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Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen (PC) artwork

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen (PC) review

"A mere fifty hours later..."

I was fifty hours into Dragonís Dogma: Dark Arisen, and feeling pretty pleased with myself. Most of the game lay beaten. My cliche humble fisherman protagonist had slowly developed into a warrior of legend. He had felled many a mighty beast, first with panicked desperation and then with arrogant swagger.

His first major encounter pitted him against a wounded cyclops who had wandered into the encampment situated just outside his little village. It wasnít like the fisherman was forced to take on the threat alone; he had access to his own platoon of three NPCs by then. The encampmentís modest garrison were also eager to see the monster fall. Did I mention the beast was wounded? Mortally so. Its health lay in slivers. All that remained was to deal the finishing blow. Into the fray I crept, instructed by the game to latch onto the beast, and from there to climb up to his head and stab him in the face. The cyclops was not keen on letting that happen, though; he didnít care that he was little more than a gussied up tutorial. He swung his massive club once, and that was more than enough to send me tumbling over the scenic cliff behind me, into sparkling blue waters and a "Game Over" screen.

The next attempt went somewhat better. I lingered on the edge of the battle, ignored the on-screen prompts to climb the sodding thing, and plugged arrows into his one eye until finally he fell over and stopped twitching.

Fifty hours of play later, though, meant I no longer needed to show such timidity. By then I possessed mad archery skills, was able to unleash volleys of ten arrows at once. A few such bursts would leave even a mighty cyclops with its tusks splintered, its eye put out and its life ended. As I said, I was feeling pretty smug at that point, and why wouldnít I? Cyclopses? Scoff! I had set ablaze griffins from the skies, slashed them to ribbons while they tried to stop their wings from burning. I had walked through abandoned mines, putting the undead to sword and slaying a trio of ogres who (I soon learnt) become significantly tougher once sexually aroused. Which, I suppose, made my harem trio of lady warriors ill-advised traveling companions for that particular fight.

Only one of the girls was of my own creation, though. Some ways into the game, youíre tasked with creating an NPC partner who will remain with you for the adventure's remainder. I created a tiny loli-mage that was supposed to compliment my towering strider protagonist, but an additional couple of party members are recruitable on top of that. In fact, theyíre the allies of other Dogma players. You can hire them at will, taking on warriors of similar levels and below for free, or spending rift (currency gained by others hiring your own NPC) for varying degrees of over-leveled overkill. These companions called "Pawns," and they learn on the job.

Maybe some Pawns find themselves facing off against a wolf pack, and one of them happens to introduce the little buggers to a spot of fire. Theyíll notice the critters donít much care for that. So theyíll store that information away, and act upon that knowledge when they have the chance. Hiring other peopleís Pawns helps them as much as it helps you for just that reason; they gain no levels and obtain nothing aside from any gifts their employer might choose to bestow upon them, but they come away from dangerous encounters with fresh knowledge. Because people hired her quite regularly, my own Pawn often knew about quests Iíd not even started yet, meaning she was able to offer me advice, even guide me to locations I would have had to otherwise seek out on my own.

Instead of finding wolves, you might instead stumble across a nest of Saurians, which is fancy talk for "lizard people." Well-trained Pawns know that if you hack off their tails, the monsters drop their weapons in a panic, which stops them from blocking everything you throw at them. Those same Pawns might also learn that if you set those foes on fire, theyíll stop, drop and roll, giving you ample time to put the boot in. They might even learn that pelting scaly bodies with ice spells eventually freezes them solid, allowing you or an ally to smash them into little watery bits, so long as you get to them before they defrost.

And the Pawns have plenty of time to learn this things, since Dogma is a large game spread over a sizable map that itís quite insistent you explore fully. Though the Dark Arisen update makes exploration easier by providing collectible portals you can strategically place around the map to use as quick travel points, it really prefers that you go everywhere on foot. Such journeys are often long and fraught with danger, relying on Dogmaís night/day cycle to mix up the threats. Pedestrian worries like bandits and roving goblin gangs threaten travelers during the day, while the undead are more likely to be found seizing the night. Initial exploration into unknown territory is often an adventure in itself, with long forgotten camps or razed strongholds to sometimes stumble across and explore. Or you can just wait for a quest to come along and force you in that direction. Thereís always some excuse to head west, but moments when you find something new are exhilarating. Discoveries bleed into one another, daring you to risk pushing a little further into the unknown.

Fifty-hour me had outgrown all of that, though. Fifty-hour me had explored the entirety of the map, had stormed hobgoblin strongholds and used the mounted ballista situated atop cliff faces to peg explosive bolts at the small army waiting to ambush him. He had chased off a magically resurrected cockatrice, and only got half his traveling party petrified in the process. He had tracked a gargoyle down to its hidden lair high in the mountains because the bloody thing had stolen someone's post!. He sat on the edge of game completion. There were just a couple of missions left to go. It was time to venture to Bitterblack Isle.

The island houses a new, multi-layered labyrinth that makes up the bulk of the Dark Arisen expansion. Itís supposed to act as a post-game challenge, to provide high-leveled, post-game parties something new to conquer. And by that point, that was surely me. The game was beat in all but name, right? I sauntered in. And then I died.

I died quite a few times, actually. The first time around felt a little unfair, when Death himself physically manifested in front of me and quickly ended my life with a single swing of his scythe. My second attempt worked on the assumption that I should probably avoid the spectral bastard until he wandered off. That approach seemed to work. I explored further, finding hardier foes that still fell to my experienced team without much complaint. Until they didnít.

An undead king and a posse of sorcerers spawned after I broke into a treasure room, flanked by massive zombies the likes of which I had not yet seen. I vanquished them after some struggle, then died to the twelve-foot skeleton Goliath that lurked just down the hall. Another attempt saw the massive archer I had hired as a backup Pawn open an innocent looking chest and then get immediately swallowed up by what Iím sure the game would have called a Mimic, if that wouldn't have qualified as blatant copyright infringement. We tried to help him, but the damn thing flailed our allyís corpse around with enough force to either kill us, or knock us flying into a nearby body of water to quietly drown.

These were all threats a determined warrior could overcome, however. The skeleton was beaten down, the chest was ignored, and progress was made. Deeper and deeper into the halls I crept, carefully taking out little pockets of danger. I walked through a room where the undead rose and dead bodies wrapped in hemp swung from chains affixed to the ceiling. I picked my way through the rotting corpses of large animals that had been somethingís lunch. I found that thing. He was a captive Gorecyclops.

Iíd been killing different varieties of cyclops monster as an afterthought for ages by that point. There was one at the start of the delve that I slaughtered on my own with arrow strikes in seconds, without the need for my Pawns to even get involved. I was confident. Iíd weathered and overcome all the other threats that came at me, but I was also open to courting disaster, to being overpowered in a fair fight. So, we attacked, and I wasnít prepared for what happened. The giant cyclops ignored me. It writhed every now and then under my four-pronged offense, but out of irritation more than pain or anger. Its massive, massive health bar hardly flickered.

Dejected, I left him chained to the wall and climbed to the top of the chamber, where my objective--a key to open new paths into the labyrinth--waited for me. I used it to further explore the depths, just barely getting by. I even left the island to return to mainland and complete the game proper, and I trudged through the gut-punching post-game revelations. I found that cockatriceís nest and rooted him out and defeated him. A chimera--a bloody chimera--had taken residence on the small beach outside my home town, where nothing more dangerous than seagulls once existed. It, too, fell. I found an evil eye lurking in the basement of the world. "Itís a bootleg Beholder," said I, before it started thrusting tendrils into the floor which reappeared elsewhere to spit spells and fury. I took it on anyway. The battle wasnít an easy one, but things didnít end well for my adversary.

I was eighty hours into Dragonís Dogma: Dark Arisen, and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. But I was still finding things to ram that sense of self satisfaction right back down my throat...

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (March 19, 2016)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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wolfqueen001 posted March 23, 2016:

Awesome review. I look forward to playing this myself, sometime in the next 10 years. :P All the examples you provided really made this game sound huge and challenging. Even after 80 hours of play time, you're still finding things to kill and places to (re)explore, which is something most games don't offer. (As you well know, most RPGs, if they include post game content, merely stick to one little extra location with some beefed up enemies. Sounds like this one took it ot a whole new level.)
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EmP posted March 25, 2016:

The game's kind of taken over my life. I'm still picking away at monster nests when I know I should be doing other things. Just took on the Ur Dragon for the first time, which is a massive network fight that everyone on the server has to fit in to slowly chip away at its massive health - it kicked my arse. It's a real time eater.

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