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Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen Review

Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is not a DLC. No, although you would be forgiven for thinking so, given Capcom’s rather convoluted and muddled pre-release publicity for the title, but Dark Arisen asks you to recall the time before digital downloads – when expansion scale content was released in physical form only.

The amount of new content available on Bitterblack Island (Dark Arisen’s new area) is commendable, and whilst there are a great deal of recycled assets from the main game present, the new features far outweigh the odd re-skinned enemy and re-hashed environment. Given Capcom’s recent reputation for withholding content already on the disc, Dark Arisen is a breath of fresh air from the Japanese company.

Before the secrets of Bitterblack are explored, it’s important to note that Dark Arisen is also packaged with a separate disc that contains an HD texture pack, which vastly improves the previously awful loading times. The change in graphical fidelity is admittedly nothing major; although Dragon’s Dogma wasn’t a terrible looking game to begin with anyway. The only real shame is that the rather noticeable screen tearing present in the original release remains.

Bitterblack Island, a rather deceptive name, (more on that later) is accessed through Orla, a new NPC that enigmatically appears on the shores of Cassardis and promptly whisks you away to the secluded isle to explain why your help is needed.

Dragon's Dogma’s story wasn’t exactly lauded upon its original release, but it was far from bad. Below the surface of the usual Japanese wackiness, the story of the Arisen was rather intriguing. Bitterblack’s story is rather minimalistic in itself, told through Orla and various tablets scattered throughout the island.

The titular Dark Arisen made a pact with a dragon, subsequently being cursed and robbed of his lover. Tasked by Orla to ‘set him free’, you begin your journey through the island. To call Bitterblack an island though, is rather deceptive. The giant labyrinth extends much further downwards than it does outwards, essentially resulting in a monstrously sized dungeon, filled to the brim with creatures that want nothing more than to feast on your insides, and chances are, they will – frequently.

Capcom weren’t joking when they emphasised that the new area was for experienced players. The recommended entry level being 40, the temptation to overcompensate was too tempting, yet even with a character level of 75 (you can import your character if you own the original release) and three equally seasoned pawns, we were still getting pummelled into the ground. Even so, the difficulty initially scales fairly as you go deeper, and the new enemy types mixed with the old are a joy to experience. Most standard enemies now drop rift crystals as a currency, which have been vastly expanded beyond their original, rather redundant use.

New (and rare) 'cursed' items can now be found in chests whilst exploring that can only be ‘cured’ by spending said crystals with Orla, who will reveal new armours, weapons or skills. Both of the former can now also be upgraded further past the previous level of ‘dragon-forged’ to new levels using this system. You could argue that more power is redundant, but in Bitterblack, there really is no such thing as being overpowered when facing what lies within.

Speaking of which, not only are there new variations of old foes to contend with, but you’ll be literally accompanied by frequent visits from Death as an optional boss – adding in a Nemesis-style type of pressure to proceedings who, if you’re not careful, will instantly K.O your entire party. Bitterblack itself is split up into three large sections that each culminate in entirely new boss fights, and if you’ve played the original Dogma before, be ready to fight the even more annoying big brother of the Evil Eye.

When the whole experience comes together, the pacing of each area, interspersed with combat, exploration and upgrading is brilliant fun, and the expansion really starts to feel like a Capcom inspired Dark Souls; hidden away from the main game. Each section, as mentioned earlier, culminates in a boss encounter that must be studied for a weakness to attain victory, upon which you are rewarded with a huge sense of satisfaction, relief and a shortcut back to the surface to restock on items.

However, Dark Arisen’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. As you progress further into Bitterblack, enemies become much, much more difficult to handle. There’s certainly nothing wrong with hard games, but the difficulty becomes increasingly sporadic. The frequent spikes often result in you and your pawns laying waste to enemies one minute and then finding yourself overwhelmed and back at your last checkpoint in a matter of moments.

Whilst these can usually be overcome with some careful planning and a lot of luck, you will often find yourself ultimately attempting to run past groups of enemies due to the poor checkpoint system making every enemy you just killed re-spawn. Persevere, and you will reach the final boss of the expansion, but you will probably find yourself wishing you hadn’t, as what awaits you is a tedious end to a rather excellent package. This is no place for spoilers, but suffice it to say, it took over an hour alone to defeat an agonisingly cheap final boss that almost sours the entire experience.

Regardless of the few missteps that Capcom took with Dark Arisen, the whole expansion adds too much to be ignored, and when you take this into account with the myriad of other small tweaks that streamline the whole game and not just Bitterblack, Dragon's Dogma is undeniably brilliant value for money. If you’re new to the series or a veteran, you get the original game in addition to the all-new areas for a bargain that you’ll easily find yourself sinking hundreds of hours into. What are you waiting for? Gransys awaits.

8.00/10 8

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen (Reviewed on Xbox 360)

This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.

Dragon’s Dogma is a surprising game. On the surface, it seems both boring and shallow but dig deep and this title is one with some incredible, huge ideas, like the Pawn system and the way a player can alter their class. But there are little parts, too; for example, players can climb up onto huge monsters and battle them and there is a lot on offer here. Dragon’s Dogma is a very rare game: one that has practically nothing going for it and no huge franchise name attached to it. Yet, despite this, it comes along and pleasantly surprises the player with an enjoyable RPG romp.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Joe Pring

Joe Pring

Staff Writer

Spends a lot of time writing. If he doesn't have a pad of paper, he's likely to start scrawling indecipherable sentences all over the walls.

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Ewok - 11:38pm, 3rd April 2015

I enjoyed Dragon's Dogma but due to time constraints I never got very far into it. Still have it though and would be tempted to go back to it. If I can get a decent trade-in value I might swap it out for Dark Arisen.

icaruschips - 11:38pm, 3rd April 2015

I really liked what I played of DD, I fondly remember accidentally throwing a few people off cliffs by accident, accidentally. I also never got very far though.