For RPG fans who give it a fair chance, there is aught to enjoy in Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen.
I did not like Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (which will henceforth be abbreviated DDDA) for most of my opening hours with it. Sure, “The End at the Beginning” certainly piqued my interest by presenting the game’s premise. And then I got to create my own character (who will henceforth be called Arisen), and I thought he was pretty damn cool looking. Seeing the opening moments in his small village was also very exciting. I couldn’t wait to get started!
And then I did, and it was rough. I made my pawn. I got a couple more pawns. I ran back and forth and back and forth between my village and the Pawn Encampment too many times to count, fighting goblins and wolves all the while. My stamina would run out so quickly that every trip felt like it took ages. I would grab stuff and noticed I began to run even more slowly; my inventory was too heavy. On every trip at least one of my pawns would repeat something about plants being like “so many verdant children.” They also kept reminding me that “goblins fear ice and fire both.” I definitely understood what they meant the first couple times they said it—did they have to keep reminding me? When I finally
made it to the capital, I couldn’t wait to really get started!
Yet, it still didn’t feel like I found my groove. My first cyclops fight took about ten minutes. I spent the last five minutes of that fight on the back of its neck, button mashing the Y button, stabbing away with my knife. It wasn’t fun, but it was doing the most damage. The pawns kept reminding me about its eye being a weak point. I figured that out early on, but they felt the need to remind me numerous times just in case.
There were some missions to undertake once I arrived at the capital. Many more escort missions, a rescue mission here or there, and, predictably, a chimera’s share of fetch quests. I was extremely weak and felt that I needed to do these missions to get stronger. Once again, everything was a slog, despite the world of Gransys being relatively tiny compared to other open-world games. Traveling from the capital, to my village, to anywhere else in Gransys took forever, especially when I had to fend off more wolves and goblins around every turn. My measly attacks barely chipped away at even the smaller enemies, so all these hours I was spending on this game were feeling fruitless. Also, did I mention that the pawns liked to remind me about the same things over and over again during all these long treks?
But I didn’t want to give up. DDDA has so many fans, so I had to be missing something. And once I got stronger, things definitely picked up. I got new abilities, and my strength and defense meant I could confidently confront the stronger beasts I would have previously fled from. Combat finally
started feeling satisfying—taking down the big monsters alongside my pawn was extremely rewarding, and I loved how I got to choose to fight them from the ground or by climbing on top of them a la Shadow of the Colossus. Even better, I was finally gaining access to the fast travel items, which meant fewer grueling treks!
After about ten hours, the pace had finally picked up. I was having a blast, mainly due to the combat. Taking on main story missions was remarkably more interesting and fun than the side missions, so I always looked forward to doing those. I had all sorts of loot that allowed me to upgrade equipment. My pawn and I became a good team, and we eventually were strong enough that we maxed out our current fighter classes and could change to something new. Doing so was a perfect mix of starting over yet maintaining a lot of my previous attributes, so despite being a bit weaker it felt like a great fresh start. Recruiting newer, stronger pawns of other DDDA players across the globe became an exciting way to add more strategy and compliment my battle style. Funny enough, the repetitive suggestions and observations the pawns spouted nonstop became little more than background noise, and despite my earlier inclinations to change their chatterbox settings, I decided I kind of liked it. What’s more, DDDA has an absolutely stunning soundtrack, including powerful orchestral pieces that range from tranquil (Cassardis), to gripping (Combat Tension), to absolutely epic (End of the Struggle).
All of this was happening in the midst of the interesting story of my Arisen. It is hard to talk about the storyline of DDDA without spoiling anything, but it is told in a fascinating way. The Arisen’s role in the fate of Gransys is intertwined with the arrival of a gargantuan dragon and a flood of otherworldly beasts. Without realizing it, the Arisen has an enormous weight to carry, and by the end of the game everything you learn is turned on its head. There is just enough left open to interpretation so that by the time you watch the credits roll you feel very satisfied with how everything played out. Other than the egregious “romance” that is forced upon the Arisen (often unbeknownst to the player until it is too late), the storyline in DDDA is expertly written and presented from beginning, to end, and beyond.
Once my groove was finally found, for the most part I had a great time. Still, many early problems never went away, and they ultimately soured some of the experience. The worst of these was my inventory. The amount you can carry is based on the character you create. In between every mission, and often times mid-mission, I would have to spend anywhere from five to twenty minutes simply adjusting my inventory. It was an extremely tedious process, and it confounds me that the game encourages players to explore and grab loot, but then punishes them by slowing their movement way, way down as they discover more great items. By the ends of many missions, my Arisen was moving so slowly I had no idea how I was going to take on the inevitable boss fights when I felt like I had cement in my boots. Using the storage is critical, but it is only available in the cities.
Comparatively, other ever-present issues were mildly annoying. The fast travel items are truly what kept me from giving up on the game completely, but you only get a handful of them and thus will still be slowly running from place to place in many cases. The visuals on the Switch are muddy, and in handheld mode they are quite dim even with all the brightness settings at maximum levels. The world of Gransys is in and of itself fairly uninteresting; I tended to find myself much more fascinated with the caves, mines, and other mysterious pockets that Gransys had tucked away, each permeating with eerie histories and surprises. An additional complaint is in the two ways the game offers its sidequests. The first way is for the dull, generic (but usually worth doing) quests on the handful of notice boards in certain areas. You won’t find them all on a single board, so you’ll have to go from place to place if you want to know what they all are. The second way to take on the (somewhat more interesting) quests is directly from the people of Gransys. This nebulous process may go unnoticed by many players. Without a guide, you will have to repeatedly run around the different areas of Gransys if you want to ensure you’re not missing anyone’s quests. I know I missed plenty. What makes this even worse is that many quests are permanently gone after certain story events, and with DDDA only allowing one save file, missing a quest means there’s no going back.
Although the Arisen’s main quest can take as little as 30 hours, the gameplay and story give you plenty of reason to come back. Furthermore, DDDA includes a stunning expansion called Bitterblack Isle. In many ways an entirely separate game in its own right, Bitterblack Isle is the very definition of what an expansion should be. Separate storylines, an immense new setting to explore, even its own soundtrack! You are doing a disservice by exclusively playing the main game, because Bitterblack Isle is an experience all its own, and the opportunities and rewards it offers are noticeably more exciting than the main game. Completing Bitterblack Isle could easily add at least another 20 hours. With so much replay value overall, I could see many fans of DDDA playing hundreds of hours before getting bored.
DDDA is far from a perfect RPG, but its rough edges shouldn’t be enough to keep away players from an unusual storyline, limitless ways to build an awesome Arisen, and something different to discover every time it gets turned on. Give it a shot, create your own badass Arisen, and begin the cycle to follow the Dragon’s Dogma!