Review: Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (PC)

It has been nearly four years since Capcom unleashed the grand RPG under the Dragon’s Dogma flag. While they’ve experimented with the genre in the past, outside of the hybrid that is Monster Hunter, it’s hard to believe the Japanese studio continues forth with risks such as this after how Breath of Fire has transitioned to the mobile market recently. Capcom seems to be taking a backseat lately, focusing on remastering old classics to rekindle the interest in long-running fans over creating new properties. They’ve already done so with Resident Evil, Mega Man, Devil May Cry and Street Fighter over the last few years, with only spinoffs being released on the side. They’re even as going as far as completely remaking Resident Evil 2, although we won’t see that for a long time. Their latest addition to their remaster catalog is Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, bringing 2013’s open world RPG to a whole new group of players. Capcom has done right by the PC community in the past, porting most of their work to the flexible platform to varying success, and with Dragon’s Dogma sporting the MT Framework, surely nothing could go wrong.

The story is relatively straightforward: you play as a young villager when a vicious dragon attacks your fishing village. After the encounter, the dragon takes the protagonist’s heart and brands him or her as an Arisen. This kicks off the lengthy adventure as you visit various locations and partake in a number of quests from certain kingdoms and organizations, to ultimately track down the Dragon that has done you wrong. You even get your own personal Pawn that can be fully customized, and he plays a vital role in aiding you on the adventure. This is far more of a fantasy game than anything else as it features appearances from some of the most well-known, and theoretically dangerous mythical creatures. This includes chimeras, dragons (of course), cockatrices, evil eyes, and so much more. There’s very little deviation from the story in how it plays out, though. While you’re able to manipulate certain aspects, such as giving gifts to specific characters to win their favor, the story is more or less set in stone. Some side quests will only unlock when you go down certain paths, but other than that, the only differences will be how you affect whether or not certain characters will blush when talking to you.

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The combat in Dragon’s Dogma is relatively unique in its approach. It’s very much an action-RPG, focusing on leveling up certain classes to obtain experience points to unlock various skills, but how the player executes these abilities is what makes it different. For one, the protagonist and his AI comrades have the ability to grab onto enemies. Sometimes it’s to hold them down, allowing you to land the finishing blow, while there’s other beings that are colossal in size that they actually need to be climbed onto to do damage. For example, a Cyclopes’ major weakness is its eye, but if you can’t fire a bow, making your way up its back and onto its face is the only way to do critical damage. There’s a lot of variety when going into combat, whether you’re playing as a quick paced rogue or a defensive warrior, the options almost feel endless. It’s a true RPG where, while the story plays out the same, the experience in encounters will differ based on how you equip and alter your character. Playing as a Mystic Knight will always feel vastly different than an Assassin.

It should be noted how difficult Dragon’s Dogma is. It’s by no means the level of something like Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls, but there’s definitely challenge to the gameplay, especially if you don’t enlist a healer in the party. This isn’t just bosses, either, as monsters that inhabit the vast lands can rip you to shreds within an instance if you don’t progress intelligently and equip the Arisen and Pawn correctly. This ties right into one of the core aspects of the gameplay: the day and night cycle. While various open world games have a similar mechanic, Dragon’s Dogma is one of the very few, if not the only one that does it properly. No one really wants to be out at night unless they’re hold up in a cave or dungeon. The world is already scary as it is, but very few games make you gleeful to see even a twinkle of light in the distance. Lively locations such as towns and hideouts will have some lighting thanks to torches, but the vast majority of the game will have the Arisen traversing pure darkness. When we say pure darkness, we mean you barely can see five feet in front of you even with an illuminated lantern. It’s an exhilarating feeling adventuring and uncovering various new locations and treasures only to be engulfed in darkness where your sight is drastically hindered.

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Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of issues that plague the PC version of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen. Easily the most annoying is the fast travel system. Almost every modern open world RPG has a form of fast travel that makes traversing through the world less grueling; while Dragon’s Dogma has a way to bypass running hundreds of kilometers over and over again, it comes at a cost. While it’s vastly improved over when it was first introduced in 2012, it’s not as convenient as we’d hoped. There are a couple of set locations that can be teleported to, but they are too few and far between. You will need to find or spend an obscene amount of gold on a Port Crystal that will allow a location to be teleported to. Fortunately, because there wasn’t an original Dragon’s Dogma on PC, everyone who purchases Dark Arisen will be granted an Eternal Ferrystone, giving the Arisen an infinite amount of teleports instead of forcing them to find or spend money on one-time items.

The online connectivity is also not all that expansive. While it’s a part of the design, the “multiplayer” aspects of Dark Arisen could have been so much more. The whole idea is that other players will be able to take your created pawn and bring them into their game, and vice versa. If that person fights enemies or bosses that you haven’t experienced yet, the pawn will come back with not only items but knowledge about their weaknesses. This asynchronous cooperative multiplayer is neat but would have been monumental as full on experience. At least it’s not just leaderboard support that a lot of developers are throwing in as some form of connectivity.

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Capcom has improved Dragon’s Dogma substantially by moving it to the PC platform. For one, the game doesn’t require too strong of a computer to run maxed out at 1080p 60fps. We ran it on three-to-four year old hardware (i5 2500k and AMD 7950 Boost) and the experience was phenomenal. We even bumped it up to 1440p and it hovered between 40 and 80 frames when v-sync was turned off, averaging around 55. There are also various graphical options to tinker with; this includes multiple anti-aliasing techniques, HDR, texture filtering, distance scaling, and shadow, texture, grass and effect quality, just to name a few. The draw distance is something that could have been better modified, as foliage specifically draws in at around fifteen feet in front of the protagonist, with detailed/larger geometry popping in much further out in the background. It can be distracting both in towns and in the open world, but it’s not too bad.

The only real gripe in the visual department is that this does look like an old game. While the clarity looks much better thanks to the higher resolution options, from both in an artistic and technical standpoint, it won’t blow anyone away. It’s to be expected for a four year old game, but this isn’t a significant leap from its last generation console counterpart. Outside of the visual aspects, there is one significant nagging issue within the audio. The audio levels, at least from our review build, were incredibly quiet, making us forcefully jack up our speakers beyond the levels they were intended for. Fortunately, that’s the worst nuisance we ran into, with others being, for example, the occasional crash to desktop, which can be incredibly frustrating considering it can be difficult to determine when the game auto-saves. Finally, the keyboard and mouse adaptation is done very well, using all the right key commands, with the exception of left-Alt being used for the secondary weapon. This can lead to some trouble moving the character while in this stance.

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Closing Comments:

Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is a four-year-old game wrapped in slightly better visuals. It’s an incredibly hardcore RPG that features so many unique characteristics that other developers should seriously consider adopting. While it maintains its charm, there are elements that feel dated. The keyboard and mouse transition is done almost perfectly, but the overall controls still feel a little clumsy at times and the online functionality should have been more fully developed. We also ran into multiple technical issues, whether it was low audio levels or frequent crashes, despite the game running nicely on three-to-four year old hardware. There’s still a lot to like in Dragon’s Dogma as the time of day actually plays a vital role in adventuring, and the world is absolutely brimming with exploration and mythical creatures to battle. There’s nothing like grabbing onto a Griffin only for it to take off fifty feet into the air. Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen for PC is a gem among the RPG genre, despite it being flawed in places.

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Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen (PC)
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