Have You Played…Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Just to get this one out of the way early, I love Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen [official site]. I can’t think of another game I was more excited to see liberated from its tortured existence on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. But performance issues aside, Dragon’s Dogma was the kind of experiment I wish more companies would be willing to take—and from Capcom of all places!

I’m not sure if I can fully express why, but there’s something about Dragon’s Dogma that evokes the wonderful feeling I had growing up when playing older Japanese role-playing console games. One part of it is this kind of boundless sense of adventure that makes me excited each time I get to step outside the safety of the castle walls, but there’s a more subtle nuance to Dragon’s Dogma’s JRPGishness too.

I think it’s because Dragon’s Dogma is unquestionably weird. Not just in the mishmash of ideas that form its skeleton, but also in the story that, at times, left me completely dumbfounded for what was even happening. I mean, we’re talking about a game where you can romance any character without even realizing you’ve romanced them. There’s no real way to tell who you might’ve unintentionally led on until the final cutscene when you’ve realized that this entire time you’ve been secretly fostering a relationship with the… court jester? What?

But really, Dragon’s Dogma is just a damn fine RPG that isn’t scared to try new things even if they don’t always work out well. And it’s that sort of confidence in its own ridiculousness that makes me love even its most frustrating flaws.


  1. SMGreer says:

    I played it once it came to PC and made it maybe…five or ten hours in? Wasn’t awful but despite some of the charm, it was just really drab and lifeless. Plus very obtuse and not in that intriguing Dark Souls way, just in that not very well thought out old-school RPG way.

    In its defense, I only played it after things like The Witcher 3 which cannot be anything but a totally unflattering comparison for Dragon’s Dogma. Still, the reality was I just couldn’t get into it.

    Maybe if I’d played it back at release it would have done more for me but alas, it did little for me.

    • khalilravanna says:

      Some interesting comparisons you make. From my personal view, I think the comparison to a Souls game is apt. My first moments with Dragon’s Dogma remind me of my first moments with Demon’s Souls where items/inventory/equipment and mechanics were a bit obtuse and confusing at first but I gradually learned to love them.

      The comparison to Witcher 3 which you also frame as a negative is interesting because I actually bounced off of Witcher 3 for it’s gameplay which I still don’t think holds a candle to Dragon’s Dogma’s. The controls in Witcher 3, as another commented noted, are clunky and awkward as all hell. Not only that but no fight in the Witcher 3 is nearly as interesting the first time you actually down a Drake or Chimaera all on your own in the woods in Dragon’s Dogma. DD has exhilarating, hard-fought battles that can last 10-20 minutes depending on your level. I think that in a nutshell is why I prefer Dragon’s Dogma, that is how they do difficulty differently. While both the Witcher and DD have no level scaling (you can wander into a high level fight in both and get your ass handed to you), in the Witcher if you’re fighting a high level enemy too early it can feel completely unfair and unwinnable. In Dragon’s Dogma however, you can usually figure out a strategy to win, even if it will take a long time. And the rewards are great. (Again, unlike the Witcher. Not enough interesting items or gear in that game IMO).

      • SMGreer says:

        Not to say you’re wrong because I’m most definitely in a minority when it comes to my feelings on Witcher 3’s combat but I really love it and I really didn’t get much out of Dragon’s Dogma.

        In theory, clambering up a beasties legs and taking it down with your party’s aid should be intensely exciting but it always felt too rough and messy to be satisfying. Lacked finer control for what it was doing and seemed to me, to be largely stats driven with your actual attempts at tactics in a fight largely proving ineffective without higher numbers.

        By contrast, The Witcher’s array of signs, bombs, potions etc. always seemed to give me some new combination to try and use to my advantage. The swordplay’s very simplistic overall but it’s just one tool in your arsenal.
        It seems we’ve had quite opposite experiences as I found myself many times able to take on enemies much higher level than me in the Witcher but found myself having to grind endlessly to take on certain foes in Dragon’S Dogma (a big reason I gave up on it).

    • Maxheadroom says:

      I picked up the re release (bundled with Dark Arisen) when it first came out on the PS3 and found it really engrossing.
      I finished it too which is rare for me these days.

      The Dark Arisen expansion its self though was a different kettle of fish altogether, and I tired of that really quickly. There’s no story to speak of, its just room after room of monsters in a seemingly never ending dungeon crawl.

      • khalilravanna says:

        Yeah the expansion I bounced off of the first time I played it on ps3. I came back with a better character/understanding-of-the-game on PC and ran through it and had fun. But you’re right, it’s essentially the developers answering the fan’s saying “we want a challenge” and the devs saying “ok here’s a challenge after a challenge after a challenge after–oh here’s a boss and here’s another boss–is that DEATH, the grim reaper as an enemy?! I think it is!–after a challenge, etc…”. If you’re not looking for pure tough fight after tough fight and more levels and loots, there’s no real point in checking out Dark Arisen’s content.

        • Razumen says:

          Well, it IS an ARPG after all, and the combat is the game’s strong point, not the story, so it kinda makes sense for them to add a large sprawling dungeon…it’s just the lack of difficulty balancing actually that is actually their biggest mistake: being able to instantly chug healing items breaks the difficulty, much like it does in Bethesda’s games.

  2. Blackcompany says:

    Played 2 hours. Found it utterly cumbersome, tedious, poorly animated and completely unengaging. Reminded me far too much of Bethesda’s penchant for under developed, over hyped, generic open world games.

    • UncleLou says:

      For me it’s the complete opposite of Bethesda. Gorgeous, hand-crafted world design, basically the best combat mechanics and controls in the genre (whether as melee, ranged or spell-casting), and quality everywhere (dungeon design, as one example) instead of quantity.

      I also find the animations pretty great – the big monsters in particular.

      For me, it’s like a modern take on Bard’s Tale meets Ultima (Underworld).

      Finsihed it several times (first on the PS3, then on the PC), and it’s game that I keep installed.

    • Carra says:

      Same here. Played it for two hours and it didn’t grab me. Should have played more? Maybe.

  3. yogibbear says:

    YES! And it’s absolutely damn bloody fantastic!

  4. DarkFenix says:

    Played it, loved it. The game’s main gimmick is fighting giant creatures and being able to climb all over them to stab them where it hurts, that alone pretty much carried it for me.

    It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it got the gameplay right whereas The Witcher 3 shat itself in the first hour of play with its fucking God-awful controls.

  5. Farsearcher says:

    It is rather bland at first but I pushed through and really started to enjoy myself.

    The combat is really something a strange mixture of weightiness from Dark Souls, the monster climbing of Shadow of the Colossus and a skill set which feels quite MMOish to me.

    I remember the first time I met an ogre. It was in a mine, before that I’d only met bandits in there but then you hear growling and it leaps out of the darkness at you sending you flying back. There was a real sensation of movement and impact I haven’t really seen in other RPGs.

    The story goes to interesting places later on too but it is a bit of a slog to get through the earlier sections.

    I’d adore a sequel with a more vibrant world.

  6. RobbieTrout says:

    In the middle of it right now (on the Xbox 360), and loving it.

    It does start out pretty generic, but keeps building and gets better as it goes along. The relationship between the Arisen (you), the Pawns, and humanity in general is more complex than it appears at first, as is the relationship between the Arisen and the Dragon. There are topics in there worth pondering. If you have the Bitterblack Isle extension (built into the Dark Arisen edition), that introduces further themes of loss and redemption.

    As you level up, the enemies get stronger in interesting ways. Yes, they get slightly beefier and you tend to encounter larger numbers of them. But more strikingly, they get smarter. Wolves start dodging and trying to circle behind you. Goblins and hobgoblins get more cunning and better equipped. You’re also more likely to encounter mixed groups — fighting a chimera, for instance, while a goblin band is hanging around the edges of the battle and picking at you.

    In pure gameplay terms, yes, it would be nice to see a greater variety of enemies. On the other hand, having enemies that fall into specific categories is helpful in learning and predicting their behaviour, strengths and weaknesses, and other characteristics.

    Also, once you enter the third phase of the game, the interest shifts from raw dungeon-crawling to politics. At the moment I’ve been doing so many jobs for the Duke that I’m itching to head out into the forest, or sailing off to Bitterblack, for some good old-fashioned monster bashing.

  7. jj2112 says:

    Yes, a very good game even though the combat becomes quite easy even at the hardest setting. And I loved that the night is really dark and frightening (you hear me, Skyrim?)

  8. Hawke says:

    Amazing game. Completed DD:DA 3+ times on PC (couldn’t do it on PS3, because the controls were awful). Kind of Shadow of the Colossus + Gothic + a party-RPG.
    The only thing I disliked was 1 save slot per account, though, Steam Family Sharing solved it partially.

    • Hawke says:

      Also end-game grinding combined with merciless RNG, but it’s typical for RPGs and completely optional.

  9. Thulsa Hex says:

    Not yet, but it’s been pretty high up on The List ever since Cool Ghosts/Daft Souls covered the PC release.

    • banana says:

      Gotta admit, these two gentlemen have a brilliant taste in video-games! I always keep an eye on their recommendations.

  10. a very affectionate parrot says:

    Yes I have!
    It’s great!

  11. Monggerel says:

    “The delightful and ever-novel pleasure of a useless occupation.”

    Dragon’s Dogma sure as shit knew what it was, and that’s valuable.

  12. GWOP says:

    While Dragon’s Dogma’s overworld may seem bland, its dungeon designs in Bittlerblack Isle are among some of the best in gaming. Finding a destroyed subterranean city right before meeting Daimon was amazing.

  13. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    Hey, did you guys know that goblins are weak to fire?

  14. Razumen says:

    I’m actually playing it right now, and I love it. The combat is very well done and satisfying, whether it’s as a nimble ranger, warrior, mage or anything in between, it all works. The pawn’s aren’t the brightest of companions, but they’re actually useful, and brighter than say, Skyrim’s (Bethesda should be taking notes down from this game, but we know they won’t) If you put a mage in your party they’ll automatically buff/heal you and warrior’s will hold enemies down so you can attack them freely.

    Does have a few flaws though, the story isn’t as gripping as it could be, the overworld isn’t nearly as large as the map first leads you to believe, and perhaps worst of all, the game lets you chug healing items instantly and anywhere. That means you could be clinging to a flying Griffin, but still eat 15 mushrooms in order to keep your stamina up.

    Still, despite these flaws, the combat is really so engaging that it’s easy to forgive it for them. There’s nothing like exploring a new region and then having an epic battle as Chimera attacks you out of nowhere, or exploring a abandoned mine that’s now home to several trolls. It’s not Dark Souls, but it’s not really trying to be, it’s just a really good ARPG.

  15. haldolium says:

    Yeah. It fucking sucks ass. Played it for quite a while, 30+h something.

    Nice premise, great ideas, wasted with HORRIFIC visual representation that will haunt you until you play an actually good looking Playstation 2 (yes, 2. Thats the level DD is on) game, as well as backtracking and awful grinding and a even worse representation of characters. Not to mention the animation shit they somehow transfered from 2001 into these days.

    I kind of hope they take the concept a step forward, since in its core it was really nice and refreshing. But since it’s Capcom, to wish of such thing is rather naive.

    • Razumen says:

      I don’t think you actually remember what PS2 graphics were like, DD is nothing like that.