price is quite generous, but is it worth investing in? Yes, most definitely yes.
Capcom chose quite a structured promotional run for Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, opting to showcase and compare the updated visuals over the last-gen counterparts with nearly every trailer that was unleashed. What I will say is that despite the fact that this game is hardly the best looking game on Xbox One, it is a remaster and not a remake after all, the differences between this version and the original version is clearly noticeable. The story is heavily fantasy based, casting you into the role of the Arisen, a hero that’s destined to reclaim your own heart from the dragon that ripped it from your very chest.
On the face of it you would be forgiven to believe that the story is merely one that revolves around vengeance and retribution, but you would be wrong. Sure, they certainly play key factors where the overall plot is concerned, but Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is much more than that. The very backbone of the campaign may well be identifiable, but everything else that holds the experience together is shrouded in mystery and intrigue. How and why the hell I never picked this up on original release is beyond me, but if you fall into that bracket too, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the tale on offer.
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen serves quite an impressive open world to trek through and although it doesn’t contend with the likes of The Witcher 3, it’s a decent, vast and immersive world to soak up nevertheless. This vastness is far from desolate thanks to the world being heavily populated and filled with plenty of things to see and do. In fact my only issue with the world is that travelling to key sections to take on quests of further progress the story can prove to be a chore, simply due to the lack of a straight forward fast-travel system. Instead you’ll need to purchase some pricey wares to teleport to and from distant locations, and when you either don’t have the coin or you’re saving up for something special, it’s tiresome to take on each lengthy journey by foot. I understand that the initial concept here was that the devs wanted players to take to the world and its dangers head-on, but the delivery in 2017 feels somewhat dated and restraint.
The gameplay in Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is held together by some very interesting and unique mechanics known as Vocations and Pawns, something you’ll be familiar with if you’ve played this before or have witnessed the countless promotional videos that Capcom released leading up to launch. To clear up any confusion it’s best to think of Vocations as Classes, something you would encounter in any given RPG game. When you start the game you only have access to a total of three Vocations, namely Fighter, Mage and Strider. You’ll unlock three advanced and hybrid Vocations once you reach a specific level. This enables you to toy around with the different play-styles, learn a variety of skills and even transfer them over. It’s a very in-depth, simplistic and robust system to get to grips with.
Pawns are AI controlled characters that behave depending on the Inclination that you select for them, which ultimately gives you more control over the fields of play. Pawns don’t have access to the same class system as your character does, but they serve the same core purpose regardless. It’s vital that you don’t neglect your Pawns because they do serve you based on how well you serve them. If you overlook them and fail to keep them inline with your character, you’ll often find yourself on the receiving end of an ass kicking. If however you keep them upgraded and treat them as the game intends, they’ll work hard to ensure that they put in the effort and earn their keep as a companion, if you like. Battles will play out much smoother if you and your Pawns are working together, dealing and taking as much damage as you possibly can before victory and defeat, respectively. Pawns will also push the narrative further via added dialogue throughout the adventure, as well as advise you in battle and obtain useful inventory.
Combat sees your character, your Pawn and two hired Pawns going head to head against an impressive variety of foes, all of which vary in size and shape. Most of your foes will house their own traits and behaviours, especially the epic boss battles that are littered throughout the course of the game. Once again the combat system doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of recently released (and more modern) titles, but it is in-depth and satisfying enough to stand its own ground. There’s no denying that the boss encounters are the best fights in the game. In an odd way it reminded me of the good old days, back when I would be sweating buckets against any given WEAPON boss in Final Fantasy VII. You can literally plug an hour into a boss fight and still come out with a sore backside and a lot less pride. To counter this it’s important to pay attention to each boss, and play against their weaknesses. Many of which tend to have mahoosive HP pools, but once you get your groove on, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as victoriously walking away from a gigantic lengthy battle. Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen never holds your hand outside of the opening hour of play, but that along with everything else that highlights the acclaim this game deservedly received, is what makes this experience so freakin’ epic.
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen hardly stands the tests of time as far as visuals are concerned, despite the fresh lick of paint, but it is a game that’s well designed and full of intricate details within the world it relays. It’s a shame that the game doesn’t offer up a decent fast-travel system, because travelling on foot does become pretty annoying before long. With those small issues to the side there’s a lot that Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen gets right. The Vocation and Pawn system is well crafted and the sheer amount of unlocks and abilities will prevent the journey from feeling stale, and when you group that with a solid combat system that rests upon a great deal of enemy and boss variants, it’s easy to see why this game was so well received upon initial release. The amount of content you’re getting in return for the generous price tag is quite simply a steal, especially if you’re a fan of RPG titles. Simply put, this is easily one of the better remasters from Capcom, now, how about a sequel?
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.