A modern cult classic gets a second chance for success
Dragon’s Dogma wasn’t a huge success when it released in 2012. The Capcom developed RPG had unique combat and boss fights that weren’t like anything else on the market, but it failed to become the Skyrim-killer the publisher was hoping for. Nonetheless, it developed a cult following. With the new release of the game on PC, that following has proven to be well-deserved. Despite a dull overall structure, Dragon’s Dogma is packed with unique, exciting experiences, and this is a terrific port that is unquestionably the best way to see them.
Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen
A modern cult classic gets a second chance for success.
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Your player character is able to choose between nine different vocations. Some are standard variations of traditional fighter, rogue, and mage classes, and others offer more advanced options, mixing and matching abilities from the more traditional class types. With “discipline” earned through levelling up, you purchase new abilities and attacks, and access to new vocations. You can change between unlocked vocations from an inn at any time, and most passive abilities will carry over between classes. Your vocation level is counted independently of your character level, further encouraging you to experiment with new builds and abilities.
Each of these classes allows a unique playstyle in the action-based combat, which is the game’s greatest strength. Different enemies obviously have different weaknesses, requiring you to change up your tactics based on who or what you’re facing. Using various abilities and managing health and stamina consumption gives the game strategic depth approaching that of a more traditional turn-based RPG, while the action itself is fast and exciting, owing to good movement options and animations that make every attack feel immediate and impactful.
Hold on tight. That’s going to be a bumpy ride
And that’s just when you’re fighting normal enemies. The true highlight of Dragon’s Dogma are its encounters with big, mythical monsters: trolls, ogres, hydras, chimeras, griffins, and yes, dragons. With obvious cues from Shadow of the Colossus, you can jump on and climb these creatures to get at their various weak points, while carefully avoiding their attempts to swat you away. Grabbing onto a griffin’s feathers will give you an easy hold to strike its head, but the monster could easily take to the skies and shake you loose, causing you to plummet to your death.
These encounters are exciting every time they happen, and slowly scaling the back of a cyclops to plunge a dagger in its eye was just as satisfying 20 hours in as it was the first time. My only complaint is wishing there was more - more encounters, more variety, and more scale. The creatures are huge, but the only truly massive creature is the game’s final boss, which provides a multi-stage, truly epic encounter that I would have loved to see more of.
Outside of a few scripted moments, most of these fights just happen as you’re exploring the world, creating a terrific sense of mystery and danger when you’re caught wandering in the wilderness. In most open-world games, the road is just a visual feature, but in Dragon’s Dogma, it’s a lifeline that shields you from truly dangerous encounters. Any trip off the beaten path will require you to be well-provisioned, because getting caught unprepared in the woods - especially at night - will quickly spell death for you and your party.
Your party is made up of characters called “pawns,” not-quite-human entities sworn to serve and protect you. You’ll always have a main pawn of your own creation, which you can customize in appearance and abilities just like your player character. Two more party slots are open, however, for pawns created by other players, downloaded from a central server. Not only does this allow you to create a party from tons of player-built options, it also means that as your own pawn is recruited in other games, they’ll gain knowledge to assist you in quests and aid in defeating enemies. This makes for a weird, asynchronous feeling of community that can really only be compared to the Souls games.
You’ll build your party from characters created by other players
While all the aspects at the core of Dragon’s Dogma are great, its weakness is in its overall structure. The overarching story is forgettable, without any notable characters or exciting plot turns. (The exception is the game’s absolutely bonkers ending.) I love the game’s dialog, but it’s an ironic sort of love brought on by its ridiculous self-seriousness. Even more troubling, the quest design is bland and uninteresting - almost everything is a matter of simply going to a place. While the terrific combat and the emphasis on cautious travel makes most of these journeys interesting, they start to wear thin once you’ve undertaken them five or ten times.
You’re also going to be literally weighed down by inventory management problems. While I’m normally very tolerant of encumbrance in games, here it feels like a constant burden. (So to speak.) That’s in part due to a lack of fast travel options–while these options are far better than they were in the game’s original release, there’s still no expedient way to offload your goods and return to your adventures.
With that being said, those are reservations that keep me from calling Dragon’s Dogma amazing - it’s still a great game. You can point to individual inspirations: it feels like an attempt to blend a Japanese combat system in a Western-style open world, its monster encounters feel like a mix of Monster Hunter and Shadow of the Colossus, and its unforgiving nature and asynchronous online features feel like echoes of the Souls series. But the end result, the blend of styles, feels wholly unique.
They’re masterworks, all. You can’t go wrong
And the new PC version is the definitive way to play it. The game runs beautifully, which is in stark contrast to the console versions’ frequent struggle to reach even 30FPS. The landscapes and vistas look gorgeous thanks to improved resolution and smoother framerates. The game shows its age in some cutscenes that show close-ups of muddy character textures, but for the most part it still looks great. The only real issue PC players might face is that the interface is very much designed for a controller. It plays wonderfully with a gamepad out of the box, but mouse and keyboard controls are iffy.
DRAGON'S DOGMA: DARK ARISEN VERDICT
Dragon’s Dogma is a great game that feels unique among fantasy RPGs thanks to its blend of mechanics and influences. Its flaws - repetitive quests and a somewhat aimless structure - don’t block out its enormous strengths. Its core combat is great, and fighting the game’s array of giant beasts is some of the most fun I’ve ever had in an RPG. And this PC version is absolutely the best way to play it.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Fighting a griffin after a lengthy quest to track it over rugged mountains and through windswept valleys. Watching the mighty beast fall amidst flashes of lightning and magical flames was immensely satisfying.
Fast-paced combat with strategic depth
Excellent, creative boss battles with big monsters