Review: Prepare to be eaten alive by Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen
When Dragon's Dogma came out for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 last year, it represented a side of Capcom that we rarely see, one that doesn't dwell on formula from games' past and instead offers something refreshing and challenging. Though the pacing wasn't suited for everyone (namely rookies) and the Pawn system left you doing more watching than necessary, the game as a whole struck quite the nerve.
And now it's back for more. Capcom has returned to the land of Gransys for a second go-around, but Dark Arisen isn't quite a sequel. Instead, it feels more like the main game with an add-on tacked on, but it's one hell of an add-on.
This time around, you're battling through Bitterblack Isle, a place where darkness is hardly your ally and everything you can possibly think of comes at you, whether it's large demons or a combination of weird dragon creatures that don't hesitate to take a bite out of your character. This is probably one of the more unforgiving levels within the game, added merely to give loyal fans the true challenge they've been asking for. It's almost on the same level as Namco's Dark Souls, but with a slight hint of forgiveness. And boy, do I mean slight.
Now, a word of warning: Capcom advises players not to give the Bitter Black mission a go until you reach a sufficient level – in this case, Level 50 – but even then, you're likely to be eaten alive. Several times during my runthrough, I found myself a victim of some rather brutal force, sometimes jumping right out of the darkness. There's something awesome about it, but, if you're uninitiated, there's also something truly frustrating. Proceed with caution.
Dark Arisen has some value because the original game is included, so if you still own last year's Dragon's Dogma and need the upgrade, or you just never got around to buying it in the first place, you'll get your money's worth. The main quest remains triumphant, if challenging, and you can level up your character fairly easy, provided you don't succumb to someone's brutal attacks first. (And that's definitely a possibility.) Though the game can be a grind as you do so, the rewards come with your improvement of play, as you grow from welp-without-a-heart to all-around badass.
In addition, veterans who transfer their game from the original will get some bountiful bonuses, like fast travel access (which can still be a pain at times, depending where you're coming from) and 100,000 rift crystals to spend like a madman. But, aside from that, most of the game is the same, and the Pawns, these AI-driven characters that "assist" you, still require a watchful eye in order to avoid being wiped out. Oh, sure, they're nice along the way, but they could've been of more use.
Dark Arisen doesn't push the Dragon's Dogma engine to new heights, but it's not bad. The Isle itself is a daunting place, one filled with plenty of "gotcha!" moments when monsters come out, along with great lighting effects and animation. However, the inclusion of an HD textures pack doesn't feel necessary. In fact, once you put it in, it just slows the game down a bit. You're better off just sticking to the norm.
The audio is pretty good, with some decent voice work (it's funny how dramatic a talking dragon can be, ain't it?) and excellent, atmospheric music. And if you need a change-up, you can also install a Japanese language track, which is interesting, but also a little grating during battles. (The same could be said for the English track, as your allies call out pretty much everything they're doing while battling enemies.)
$40 for what's pretty much an expanded version of Dragon's Dogma may be hard for some of you to swallow, especially those who were decimated the first time around. However, if you're a dedicated player or seek out a title that reminds you of the Capcom of old, Dark Arisen will please your sadistic needs.
(Reviewed on Xbox 360.)