Drake my Day
Game: Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
Reviewed on: Playstation 4 (Review code provided)
We like to talk about “underappreciated” games, don’t we? Those titles that release to critical praise but aren’t largely welcomed by the gaming community at large. ‘Cult classics’. Initially releasing in 2012, Dragon’s Dogma was one of those games. Hitting the XBox 360 and Playstation 3, it was met with largely positive reviews and sold a decent amount, but never seemed to break into the mainstream. A reissue about a year later, called Dark Arisen, added a ton of content and released at a budget price tag to a slightly wider audience, thanks to inclusion in Sony’s Playstation Plus free games incentive. But it’s still not necessarily a game that’s talked about that much. That’s not stopped its vocal fanbase singing its praises, however, eventually bringing a port to PC in 2016. It’s that more optimised version which now finds its way onto the XBox One and Playstation 4.
For those not in the know, Dragon’s Dogma is a third person, open(ish) world RPG from Capcom. Paying lip service to the kind of dark fantasy stylings of the Souls games (themselves influenced by the popular manga, Berserk) Dragon’s Dogma places the player in the land of Gransys, a kingdom besieged by bandits, monsters and the appearance of a dragon. Indeed, it is an attack by this dragon that starts the main character’s story (created by the player via a fairly robust character generator) as it steals their heart, transforming them into “The Arisen”, a powerful character with control over mystical beings known as Pawns.
It’s the Pawns that offer the most interesting aspect of Dragon’s Dogma’s gameplay. While you control your main character, you can enlist up to three of these NPC’s to fight with you at any one time. One of these is always a character you create yourself a few hours into the game, while the others are hired through rift stones. The clever part? The Pawns available are all created by other players. Every time you rest at an inn, your main Pawn travels into the rift, potentially to be hired by another player through a rift stone. Any experience or items they gather during these journeys will be synced back to your game. It’s a smart mechanic, and the ability to have four members in your party gives you a great chance to even out your character classes.
There are three basic classes, or “vocations”; Fighter, Strider and Mage. These are the typical RPG archetypes focussed on brawn, ranged combat and magic respectively, and new abilities are unlocked as you level up. You can learn these from inns around the world and equip a selection of them to give you situation-specific loadouts. It’s a remarkably flexible system that lets you play how you want, but it gets even more interesting when your character hits level 10. At this point you can spend some of your experience to change your vocation, even venturing into advanced vocations which combine different aspects of, say, Fighter and Strider to give you a best of both worlds approach to combat. Mixing and matching abilities this way opens up some great play styles and it really feels like you’re making the game your own.
Combat in Dragon’s Dogma is a satisfyingly chunky real-time action RPG experience. Having a team of four means making sure you balance out your vocations, and you also need to make sure you’re on the ball to deliver orders to your Pawns. While this is a very simple system fired off from the d-pad, giving the right order at the right time is essential to a smooth fight. It’s even more important when you see just how damn huge the enemies in Dragon’s Dogma can get! In the opening tutorial you’re put up against a chimera, and it is a formidable beast indeed. It’s in fights like these that you need to make use of the games ‘grab’ mechanic to scale huge foes. A bit like Shadow of the Colossus, you can negotiate a cyclops’ body to slash away at its head, or hold on to the leg and try to topple it over. Big fights are frequent enough to feel epic when they arrive, but not be overdone.
For all the praises I could sing for Dragon’s Dogma, there’s no denying it was a flawed game on its initial release. It was dogged by a low frame rate which made it a trudge to play, something that frustrated me greatly when I revisited it on PS3 earlier this year. This reissue, however, shows a game that was possibly ahead of its time. Increased resolution and texture detail make the world of Gransys pop, and a stable 30FPS means that things are incredibly more fluid and playable.
A big action RPG with plenty of character and an interesting world to explore, Dragon’s Dogma has another chance to find an audience on modern consoles. With this new remastered release providing a much slicker experience on modern consoles, it’s really about time you took up the mantle of Arisen and explored the world of Gransys.