Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Reviewed by: Bracken Lee-Rudolph
“With the Dragon defeated and your heart reclaimed, you must now face an ancient darkness that has mysteriously arisen from the depths of the Cassardi Sea” – This is the description on the back cover of Dragon’s Dogma’s expansion pack, Dark Arisen. A mysterious figure waits on the pier in Cassardis every night, waiting to transport the Arisen to Bitterblack Isle – a mysterious and dangerous domain only accessible to those touched by the dragon, namely the Arisen and their pawns. Filled to the brim with powerful enemies and ancient hidden evil, does Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen rise to the challenge, cutting down all enemies in its path? Or does it fall, condemning it to the same fate as those who came before? Let’s find out:
The expansion pack’s storyline revolves around an Arisen by the name of Olra, who lures you to Bitterblack Isle to help her regain her memory and fulfill her purpose on the island. While the narrative starts slowly, due to the mysterious nature of the island and the gaps in Olra’s memories, once you start to learn the lore of the island, it becomes interesting very quickly. The expansion places the Arisen in a spectator’s position, so far as the narrative is concerned. This works very well, as you begin to realise that this is not a story about your Arisen, but is rather a story of the history of the island and its limited inhabitants, both friendly and unquestionably hostile. Another Arisen by the name of Barroch offers a survivalist’s perspective on the island, and conversations when you encounter him are often very enlightening on the lore and nature of the island and the Arisen who have been lured there.
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is difficult – frustratingly so. Compared to Dark Souls before release, Dark Arisen introduces you to a host of incredibly powerful new enemies, such as the Eliminator, a giant bull-like creature who wields a massive hammer and will charge down you and your companions, the giant Gorecyclops, which is often found chained to walls to keep it docile and control its power, and the Lich, a powerful undead spellcaster with numerous debilitating spells. While all of these are powerful enemy types which can be found numerous times through your descent through the tunnels and catacombs beneath Bitterblack Isle, the presence which stalks you constantly, the Grim Reaper, Death himself, is by far the most fearsome enemy found, as he possesses a scythe which can instantly kill the Arisen or their pawns (sending them back beyond the Rift) and a lantern which can instantly render an enemy unconscious. Other new enemies include necrophagous beasts which appear when many enemies have been killed in an area. They become more common and aggressive as you descend the depths of the labyrinthine tunnels.
However, with high level enemies comes high level loot, and Bitterblack Isle is full of it. Most enemies drop health or crafting items, but certain enemies and bosses drop either high level gear, or cursed items. Cursed items must be taken to Olra to be “purified”, so they can be used. This item appraisal often gives you very powerful items which are often useful against the denizens of Bitterblack Isle. Item improvement has gained 2 additional tiers, which can be achieved with the simultaneous use of items found in Dark Arisen and Rift Crystals. Other than that, the gameplay is largely the same as the original title’s, which is to be expected, given that it is an expansion pack. Worth noting, Dark Arisen also comes with all previous downloadable content, including the item packs – so be sure to outfit your Arisen with new gear before travelling to Bitterblack Isle.
Graphically, the title has not made any new strides, other than the new character models and environments. While the new pieces do look quite good, it would have been nice to see some slight improvements on the title’s current graphics, given that the title is almost a year old. It must be noted that the “HD Texture Pack” present on Disc 2 of the Xbox version of the expansion does not improve the graphics, but rather restores them to the levels of the original title. The full title and the expansion was too big to fit on one disc, so the developers opted to run Dark Arisen and Dragon’s Dogma off the same disc and rather install the textures to the HDD from the second.
So far as the audio is concerned, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen throws in a few improvements and a few failures so far as sound is concerned. The first notable change when starting up the title is the lack of the J-Pop song at the main menu. I personally was glad about this, as I felt the song did not fit the game. In addition to that, Bitterblack Isle has a whole new array of tracks added to the score so far as environmental and combat backtracks are concerned and these are largely fitting, if slightly repetitive. The real problem is with the voice acting; The expansion is well-voiced, but the lip sync is off for most characters, which takes away from the immersion the title provides. Other than that, however, the sound effects are good – monsters sound convincing, attacks sound realistic or mystical (depending on their nature) and the environment is often made to sound as foreboding as it should.
Lasting appeal is always where Dragon’s Dogma thrives. As with the first title, there are 200 levels which your player can rank up to – although you can import your readily leveled character in to Dark Arisen. However, a well-explored playthrough can last between 16 and 20 hours, and a second playthrough will be filled with more enemies and rarer loot. In addition to this, the new gear from all the other DLC plus the extra side missions should provide you with a few extra hours of gameplay.
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is rightfully being sold as a full retail expansion pack, as it offers as much or more gameplay time than many other titles available on the market. The game plays very similarly to the original Dragon’s Dogma, but the difficulty has been ramped up from deciding which health items you should bring with you to deciding how many revival items to take against your array of new and powerful enemies. The graphics look another year dated from when Brady’s review of Dragon’s Dogma went up, and although there are still some fantastic set pieces and enemies, the title could have done with a visual update.
The sound falters so far as the voice acting goes, but the sound effects and soundtrack largely redeem it. Lastly, the lasting appeal, with all the previous downloadable content, the full game included on disc and the Dark Arisen expansion, is where Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen shines; In addition to the multiple playthroughs that you may get from the main title, the expansion will keep you busy for about 20 hours while the extra included DLC will give you a few extra. For about half the price of a normal retail video game, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is great value for players who have never played Dragon’s Dogma before or who have not purchased any DLC as it bundles everything together in a well-presented and economically priced title.
Predominantly reviewed on the Xbox 360.