Also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Windows
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 5/13/2019 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is actually an enhanced re-release of Capcom’s original title in the IP, Dragon’s Dogma. Joshua Michael French, founder the venerable #SwitchCorps, took it upon himself to serve essentially as an unpaid one-man marketing army for the Switch port of Dragon’s Dogma by plugging the game HARD on his Twitter, encouraging other Switch enthusiasts to buy it, and even starting a pretty massive DM group on Twitter for those of us playing through the game on Switch.
Dark Arisen places you in the role of the Arisen, a man (or woman) killed by an eldritch dragon when it plucks the beating heart from your chest. You’re allowed a chance to live, however, and have a chance at revenge and reclaiming your stolen heart. To slay the dragon, reclaim your life, and save the realm, you’ll need the help of powerful allies. To this end, you gain the services of the Pawns, a group of beings from another realm with no real will or motivations of their own aside from serving the Arisen. With Pawns at your side, you set off on your journey to slay the dragon and, along the way, help the people of Gransys though quests as superficial as bringing medicinal herbs to help an overconfident explorer to quests as dire as uncovering and thwarting the plot of a treasonous doomsday cult. What you won’t experience in Dragon’s Dogma, however, is a feeling of having nothing to do.
The world the game creates is probably its greatest strength. The interaction with NPCs, the Pawns wandering throughout the fields, and monsters and human NPC foes that you can encounter in the field all give the game world a truly lived in feel. The game’s main quest is compelling enough, but the side quests that shed light on the corruption within the capital of Gran Soren and the political intrigue going on throughout the duchy in spite of the threat from the dragon are what really set Dragon’s Dogma apart of the multitude of “generic fantasy setting” games. The game does have some flaws, though. The biggest flaw, in my opinion, is that the pop-in with NPCs and environmental features is egregious. You’ll be running through the field and watching trees and bushes endlessly pop into existence in front of you. Part of this is, of course, due to the limitations of the Switch hardware, but even so, pop in to this degree is something I never once encountered in Skyrim or Breath of the Wild. The controls, as well, could stand some improvement as they end up feeling a little clunky although not to the extent that some practice can’t overcome. The game also includes a lot of escort quests. Fortunately, these are all optional, and your ward will typically find you no matter how far ahead you get, but the AI for these escorts is abysmal. If you’re walking through the field and encounter a dragon, rather than run the opposite direction like a rational unarmed townswoman, your ward will instead just kind of stand there as if inviting the dragon to tea.
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen looks at first glance like just another generic fantasy game, but those willing to put in the time will discover that it’s actually a strong and compelling experience in its own right. Playing a cross between Dark Souls, Monster Hunter, and The Witcher, Dragon’s Dogma feels simultaneously both familiar and new, a balance that few games these days manage to strike efficiently. A couple of different difficulty settings are available to make the game approachable to players of different skill levels, and if a challenge seems insurmountable, some level grinding, equipment upgrading, or Pawn team changes is all that’s needed to gain an edge in battle. I have to admit that I was skeptical when I began, but what I found once I got into the game, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.