I have nothing against hordes of Orcs, shuffling grumpy Zombies, dribbling death beasts or even murderous Dragons with strange work ethics. All of them are equal when I charge in with my +10 to Dragon-Spanking Broadsword. When Dragon’s Dogma appeared not everyone welcomed it with open arms; new IP from mega-developer Capcom? Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen appeared over a year later, with fresh content, so for those that missed Dragon’s Dogma the first time around, is it worth jumping in so late?
At its heart Dragon’s Dogma is nothing new; it’s an action RPG which has you roaming an open world, collecting loot and hitting the squishy skulls of all living and non-living things. Coming from Capcom, many expected a Monster Hunter style game for western audiences but while it does share some similarities, it is pretty far removed from the classic feel of the Monster Hunter series. From the outset, players are thrown into an adventure, which involves some chest opening, collecting loot and then being jumped on by a nasty monster. All in a day’s work for the souls living in the world of Dragon’s Dogma! This early adventure throws all of the controls and combat mechanics at you very quickly, which can seem a little frustrating but what better way to see and feel what the next fifty or sixty plus hours could be like.
If you can get past the opening scene, you might get utterly hooked. There is one thing that becomes quickly apparent as players progress; the game can seem vastly deep and over complicated. Random names for everything, menu setup is chock full of information that may or may not be interesting to the player and how you learn, by trial and error, the more complex combat mechanics can start to grate on new players. Persevere past the clunky outer shell and you may find a gooey RPG centre that you have always wanted.
One of the more unique sides of the game is shown off in the opening stages; the ability to grab onto monsters, crawl around their torso and generally make a huge mess of any body-part silly enough to come into striking distance. Learning this early gameplay mechanic can really dictate how much you really get into the game. Sure you can just play safe and try and kill everything from range but sometimes just clambering onto your foe and then splitting its skull like a ripe watermelon always gives the player a great feeling of accomplishment. It’s almost as much fun as watching someone else do the same thing while you sit back and laugh / desperately patch yourself up before you die horrifically.
However, the more frustrating issue with Dragon’s Dogma raises its beastly head; the game feels made for co-op fun, but instead of heading down that safer and infinitely more fun path, Capcom chose to walk their own direction and introduced the faux co-op element wrapped up in the Pawn mechanic. Early on in the game, you get introduced to a mythical group of creatures that are basically the player’s helper / slave. As with the real player, you can choose to build yourself and your Pawn in the exact way you would like to play. Prefer a more ranged style? Best to have your pawn go to-to-toe with everything? Do you want to be the mighty warrior? You can relegate the pawn to healing duties if you so require. One of the more engaging and also an area that will ultimately lengthen your play time is the ability to swap and change what class you and your Pawn play as. The basic Warrior, Ranger and Mage classes are open from the start but as you start to gain proficiency with a class, not only does it unlocks more useful abilities, it also unlocks more varied classes. Fancy a WarriorMage? That path will open, as does pretty much every combination of fantasy RPG classes you could ever want!
The Pawn system also has some other more fascinating uses for the average player. Simultaneously the best and worst part of the Pawn system is that they can learn about the world, fighting monsters or just general chit-chat as you roam the wilds. Now this does prove useful since you can upload this Pawn and other players and pick from your Pawn and any quest or monster knowledge they have gained in your game will be shared with other new players; how to kill certain monsters, what their weaknesses are, how to get to specific points on the map are all saved by the Pawn. So where is the downside to this? They tell you this information. Every. Single. Minute. Thank you Pawn. I know they are weak to fire. I remembered that after the hundredth time you told me. Also, I know goblins. I spend day and night cleaving their skulls and looting their stench-ridden corpses for herbs. Pawns just don’t shut up. They are there to emulate a real player who might know the best way to kill a monster but they also have terrible short term memories. This does actually become very grating, especially after twenty or so hours. “Harpies are weak to fire!” Yes, thank you.
Dragon’s Dogma is a deep game. Even without the Dark Arisen content, you have a noble quest to embark on from the outset but the game does a poor job of directing you to where you exactly need to be. Sure you can roam around where you want but knowing when enough is enough and how you get back to your heroic quest can be a little confusing. The quest list can be full of random things to do and while you can choose one to focus on one over another, sometimes you can get lost in the wilds and you have very minimal options to get you back to the action. Usually this means hours and hours of walking, which then usually means bumping into a monster that wrecks your face. And then you remember you did not save for four hours. I forgot to save for four hours…
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen has more than enough content for players than really want to get into the unique meat of the game. Combat is varied and interesting; the Pawn system adds a new dimension to the genre but is no real replacement for a real co-op option. The whole game is clunky and unrefined in places but there is certainly a glimmer of hope for potential sequels. Even from a graphics standpoint, there are a few flourishes of beauty, masked by some crazy amounts of blurring and … what’s up with those black bars? I don’t know if it was supposed to lean towards being more cinematic or if current gen consoles are just not able to keep up. You get some epic vista’s to stare at, beautifully detailed monster to hack into bits and the day and night transition can lead to some truly terrifying moments if you run out of lamp oil but there are still elements of Dragon’s Dogma that show Capcom made a new IP that could do with more time and refinement lavished upon it.
It’s not a bad game but one that requires dedication and the ability to ignore some of its more ”Harpies are weak to fire!” frustrating elements. Strap on your wizard hat and let’s clamber over that disgruntled Cyclops! Charge!