Rather than delivering downloadable content to enhance the Dragon’s Dogma experience, Capcom has instead opted for a budget re-release of its rip-roaring adventure, complete with a foreboding new island to explore, advanced equipment, an expanded roster of enemies, and gentle cosmetic changes that make the package feel slicker and less clunky. But while this swashbuckling re-issue doesn’t fix the game’s basic flaws, Dragon’s Dogma is still an undervalued fantasy gem that offers hours of brutal monster-mashing, and is a thrilling ride for anyone who’s willing to overlook its shortcomings.
The main meat of Dark Arisen is Bitterback Isle, a fearsome labyrinth of dank corridors where enemies lurk around every corner, and is punctuated by openspaces where the most titanic battles are staged. The island is easily accessed at dusk via the docks at Cassardis, but only those with a previously saved game should leap straight to Bitterback as anyone below level 50 will be squashed as soon as they set foot on the cursed island.
As with the original Dragon’s Dogma, the game’s most exciting moments are found in the heat of battle, where players can dismember mythical beasts with elegant spells, or select a melee-class warrior who clambers over his foes à la Shadow Of The Colossus to slash them to ribbons. Help during combat comes from a trio of helpers or pawns who can swarm over enemies and provide crucial support, and who become invaluable when facing Dark Arisen’s new monsters such as towering ogres, giant lizards and a guest appearance from the Grim Reaper himself.
Sadly, though, the niggling problems that plagued the original game still taint the action. Although the battles are thrilling, the skirmishes lack the precision of other hack’n’slashers as you can’t lock on individual targets, which is infuriating on Bitterback Isle where multiple enemies pour into rooms and corner you in tight spaces. The pawns, although invaluable, can also be a source of frustration when they’re unceremoniously trampled underfoot by a giant or undermine your battle strategies, or simply ignore your commands when you frantically order them to regroup. Most riling, though, is how this jaunt across Bitterback Isle changes from sternly challenging to damn-near impossible as you approach the final stages of the adventure, which feels cheap and unfair when you’ve spent hours grinding through levels and preparing your hero for the game’s closing chapter.
Reviewed by David McComb