Monday, April 29, 2013

Review: Dragon’s Dogma Dark Arisen (PS3)!

If you’re not familiar with Capcom’s fantasy epic Dragon’s Dogma Dark Arisen then it’s probably because its title makes about as much sense as Dragon’s Walrus Saucepan Watermelon. But if you can overcome the initial confusion, this game is actually a re-jigged and expanded upon version of the original Dragon’s Dogma (which was released last year) now with extra quests, new enemies, and a significant expansion which takes place in a tangled, monster-infested labyrinth. Capcom has also addressed and fixed certain criticisms levelled at the first version (such as the limited fast travel system) making this re-release the definitive version of the game. It’s also half the price of a regular new release which makes it definitely worth a try. Think Dragon Age meets Dark Souls and you’re on the right track.

I’m a sucker for fantasy RPG adventure so I did not hesitate to gather my party, string my bow, and shoot a harpy in the tit. Find out what I thought... after the jump!

Short version first: I found this to be a pretty great and engaging game although it’s not without its problems. Many of which centre around clunky, non-intuitive, interfaces and a confusing save system, vague instructions and unapologetically weird dialogue. I’ll admit, I didn’t always know exactly what was going on, and the Dragon’s Dogma wiki had to bail me out on more than one occasion, but I still had a ton of fun getting there. What I do understand is that, at the beginning, a big red dragon stole my heart, marking me as an Arisen, and now my companions and I have to go and bollocks that dragon to get it back. Let’s talk about those companions...

You create your party through the “pawn” system which is a unique and inventive use of integrated social networking. First, of course, you create your own main character. As we are wont to do in these parts, I went with an Avengers theme, basing my strider (archer/ranger) on Scarjo’s infamous Black Widow. Then early in the game you’re asked to use a similar process to create your first pawn who will be your constant companion for the rest of your adventures. “Pawns” are swords (or bows/wands) for hire who are summoned from a mystic plane. I based my main guy on the mighty Thor and dubbed him Thunderpants. There are slots left for two more pawns and that’s where the clever part comes in. You choose your final two pawns from other people’s creations. So strangers can put Thunderpants in their party, and I can likewise fill up my own party with their companions. You can even send other players gifts by putting items in their creation’s inventory.

But it gets more interesting still - Thunderpants and I both level up but our borrowed pawns don’t. So there’s a constant impetus to keep meeting and enlisting new characters that other players have created. And the bonus is that they don’t just bring along their own accumulated equipment, but also their accumulated knowledge based on the quests that they’ve already completed. A knowledgeable and experienced pawn will coach in your quests and devise strategies for conquering ornery beasts. The only catch is that, with people being people, you will likely encounter pawns with names like “FuckU” and “Bitch#2”. A parental filter will fix that if you’re sensitive.

There are three basic classes to choose from to begin with: fighter, strider and mage, but later on in the game you can specialise into hybrid classes, creating a total of nine options. I ended up becoming a badass archer mage who uses a stringless bow to fire impressive looking magic bolts into the fray. Sometimes six at a time. There’s plenty of extra armour and loot in the Dark Arisen expansion so there’s all manner of ways to customise your character. The graphics can be a bit jagged and ugly when you see your character in the cut scenes, but the world is actually quite lushly designed and most of the monsters look fantastic. And the combat has no shortage of options.

The monster encounters in this game remind me of the dragon fights in Skyrim. They are not typical boss battles with a set viewpoint and strategy, instead you organically encounter the creatures throughout your quests and can tackle them however you wish. You can try to pick them off from a distance, being careful to preserve your party (you can revive fallen members if you’re quick enough) and you can even latch onto bigger creatures (griffins, chimeras, cockatrices, ogres etc) and freely scale their bodies. This even proved fun while scaling the bison-like creatures that roam the plains and surfing on their backs for kicks. The “grab” button is my favourite. If you use it on something big, you will climb it, if you use it on something your size you will pick it up and sling it over your shoulder like a firefighter. I amused myself in the capital by picking up unsuspecting peasants and dropping them off bridges into the piranha filled waters below. The guards won’t even stop you.

Okay, so a lot of what I’ve discussed is from the base game, but what of the expansion? A new quest appears which will allow you passage to a mysterious black island which houses a giant labyrinth. With many multiple paths and chambers to enter - and a whole host of brand new creatures to fight, including Death itself - there are many hours of new content here. And unlike the main game, it’s not really story focused. There’s no travelling from town to town - this is simply an epic dungeon crawl where danger lurks around every corner. It can be intense, and this is where the game feels a lot more like Dark Souls. However, I do have an issue here and that is that the game doesn’t explain very well exactly what this content is as when I should be accessing it...

The labyrinth quest appears early on but I didn’t go and check it out until I was around level 30 - a good ten or so hours deep into the game). After a shortish look around it became very clear that I was grossly underpowered for the task at hand and I left, resolving to tackle this content after completing the main storyline and entering “new game plus” mode. But it really wasn’t as easy as that. After finally slaying the dragon and getting treated to some faux credits, the game ushers you into another couple of hours of content and then seems to strand new. This is where I got really stuck and had to look up what to do in order to trigger the real credits. Then you start new game plus but you’re back at the very beginning of the game and although you’ve retained your level, you don’t have any of your equipment or your pawn with you. Your equipment is all in storage, so you can pick it up, but not before playing through the laborious first few quests again. Plus you can’t pick your hybrid class at the beginning, so I wasn’t able to use my stored weapons until finding a place to change my vocation. So essentially it took me well over an hour to put everything back together again, get geared up, get Thunderpants back, and THEN enter the labyrinth. And the other catch?...

It gets pretty damn hard! A few hours in I am stuck on some very difficult boss fights. I’m a level 50, and I’ve heard that some players completed the core game at level 100 so now I don’t really know what to do. I can go and grind the main story and find quests I didn’t do the first time, but my energy is waning. All I can really do is recommend that when you play you complete every single quest available, and then head off to the labyrinth just before the Final Battle quest. But even then you may not be of an appropriate level. Looking for advice on this one.

But I forgive you, Dragon's Dogma. This game is excellent value at its bargain basement starting price and provided me with countless hours of sword and sorcery entertainment. If you like the genre then definitely give it a shot. Recommended.

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