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Review

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen Review

  • First Released
  • Reviewed: April 24, 2013
  • X360
Aaron Sampson on Google+

Dark Arisen adds some great new content to the excellent Dragon's Dogma, though the new dungeon's unbalanced difficulty turns fun into frustration.

On Bitterblack Isle, there's always something nasty lurking in the darkness. Perhaps it's a ferocious wolf that snarls and charges, forcing you to run to safety or block its substantial weight. Maybe it's a two-story-tall ogre, once restrained by impossibly strong chains, now on the loose and hungry for entrails. Or it might be the chilly grasp of death itself, the grim reaper floating menacingly toward you and threatening eternal sleep.

This island dungeon harbors many fears, and is the main new attraction in Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, a rerelease of one of 2012's best role-playing games, with new content added to tempt the faithful back to the city of Gran Soren and beyond. Strangely, Bitterblack Isle isn't available to you any other way, though it would seem to be a prime candidate for release as a downloadable add-on. In any case, if you're a Dragon's Dogma veteran, seeing this new content means buying a new version of the game for $40, though the extensive dungeon is no small morsel, which makes it an intriguing proposition for returning adventurers. What a pity, then, that much of the new content gets in its own way, sometimes making it difficult to enjoy the story's hushed mystery and the undeniable thrills of felling a gargantuan winged cockatrice.

If you're new to Dragon's Dogma, however, be prepared for a journey unlike any other. The core game is a flawed beauty, an almost-classic that merges the open-air qualities of Western role-playing games with the harsh delights and frustrations of Capcom's own Monster Hunter series. The setting is the fantasy land of Gransys, which is flush with soft greens, browns, and grays; it's a weary place, burdened by the colossal creatures that roam its plains. Dragon's Dogma looks initially bland, but the soft consistent hues allow ornate towers to cut a powerful silhouette against the swaying trees. An additional disc allows you to install higher-resolution textures to your hard drive (as well as an optional Japanese voice track), which makes Gransys look sharper than before, though not dramatically so.

Of course there are dragons! It's right there in the name.

As described in the original review, Dragon's Dogma comes with its fair share of frustrations, though the wonders overshadow the weaknesses. Most of the standout moments come by way of astounding encounters with cyclopes, griffons, chimeras, and the like, with many such monstrosities looking like various creature parts were grafted together to create fearsome, never-before-seen breeds. If you choose a melee-combat class, you can leap onto these roaring beasts and climb all over them if you desire, stabbing them in the head until they throw you to the ground in a fit of disgust. Or you might summon an icy eruption and fling your foe toward the heavens, if magic is more your style.

Whichever path you follow, these battles are a constant thrill, with monsters rearing up and flailing about as you might imagine they should, presuming you have ever imagined what the progeny of a wolf and a jumbo chicken would look like. You're joined in these endeavors by three helpers--pawns, as they're called--that express unreserved wonder at their surroundings when not setting goblins on fire. "Perhaps we'll find aught of use," one might say as you scavenge for curatives--and a bunch of other times, too. "Attack when it reels!" another calls out in the midst of battle, reminding you of what you already knew. Having the company of pawns is like babysitting curious children, though like curious children, they often do what they wish, even when it isn't the wisest option. They have a way of getting trampled by ogres even when they acknowledge aloud that it's best to attack from behind, and if they're in the midst of casting spells, they probably won't respond to your manual command to regroup.

Brace yourself: it's gonna be a bumpy ride.

Dark Arisen's new area, Bitterblack Isle, offers many of the main game's same delights, but it also tips the scales too far toward the "frustrating" end, especially in the final third of your sojourn. You reach Bitterblack Isle by speaking to a shimmering maiden who appears on the docks at Cassardis at nightfall. Her name is Olra, and she is still piecing together her memories of how she came to the dark, dreary island she transports you to. As you make your way through the dungeon's dank passages, a melancholy tale of love and loss forms, related by the groans of an unseen visitor and the etchings that you piece together on a monolithic memorial.

The cheerlessness carries over into exploration. Bitterblack Isle's biggest battles occur in spacious arenas and gardens, though much of the time, you are trudging through narrow corridors, holding your breath lest some flaming lizard reveal itself. Developer Capcom recommends that you be at least level 50 when you enter, and for the first two stages of the dungeon, that seems about right. There are moments that have you uttering profanities during these hours, though, such as at the first appearance of your pursuer, Death, who sometimes appears in a brief, terrifying moment of near-blackness. This dark lord is likely to mercilessly annihilate you along with any pawns nearby before you realize you're meant to do scant amounts of damage, then run before you succumb to his will.

Elsewhere, enemies are relentless with status effects: you are blinded, drenched, and poisoned so frequently that you might well run out of the items you need to cure yourself. There is plenty of moaning and groaning involved in this process, often when facing another randomly appearing enemy: an ogre that goes into a frenetic rampage when you have whittled his health bar down far enough to make him truly angry. But in the first two-thirds of the game, the obese fiend's appearances aren't insurmountable, and besides, there's always the chance he'll just fall off a bridge and into the chasm beneath.

At this stage, Dark Arisen does a fine job of building terror as you round each bend, only to release it in a life-or-death encounter with a mammoth eyeball and the tentacles that protect it. It's an incredible thrill to leap onto that beast's eyelid and slash away at the unprotected cornea; you can sense the thing's pain at having its tender anatomy violated. You could also come upon rampaging dark wolves, which snarl and pounce, practically inviting you to grasp their fur and bash at them with your sword, with you praying that your healer stays out of the creatures' way, and inevitably pouting when she doesn't.

While Dark Arisen has a smart handle on how to induce tension, it fumbles greatly when it comes to offering a proper challenge. There is an insane shift in difficulty that occurs when you head into the final lap. Here, Bitterblack Isle turns ugly, even if you are playing 10 or 15 levels beyond the suggested level. Multiple giant beasts clog up tiny rooms, giving you no chance to maneuver, and turning battles into desperate attempts to keep your pawns alive by resurrecting them over and over. Multiple sorcerers catch you up in whirlwinds that destroy you the moment you enter the arena. A single archer can send you flying clear across a room and into a small crowd of mages. There's no sense of balance or momentum. The game goes from being sometimes frustrating but normally fair, to breaking the idea of a difficulty curve entirely.

These demonic knights and the dark hallways they prowl aren't the only parts of Dark Arisen that will remind you of Dark Souls.

You might try spending large sums of rift crystals to summon overleveled pawns, which can alleviate some of the frustration, but rift crystals are used as a currency in Dark Arisen in a variety of ways, such as to rebuild broken riftstones. You also spend rift crystals to have Olra cleanse the new cursed items you collect and reveal them to be powerful accessories, weapons, or armor pieces. It's a treat to discover that one of these Bitterblack items is a potent staff that amplifies your sorcerer pawn's magical abilities. But with all these rift crystals being used for purposes other than to purchase pawns, you might run too low to resummon an expensive pawn, and thus be tempted to buy more from the in-game downloadable content store--for real money, of course.

Dark Arisen may very well expect you to grind levels to compensate for the lack of balance, but the pace-breaking nature of this tonal shift is outrageous--and if you are approaching the content with a higher-level character, you might then find the early areas too toothless to be gratifying. Thankfully, revisiting other areas of the dungeon reveals secrets you probably missed, refreshes treasure chests with new loot, and pits you against creatures that didn't dog you the first time through. Suddenly, there isn't just a cyclops running after you, but two demon wolves too. But the grind becomes wearisome once you've trod the same hallways enough times, making you long for Gransys' verdant fields.

Spiders go down easy, but their venom can do more harm than you might expect.

A consumable item at least makes it easy to get back to Bitterblack Isle's entrance, and Olra is happy to whisk you away to Cassardis. From there, you can easily teleport to Gran Soren and other portcrystals using an eternal ferrystone. How wonderful that you no longer need to trample through the same fields over and over again, though portcrystals aren't so common that you can just jump around Gransys willy-nilly. And when you feel ready to face the frights of Bitterblack Isle once more, you can quickly do so using the same ferrystone.

The dungeon's nonsensical plunge into unfairness comes as a shock, even in a game built on vague rules and fluctuations of challenge. And yet even this new region is so eerily beautiful, its hallways and courtyards so intricately constructed, that you might overcome the irritations and grind to the conclusion (or, heaven forbid, drop the difficulty level), if just to greet the ghoulish final boss and see an end to the ethereal story. There's a pervading sadness to Bitterblack Isle that makes its best battles feel all the more ferocious. If you're a newcomer, however, Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen has plenty of beasts for you to conquer before you need worry about the demons wandering the isle's halls. If that's you, you should stop the reading and get to the slaying.

The Good
Bitterblack Isle features lots of great battles with fearsome foes
Ominous atmosphere and pensive story enhance tension on the isle
Eternal ferrystone eases the burdens of long journeys
The main game remains a special thrill
The Bad
The grueling final third of the new dungeon lacks any sense of balance or fun
Pawns require more babysitting than ever
7
Good
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Discussion

283 comments
xGarrettThiefX
xGarrettThiefX

For nasty deeds done dirt cheap please hire my pawn..." Lum the Mad "

Cartr1dgeBased
Cartr1dgeBased

add me: cartr1dgebased

pawn is  a warrior lvl ~19

jakesnakeel
jakesnakeel

Curious if they have they patched the game since release to address any release issues like balancing?  

Ice-Cube
Ice-Cube

Free for PS+ subscribers, looks interesting.  

Securator
Securator

A 7...??. The original review gave it 8 and now it's a 7. Do you mean to say that the expansion has further deteriorated the game..??.

The negative points the original review mentioned i.e costly ferrystones, backtracking etc have all been fixed in dark arisen, it's as if capcom was reading all those bullshit internet reviews and went ahead and fixed each one of them. I really hoped that there was a separate review for dark arisen, and now that there is, it's this crap. Also it's by Kevin VanOrd who i thought knew his RPG, and understood that backtracking in a dynamic open world rpg is essential to instill the scale and complexity of the game world.

I mean introducing fast travel would have been a giant fuck you to the various glorious monsters you randomly meet in Dark Arisen. It's like intoducing fast travel in a gta game, it would totally contradict the game. Also the difficulty on Bitterblack is only high if you don't know what you're doing with your character build. I'v seen builds that can one shot any enemy in the game. The point of all the backtracking and the giant boss battles is to make you adept to this difficulty.

Dragon's Dogma is the most underrated game of the decade, and a prime testament to the fact that  gamespot reviewers don't know what they're smoking.

Virtual_Erkan
Virtual_Erkan

Why I liked this game? Because the game has massive things to do rather than Skyrim's generic dungeons with repeating useless loots and poor combat.

MrTakeda
MrTakeda

This game is just great! The Best thing about Dragons Dogma is its epic battles.

Jabba-Dah-Hut
Jabba-Dah-Hut

Dragon's Dogma is a very under-appreciated game that was overshadowed by Bethesda's colossus "Skyrim." I played the original title and have beaten the game five or six times. After trading it in to Bull Mouse I quickly realized that I had made a mistake, and in April purchased the rerelease entitled "Dragon's Dogma Dark Arisen." The game is on my favorites list and is one of the few that I'll keep in my permanent collection.

I'm not saying that this game is perfect. the Voice acting and some of the humanoid characters like the princess could be improved. The overall story could be fleshed out as well. However, at the same time I feel that the developers left the story to the players' own interpretation which i believe is what a game, as well as any true piece of art should do.

Dragon's Dogma renewed my hope in Capcom as well as the gaming industry as a whole. Its good to see other developers besides Bethesda take the necessary risk to push a new title through. Im sick of FPS, and button mashing games that ask nothing from the player. A game should be challenging, it should provide the player with a new experience, and it should carry a message that can be viewed outside the confines of the game itself.

I love Dragon's Dogma, faults and all.

D34th5trike
D34th5trike

"with the harsh delights and frustrations of Capcom's own Monster Hunter series."

what? MH, if anything, is an enjoyable frustration...

Kravyn81
Kravyn81

Which would be the version to get for a completely new player? PS3 or 360? 

riglia
riglia

Setting aside good runs and bad runs  via a players mood or state of mind, this game has no rewards. You will get your ass handed to you by foes  when you are level 25 as easily as it gets handed to you at level 155. There  is no sense of accomplishment for acquiring upgraded weapons, armor etc. it is just an imaginary numbers game. What this game does do however, is emit a strong sense of underhand marketing  by the value of rift crystals. Don't believe me? How many times has your pawn(s) been one-shot killed no matter what level after investing your hard earned( or bought) rift crystals? To me, this game is a cleverly disguised cash cow.  And we the players are the ones getting milked.

Broodwin
Broodwin

At level 62 I am getting owned by some of the bosses in this insanely difficult add-on. Kevin nailed the review. This game will not be for everyone. But it is for me.

I love a challenge. Gonna go back to the main game, get tooled up and go back to Bitterback Isle and kick it's ass when I'm level 65.

RockZillaX
RockZillaX

I love the shit out of this series! shame they aren't just more polished and even handed with difficulty progression..

TheGreatPhoenix
TheGreatPhoenix

I regret to inform you that his comment does warrent an insult, if only for his sarcastic criticism on the work of another based solely on the basis of his own ignorance, combined with the arogence of the comment itself. Is it easy to type this from behind my keybord?, its easier then trying to hack his acount, find out who he is and where he lives and tell him in person that he is an idiot, it would also be a tad expensive.

The one thing we don't need are idiots, or worse, the big

psuedospike
psuedospike

The expansion level is brutally difficult!  At level 62 I'm still having trouble with some of the bosses, but that's what keeps me coming back for more!  This game is not for the faint of heart or casual RPG gamer!

ironballox
ironballox

They're Masterworks all, you can't go wrong...

peteuplink
peteuplink

I don't get why Kevin VanOrd, seems to think Dragon's Dogma is such a great RPG. I personally think it's a fine example of what should be a great RPG, except it's obviously been designed by a complete idiot. One of the first things the game did after I'd made a character, is come up with a message saying "If stuck where to go next, follow the blue marker", so I do and it leads me directly to Bitterblack Island, the hardest part of the game suitable only for characters level 50 or above... Really poor game design. Once I got back from Bitterblack, I got to the captial city and then found that I needed to spend the next few hours griding levels just to get any further... If I wanted griding I would have played World of Warcraft... Another poor excuse for an RPG ><

reanor2
reanor2

no you dont have to be online

gemcats
gemcats

Do you have to be online to play this?

gemcats
gemcats

Do you have to be online to play this? It does have an Xbox 360 version right? Thanks for any info!

oOhedzOo
oOhedzOo

The expansion is great just go see my review.

Arrwmkr
Arrwmkr

To clear this up:  I traded the original game to buy the new one!  The new game found my old save file and gave me stuff and rolled over my character and main pawn SEAMLESSLY (that's a feat many games fail to achieve). So now I have an enhanced game with excellent new bits for a fraction of the price (AU$25) Awesome!

Thumbler76
Thumbler76

Is this game an enhanced version of Dragon's dogma or only an expansion?

hochstreck
hochstreck

While I understand that 7.0 still makes for a good game, I'm not sure if it's a little low for this game. 

I happen to find this game amazing. It features an outstandig gloomy atmosphere and a sense for danger most modern games totally lack, and in addition to that, it plays very challenging and interesting.

In my opinion this game is probably as good as Dark Souls and I absolutely love Dark Souls.


Cartr1dgeBased
Cartr1dgeBased

now 45. with wounded heart and 1300+ strength.... he'll help to the very end.

also, post-game and BBI is where this game gets really fun. if your into grinding beasties and collecting rares this game really offers alot post-game stuff that's easy to get to

xGarrettThiefX
xGarrettThiefX

@Securator Agree wholeheartedly with your post. DD and its expansion is one of the best RPGs i have played in a very long time. (and yet they still keep making Fable games...unbelievable)

sraic
sraic

@Securator Yup, sometimes they really don't get it. However, I'd still rate The Last Remnant as the most underrated game of the decade, PC version of course, the console one has been... severely undercooked.

Virtual_Erkan
Virtual_Erkan

@Jabba-Dah-Hut I guess Japanese know how to make action RPG games. Skyrim is fun but not hardcore enough and it gets tedious after a while. Dark Souls made a great example of action adventure survival RPG game. I can't wait to see Dark Souls 2. Dark Arisen is way fast paced than Dark Souls and the party system with vocations makes it a great action RPG. To bad that these 2 games are overshadowed by Skyrim.

HaveYouGotMilk
HaveYouGotMilk

@riglia Same as Dark Souls eh ? You will get your ass handed to you by rats as easily as Gwyn if you don't have the skill/the level to face the challenge...yet people enjoy Dark Souls...I guess it not for everyone then...

p331360
p331360

@ironballox I had to swap to the Japanese before I wanted to kill him. Even my wife, who doesn't play, would say his like when he started saying it. 

Japanese makes the pawns not as annoying either.

horizonwriter
horizonwriter

@peteuplink Sounds like you're new to the game.  It's not grinding that you need to do per-say   You just need to play through the original game's main story.  That alone is enough to get your levels up without a lot of grinding.  Keep in mind that Bitterblack Island is an end-game expansion and not meant to be attempted with brand new characters.

As for the marker directing you towards Bitterblack, they definitely should have thought that one through better. It probably shouldn't even be available until you've reached a certain level.

Lhomity
Lhomity

@gemcats I know you asked this question over a month ago, but since it looks like you have no reply, here it is. The game can be played entirely offline. There are two online features in Dragon's Dogma. 

The first and most obvious is the pawn sharing system. If you are connected to the internet while playing, you can browse pawns created by other players, and recruit them for your journey. If you are not connected, you can still recruit pawns, but you'll only find premade, generic pawns. They're not bad, but player-made pawns are better.

Pawns can often be found in the game world wandering around, or inside the rift, where you can use a search function to find pawns by class, level and gender. 

While connected, you can recruit player-made pawns at much higher levels than you, which will require a currency called Rift Crystals. You'll earn some of these by completing certain quests, or as a rare drop from regular enemies. You'll earn more when other players use your pawn. Alternatively you can buy Rift Crystals with real money, but that's not worth doing unless you want a high level pawn to cheese the game's difficulty, smashing everything for you.

Your pawn can also be recruited by other players, and will gain knowledge of quests and effective methods of fighting enemies that can in-turn can make your progress easier. You may also receive gifts from other players when they finish using your pawn, and they may also rate it, for other players to see.

The other online feature is a very difficult, optional boss called the Ur-dragon. You can fight it offline, and doing so is arguably much easier. But fighting it online provides some extra rewards, as well as the chance to get your name on a special list, for players who deal killing blows to the Ur-dragon. Fighting it online is more difficult, as the boss will regenerate whenever other players fail it or run away, and actually killing it may take you a long time.

prasadpav
prasadpav

@hochstreck

Totally agree. Dragons Dogma is an amazing game and the monster fights are quite a delight. In my opinion, the dragon slaying in this game is much much better than in the Dark Souls/Demon Souls games. In Demon/Dark souls you have to carry around 150 or 200 arrows, find a safe spot and keep shooting at the dragon until it dies, whereas in DD you are in the battlefield with Dragon, climb on it, hack it, stab the heart, punch it in the face if you like :).  For me the gorgeous looking monsters are Hydra & Chimera. The textures on hydra are soo good.

teknic1200
teknic1200

it doesn't hold anything against monster hunter, it's not even close. I enjoyed DD for around 200 hours but there's no way I'm puting monster hunter 3u down to play this.DD=Monster Hunter Lite

GunEye
GunEye

@sraic @Securator I loved The Last Remnant. But is this game worth buying???

I already played Dragon's Dogma... and can you even import your character's saves to Dark Arisen?

ironballox
ironballox

@p331360 Ha ha i was playing the game and my gf was in bed trying to sleep and all she kept hearing was "They're Masterworks all, you can't go wrong..." She was going to smash the TV

peteuplink
peteuplink

@horizonwriter I had the original version but traded it. I was hoping the Dark Arisen version would have done something to fix the broken game that the first one was, but nope... I realise Bitterblack was an expansion for higher level players, I just didn't expect the game to lead me straight there as soon as I started.

teknic1200
teknic1200

grab monster hunter, it puts dd to shame.

teknic1200
teknic1200

@Arrwmkr @teknic1200 monster hunter devs did work on this game and they have some similarities.  even the drake's chomp is similar to a rathian/rathilos chomp.  gathering and mining nodes were lifted from monster hunter.  DD was a breath of fresh air for a MH junkie, but right now i'm playing monster hunter, just passed 150 hours, and I'm just getting into the meat of the game.  i'll grab this out of the bargain bin sometime in the future but i'm about to miss out on a lot of games.  I'll crack 1000 hours easily.

Dragon's Dogma More Info

  • First Released
    • PlayStation 3
    • Xbox 360
    Dragon's Dogma is an exciting and frustrating role-playing game featuring challenging battles versus monstrous foes.
    8.4
    Average User RatingOut of 1471 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate Dragon's Dogma
    Developed by:
    Capcom
    Published by:
    Capcom
    Genres:
    Role-Playing, Action
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    All Platforms
    Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes, Violence