Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen Xbox 360 Review

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Last year’s Dragon’s Dogma was a huge surprise for me. I had not paid much attention to the title, but due to my inherent love of role-playing games, I simply had to check it out upon its release. Lo and behold, it ended up being one of the best games of 2012 and made it into my personal top ten of the year list. There was much to love about the game, from the feeling of adventure to the quality combat mechanics that had you battling huge mythical beasts, climbing on them – à la Shadow of the Colossus – and bringing them down to the ground to place the final blows. The pawn system was unique, allowing players to travel through the traitorous land of Gransys with three companions – came from friends or random players through a server feature (had decent AI too) – and have them fight alongside you in battle. Within all these great ideas were some aspects lacking that final bit of polish, which a true sequel would hopefully solve, but while we wait for that, Capcom has decided to offer an expansion to the original game to fix some of the smaller issues and also offer a test to veteran Dragon’s Dogma players.

This new challenging environment is named Bitterblack Isle and is located off the coast of the game’s original starting point, the seaside village of Cassardis. Even though the new content is situated here, it’s advised to not even begin to think about taking on the task unless you have a completed game save file, since the enemies are of high level and will chop down a new character in an instant. Dark Arisen does include the original Dragon’s Dogma, so even if you did not finish the game before, this separate title will work with your previous save, allowing you to continue the adventure.

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Kicking off the quest line for the Dark Arisen content requires speaking to a character called Olra, a blonde woman who is mysteriously dressed in black (is that ever a good sign?) and will transport you away to the island. The place of Bitterblack Isle is contradictory to the game’s original open-world of Gransys. It’s a claustrophobic’s worst nightmare, as the setting is a closed-off linear dungeon that forces players to go down into the depths of it and discover the nightmarish creatures that await them. There is a lot of fighting to do in the expansion, giving me a feeling that this was aimed at people who wanted to test their might with the game’s combat engine against these tough-as-nails enemies.

There’s also an unmistakable nod to Demon’s/Dark Souls within this eerie underground lair and combat focus – although, the game’s combat system isn’t as weighty and unforgiving with a player’s error compared to From Software’s masterpiece. A question of unease envelopes your body as you remain unsure about what lies around the next corner and what devilish tricks are concealed away. One of my first deaths was due to my unfortunate contact with a bogus chest that popped out some demonic worm that engulfed half of my body and continued to ravage my health. I was frantically shaking the stick to fill up the escape metre, but to no avail, as I was way underpowered to escape at that point. It’s a rude awakening to the difficulty of the new content.

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It only gets harder the further you go down. The closing stages are filled with enemies that will simply knock you out in a hit if you aren’t a high-enough level. Unlike the main game and the early parts of Bitterblack Isle, this section requires much work from the player – relying on skills to dodge the overpowering odds, or simply die in frustration as another instant death unfolds. There is nothing wrong with inspiring Dark Souls-like difficulty, but the Souls franchise was made around intelligent design decisions and clever placement of enemies. Dark Arisen falters at doing this, to the point where the designers thought the answer to making the game difficult is to jam-pack rooms with towering enemies and clog a player in these troubling situations. Even for experienced players, these situations will be annoying as your hero and their pawns are bombarded with attacks and curses, and seemingly can’t get a chance to do anything. Capcom recommend that the level entry be around 50, which is fine for the first third or an half, but once I crossed that point I found myself going back to Gransys to level-up more. I’d recommend bumping up your level to around 80 or 90 to comfortably get through most of this content.

As well as meeting new enemies, you will also be able to find cursed items that are given a category ID and a level. Taking these back to Olra will allow her to clear the curse from these items, which randomly gives you a piece of gear that is related to the level of the once anonymous item. NPCs can also upgrade weapons and armour past the initial dragon forge state to help with progressing through Bitterblack Isle, while new skills are gained to keep a sense of newness to your existing hero and pawn.

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If you never experienced Dragon’s Dogma, then there is no question that Dark Arisen is worth a pickup, as it includes the original game, plus all this bonus content. You can check out the site’s review if you want to read up on the verdict for the original game. The title becomes a little more questionable when you speak of the additional content, though. It’s not like there isn’t a hefty amount; 10 hours extra is great, but the problem is that to experience this new content you have to buy Dark Arisen physically, because there is no option of downloadable content for the original title. It will depend on how much you love the game to determine if the RRP of £19.99 is enough for this content. I can say that I have seen it for around £15, and it will no doubt drop to less than that on popular internet stores. Fans do get a small bonus for their return to Gransys. For starters, the annoyingly expensive Ferrystones are now not required, as the game will place a special ferrystone in your item box that has unlimited uses. Along with this, existing players will also get 100,000 Rift Crystals and a special armour pack with new costumes.

While fixing the fast travel problems that existed in Dragon’s Dogma, all other problems seemed to have been left to inhabit the game. The lore of the world isn’t as fleshed-out as I would like, and the additional area doesn’t do much to build on that. The framerate is still unstable, dropping often during battle; and the pop-in is still there, with some enemies popping in screen only a few metres away. It is a shame that the title isn’t on PC, as it would be nice to see what this game could run like when having powerful hardware behind it. At the moment, it seems current hardware is handicapping Dark Arisen’s potential for silky smooth gameplay. The 360 version reviewed came on two discs, with the second disc acting as an installer for a Japanese audio track and HD textures. It’s been stated that these HD textures are the original textures for Dragon’s Dogma, as the textures on the play disc are less detailed to be able to fit all the content on one play disc.

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Dragon’s Dogma itself is a fantastic title with some innovative ideas for the genre. If you never played it, then I strongly suggest buying the Dark Arisen release, especially if you love western-esque RPGs; and for the budget price, you are getting one quality video game. Scoring this re-release budget as an expansion for existing players, then, it’s not as fully recommended for anyone but the hardcore fans of the wonderful Dragon’s Dogma. But to be honest, the new content is aimed mostly at those followers, and they will find the challenge rewarding, if a little broken, towards the end of Bitterblack Isle.

7/10

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Version tested: Xbox 360

Also available on: PS3

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Capcom

Genre: Action Role-Playing Game