Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen Review – Still Fresh


Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen values the journey over the destination, and still manages to feel innovative four years after its initial release.

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Capcom

Platforms: Windows PC

Release Date: January 15, 2016

Remember 2012? Megaupload got shut down by the feds, and the internet was blessed (or cursed) with Gangnam Style. Something else happened, Capcom released an action-RPG called Dragon’s Dogma for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Those consoles are now collecting dust, but Dragon’s Dogma is looking shiny with a new PC release.

I remember hearing of this game during its initial release, but I wrote it off as something outside my tastes and paid it no attention. After getting my hands on Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen for PC, I now realize the error in my ways.

Dragon’s Dogma takes party composition and makes it the foundation of the game—there will always be AI companions by your side. They’re called “pawns,” and you choose them to fight along side you…or just to be meat shields.

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When you enter the pawn selection screen, you’re placed in the middle of a phantasmal career fair, full of pawns milling about hoping to be found worthy of your grace. You can pick the first one you see, or carefully comb through near-endless choices in search of the perfect companions.

The Witcher 3 placed an emphasis on preparation through potions and oils, but in Dragon’s Dogma pawns are your most potent weapon in the fight against evil. If you know the weakness of a certain enemy it’s in your best interest to find a pawn who can take advantage of it.

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Just don’t get too attached to them, because if they die in battle (which will happen at some point), they are actually dead. Dunzo. Gone. So treat them as expendable tools or treasured friends, it’s up to you. The one companion you can allow yourself to grow attached to is your main pawn. They can be re-summoned after death and are in many ways a second main character because you build them during character creation. In fact, many pawns you will use during your game belong to other players. It’s an asynchronous online component that lets your pawn help other players while you’re not in-game.

There’s nothing quite like it, for better and for worse.

The process of character creation is shockingly deep for something that looks like a joke at first blush. Make no mistake, you can create some ungodly monstrosities with the game’s weight, height, and limb options, but these choices have an unannounced affect on gameplay. Everything you choose contributes to your stats. The body you develop defines your strength, carry weight, and stamina. Your leg length affects your walking speed. Wind has a greater effect on smaller characters, as well. These are tiny details that perfectly represent the experience of Dragon’s Dogma. There’s nothing quite like it, for better and for worse.

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When presented with such artistic freedom I did what any sane-minded person wouldcreate the next adolescent boy wonder. He is greater than Harry Potter and Percy Jackson combined! And with a name like Boe Bingo who can’t love him? Little did I know my small boy would bind me to certain character attributes, luckily those played into my liking. My companion, Rex, was a huge dumb brute who also served as a great pack mule.

As if a counterweight to the potential silliness with character creation, Dragon’s Dogma makes a concerted effort to feel authentic, even if it means inconveniencing you. Food spoils, your lamp needs oil, and if you get wet, it will go out. On the flip side, you can throw a flask of water at an enemy to do bonus lightning damage, or turn that rotten egg into a nasty arrow that blinds them. Some of these small touches may seem petty, but they create a both gritty and authentic atmosphere of play that I grew to love rather than hate.

Google was my greatest companion…

Something I definitely didn’t love was the narrative and questing. Quantity-wise, most of my quest screen was loaded with “kill x amount of y” objectives that shouldn’t have been quests to begin with. The missions with unique objectives often strayed into veiled requests where I wasn’t entirely sure what to do. This is great for creating a sense of achievement when you succeed, but when you fail to hear that crucial piece of information one of your pawns casually states from afar, you may end up like me, running around looking for something that was right in front of me the whole time. Whether it be NPC locations, quest objectives, or crafting recipes, Google was my greatest companion in Dragon’s Dogma, It’s one of the greatest benefits to playing a four-year-old game.

Dragon’s Dogma seems to realize how cryptic it can be, so your pawns tend to talk your ear off, spouting off knowledge about locales, enemies, and quests. This is very helpful, and at times crucial. However, being told wolves are weak to fire gets a little annoying after the 30th time. You can adjust how often your main pawn speaks through one-on-one meetings with them, but your support pawns live by their own rules. This PC release adds the ability to mute pawns, which will surely come as a relief to experienced players.

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Combat in Dragon’s Dogma is a mixture of disciplined blocks and timing fused together with over-the-top Japanese spectacle fighting. It’s difficult to nail down because the many different vocations available to you change how combat feels. I spend most of my time darting around the battlefield with daggers and a bow as a Strider but occasionally opt for a slower sword and shield for certain enemies using the advanced vocation of Assassin. You can also use magic or massive two-handed weapons for even more diverse gameplay. The game’s advancement structure allows you to be very flexible with your vocational choices, and it’s not strange to change your choice multiple times during the game.

Something else that adds a huge amount of choice both in and out of battle is the ability to grab things. You can drop a rock on an enemy’s head, pin them to the ground, or just pick them up and throw them off a cliff.

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When facing huge enemies, your grab action allows you to climb onto them. Your battle then shifts to finding a weak point and attacking it before you lose your grip. When facing a chimera, for example, you can grab the body and climb to the snake’s head to cut it off, negating the poison attacks the creature would otherwise attempt. When you combine all these systems together in a party, you get combat that doesn’t grow stale and flexes to fit the style of the player.

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When you are not in the heat of battle, Dragon’s Dogma places an emphasis on exploration. First there is the macro exploration of the overworld as you traverse the regions of Gransys, uncovering more of your map with every step. Each of these steps challenges you to scour ledges, corners, and nooks for the abundance of items all around you. There’s always something for you to pick up, even if it’s just a rock. Gransys is also filled with treasure chests, some in plain sight, and others carefully placed to reward the adventurous. Combine this loot placement with a very freeing movement system and I found myself jumping across ravines and scaling ancient ruins all in the pursuit of stuff.

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The downside to all this treasure hunting and available loot is the amount of time you’ll spend in inventory screens. I feel like a big chunk of my playtime was spent sitting in menus managing weight, combining ingredients, and figuring out what in the heck my pawns had been collecting. Inventory management in Dragon’s Dogma has problems. It feels old and is slow to navigate. There is very little help managing your recipes and you can’t see everything at once.

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The crafting process itself is painstaking, and the wide range of available ingredients meant I always had a tiny bit of everything, but not enough of the essentials. The potions, called “curatives”, often require multiple crafting steps to create, rarely feel worth the effort, and worst of all, clog up your inventory due to their very situational usage. One enhancement in the PC release of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen attempts to alleviate this pain by giving you six item hotkeys. Unfortunately, this is a small bandage on a large wound, and an inventory overhaul would have been greatly appreciated.

Aside from these minor interface additions and controller support, the bulk of new features are cosmetic. The framerate is uncapped, and it offers up the original uncompressed textures plus 4k support. This isn’t really a remaster; it’s more akin to a deluxe edition (all DLC included) gracing the PC for the first time. For players like me, this is a golden opportunity to play something you missed at a reasonable price of $29.99 USD.


The fresh and flexible combat keeps the core of the game from growing stale even if bland quests and clunky inventory try to sour you. Dragon’s Dogma is full of nifty innovations and neat ideas, even if other parts of the game are still stuck in the past. It’s an unforgiving hardcore RPG that certainly isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it is highly rewarding to anyone willing to give it a try.

A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.