By Greg Newbegin
When I wrote my review for Dragon's Dogma almost a year ago, I concluded by stating that I would certainly sign up to play a sequel -- a game that was crafted to (ideally) be better than its predecessor. The original Dragon's Dogma was fun, if a little flawed, and quite frustrating to play.
What I wasn't terribly keen to do was play any MORE of Dragon's Dogma -- I had my fill writing the review. But when I saw Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, and I heard that Capcom planned to use this expansion as a way to improve of the original, I thought, "why not?"
I am confused by its presentation, though. Essentially, it is only DLC (although Capcom tries to play it off as an "improved version of Dragon's Dogma") -- a new quest and a whole new location is added, with additional enemies, bosses, weapons and so on. You know, the usual. However, the boxed version comes complete with the original title, making things slightly confusing; sure, it's not a full-priced packaged product, but nonetheless, it's confusing.
On the flip side, though, it's clever. Capcom knows that some of the improvements they've made overall (which also apply to the original title quest) make the game better as a whole, so in some ways, Dark Arisen is intended to replace the original.
What's changed? Well, apart from the new island "Bitterblack Isle," and the new quests, not a great deal. Some balancing tweaks have been made, and the cost of ferrystones has been reduced (these are required for fast travel -- one of my main issues with the original game), but the game remains the same, for the most part.
Quick recap: You play in third-person, travel from quest-to-quest fighting enemies with weapon and magic. Aiding you along the way are "pawns," otherworldly assistants that fight alongside you and make comment along the way. However, only your main pawn will level up -- the remaining two are selected (either randomly or by the player) from the rift, and can constitute friends' main pawns). Note to new players: keep on top of the pawn system, swap them out often, and balance fighting styles. If you do this from the beginning, it will be less painful.
Herein lies the issue -- the game is still sadistically difficult. In fact, it could even be MORE difficult. Death, who players will meet from time to time in Bitterblack Isle, will tear you and your pawns to shreds in no time flat. Actually, many enemies will -- Capcom recommends players to be at least level 50 before attempting the Dark Arisen content. I had to go back and grind in Gransys when I started. That sucked a bit.
Still, even given the frustrating difficulty, I enjoyed Dark Arisen. For a game of this difficulty, there needs to be a relatively robust fast travel system, and -- for me at least -- it needs to be pretty linear. I HATE a difficult game that requires me to grind about across an open map. Like the core game does. Sigh.
Dark Arisen is very linear, and feels like a dungeon brawler as opposed to an open-world RPG, and it benefits from that. Somehow, though, I did find myself doubling back on locations and coming across repeated assets, which was a little annoying. I guess it is an add-on, after all, but with 10-15 hours of added questing, it was a bit strange to be feeling like I'd been there before, so many times.
Overall, Dark Arisen does improve on Dragon's Dogma - if only by making fast travel more user-friendly. Gamers carrying over a save file from the original will also find themselves with an UNLIMITED ferrystone (which, uh... didn't work for me) and a bunch of Rift Crystals to be doled out on whatever they choose. This did make things much more enjoyable.
Was it somewhere I was glad to go back to? Not really. If you loved the original, Dark Arisen will make you very happy - it's essentially more of the same. If, like me, you were frustrated by some strange design choices and frustrating difficulty, this isn't likely to change your opinion. But if you've never played Dragon's Dogma before? This is the way it should be played; just make your way through the core storyline before you head off to Bitterblack Isle.