Second time lucky.

Dragon’s Dogma is widely viewed as a flawed gem of a game. It offered breathtaking combat, vast and often tense open-world exploration, excellent character customisation options and the unique Pawn system. It was Capcom doing what Capcom does best: offering a satisfying gaming experience with immense amounts of replay value.I named Dragon’s Dogma my 2012 game of the year for these reasons, and despite its numerous flaws, I stand by that. I got more enjoyment out of Dragon’s Dogma than most titles released last year.

If you’ve never played Dragon’s Dogma, it plays like a hybrid of Monster Hunter and Shadow of the Colossus; you are able to take on gargantuan monsters with an emphasis of resource gathering, equipment crafting and careful preparation. Throw in the ability to climb onto the larger monsters to target specific body parts, and you have a game that truly shines in the combat department. This is also the reason I named it my game of the year. In no other game have I stabbed a gryphon in the head until it got so mad it flew up into the air, with me still clinging on for dear life, and promptly flew me across the map before hurtling head first into a dense forest filled with goblins, where the fight continued.

Almost a year on, the title returns bearing the Dark Arisen expansion, which offers up a whole heap of new and interesting content. Thankfully, the base game is fully included and even contains some unlockable bonuses for returning players. Unfortunately, this also means that many of the problems that plagued the original game have returned with a vengeance, with varying efforts of ironing out the wrinkles. While it’s fair to say that some changes have been made to allow for a more accessible role-playing experience, this is more or less the same game that released last year bar the obvious expansion.

Dragons Dogma Dark Arisen dungeon

It’s getting hot in here, so vanquish all your foes.

Dark Arisen’s main draw is the brand new expansion, which offers around ten more hours of solid, dungeon-crawling content. The Arisen and his party of Pawns find themselves drawn to Bitterblack Isle, which is essentially a large, underground labyrinth filled with monsters. As you’d expect, the dungeon gets progressively harder the deeper you delve, and an ample stock of curatives and no small amount of top quality weapons will only go so far in aiding you in this endeavour. Capcom recommends you be around level 45 before attempting this new content, though you’ll most likely want to aim for much higher than that before you can efficiently deal with anything the Isle throws your way, as the difficulty drastically steepens around halfway through. While Bitterblack Isle doesn’t offer anything remarkably original content-wise outside of some new items, equipment, and around 25 new enemies,  it’s still a highly enjoyable chunk of end-game dungeon raiding. You’ll still be frequently thrown into fights with giant beasts with some of the greatest combat mechanics seen this generation.

You’ll still be frequently thrown into fights with giant beasts with some of the greatest combat mechanics seen this generation.

While Dark Arisen is more or less the same game as the original release, Capcom have thrown in a few incentives for returning players. Importing your original save file to Dark Arisen will carry over your progress (which was a very nice surprise for myself, having gotten rid of the original game several months prior), as well as provide you with 100,000 Rift Crystals to spend on high-level Pawns and certain items available on Bitterblack Isle. You’ll also receive 6 gender-specific outfits worn by prominent Dragon’s Dogma NPCs. Finally, and undoubtedly the most useful incentive, is an Eternal Ferrystone, which negates having to constantly buy said item for fast travel use.

Catch The Ferrystone

Travel around the world of Gransys is now a good deal less of a chore. Fast travel spots (known as portcrystals) are now placed outside the game’s major hubs. Used in conjunction with the Eternal Ferrystone makes fast travel a sensible option as opposed to an expensive luxury. Capcom have hit a sweet spot with their approach to fast travel in Dark Arisen. You’ll still have to go out and explore the world, but the ease of being able to return in an instant alleviates a great deal of backtracking, allowing for a more streamlined experience. Saying that, players who are picking up Dragon’s Dogma for the first time here will still have to regularly purchase Ferrystones, put their prices have been slashed significantly.

Prior to the release of Dark Arisen, Capcom stated that the Pawns would talk less, and that they’d made efforts to space out the lines originally heard quite frequently. From my experience, this is far from the truth. If anything, I found the Pawns talked a good deal more than in the original game, and they’re still as condescending as ever. While it remains a clever system considering the online community surround it, the Pawns’ AI is still noticeably lacking in just that: intelligence. They still pick up everything in sight regardless of their carrying capacity, they still get in the way during fights, and a lot of the time they fail to even do their jobs.

dragons dogma dark arisen monster fight

Eye surgery has come a long way.

For example, I currently have a mage Pawn with me that uses a healing spell. If I take a hit that deals minute amounts of damage, the Pawn will stop whatever it is they’re doing (like fighting a weakened enemy) and begin charging up a heal spell. Then, when I seem to need a healing spell the most, they’ll be elsewhere getting their arses handed to them by whatever abomination is blocking the road. A full co-op experience would be greatly appreciated next time around.

Other than this, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen doesn’t really add too much to the original formula, outside of Bitterblack Isle and a bunch of new armour sets and weapons. But honestly, that’s okay; the expansion does its job by being just that: an extension to a game many have already had countless hours of fun with. The budget price certainly doesn’t hurt, either.

If you’re a Dragon’s Dogma veteran, the updates Dark Arisen provides is comparatively low for the asking price. As for you newcomers to the franchise, this is a great place to jump in, provided you don’t mind stocking up on Ferrystones and the oft irksome Pawn system.

Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen was reviewed on PlayStation 3.

Arise, Sir Knight