You know what? It’s been too long since I just talked about something a little more chill. So let’s chat about a game I’ve been playing a lot recently and digging the heck out of: Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen.
I picked up the game since it’s been re-released on the PS4, but it first came out in May of 2012… a few months after Skyrim and Dark Souls, respectively. Which is a shame, because while many people accused it of being a desperate attempt to compete with these two towering RPG’s, Dragon’s Dogma was way, way better than it had any right to be. I mean, it was far from perfect: it had a laundry list of flaws that included a confusing “affection” mechanic, limited uses of extremely useful teleportation items, and an online system that suffered from a lack of online players.
Many of these problems, however, would be fixed in the expansion that was released for the game, an expansion so large and comprehensive that the game had to be re-released entirely to fit all the content in there, called Dark Arisen. Not only did it patch out the problems, it added a massive, tough-as-nails new dungeon to the game that added hours’ worth of gameplay and tons of new and interesting mechanics that sparked new life into the already surprisingly invigorating game.
If I have any regrets, it’s that I didn’t pick this bad boy up sooner.
Regardless, I’m getting off-track. The re-release of this game means it’s the perfect time to pick up a copy and give it another go, and here’s a bunch of reasons why you should.
1) The Character Creation is amazing
I’m not going to pretend that Dragon’s Dogma’s character creation is the most comprehensive system out there. I’m not going to say it allows you to create the astonishingly detailed characters you see in Black Desert, or the monstrosities that must litter the world of Skyrim and Fallout 4. But for casual character creation fans like myself, it is absolutely perfect: because rather than having a slider that you can play with, which might or might not make a noticeable change in your character’s increasingly ugly face, it had pre-made shapes and designs that you could select from.
That within itself isn’t that strange: plenty of low-budget character creation tools have that. What makes this game so cool is that there’s a lot of diversity in the kind of choices you can make, and moreover, it shows you pictures of every single choice you have. All the ears have their own pictures you can pick form, all the hair, all the eyes… no random guessing, no trying to remember which looked best, it’s all there laid out in front of you.
And like I said, there’s a lot of diversity. Want to play a midget? Go for it. Or you could play an ogre with maxed out everything and a stomach the size of a small cow. You’re always gonna be at least sort of pretty, but you can make your voice sound like you just guzzled a gallon of liquid helium. It’s wonderful, and I love it.
2) They get fashion right.
Look, I’m a huge Dark Souls fan, and as such, I have a huge love for Fashion Souls, the practice of forgoing the armor that gives you the best stats in favor of the armor that looks the most fabulous on your avatar. And boy, Dragon's Dogma is on the money here: there’s a lot of cool looking armor that you can use to customize yourself, and while some pieces are objectively better than others, the use of weight and upgrades means that even if you’re not wearing the best armor, you’re well-enough prepared to face the challenges ahead and you typically have the benefit of being able to run super-fast, which is perfect when you want to get somewhere you can’t warp too.
Actually upgrading your armor can be a bit tricky, since it’s not enough to simply pay gold: past the first level you also have to have the right items in your inventory or storage to upgrade the item you want, like leather to improve your booty shorts. But there are only three upgrade levels, the first can always be gotten with gold, and even fully upgraded the difference to your defenses is typically only a few points. A few points worth getting, if you can, but the game’s not so hard you’ll be helpless if you go to combat with a non-upgraded weapon.
And while you can’t show your own character’s fashion off, you can send your Pawn, a pseudo-human of your own design, to help other players in other worlds. And like a peacock in mating season, that’s where your sense of style actually matters: there are gameplay benefits to having your Pawn help other players, as they bring back treasure from their adventures, and thus you want to dress your Pawn in a way that entices other players to pick them over anyone else. I think this is one of the few times a game has actually rewarded you for making good-looking avatars, and it’s a really clever system I’d like to see more of in the future.
3) You can seduce anyone.
If you can talk to an NPC, you can seduce them.
There are all of two exceptions to this rule, I believe, but by-and-large, anyone from a common farmer to a random knight to the Duke’s own wife can be seduced by your character. And it’s amazing.
Sure, there are a few characters that are way, way easier to seduce than others: a childhood friend is your designated love interest, and there’s this witch I basically ignored but she fell in love with me and moved into my house anyway, but literally nobody is off the table. Just gift them a bunch of stuff, talk to them all the time, and before long they’ll be blushing brightly when you talk to them and they’ll giggle as you walk past. It’s stupid, it’s basically pointless, but I can’t stop seducing EVERYONE.
It’s like a really messed-up version of Pokemon. Why can’t I capture your heart, Feste? What more do you need from me?!
4) The gameplay is pretty baller
Combat in Dragon’s Dogma isn’t as strategic as Dark Souls or as frantic and cinematic as NieR, but I think it finds a nice middle ground between them. You have a light and heavy attack, but they don’t cost any stamina: rather, stamina is spent when you’re sprinting or using some of your special attacks. You get different specials depending on what class you are and what weapons you’re using, but they range from “Shoot a ton of arrows” to “cast a spell” to “Knock someone in the air and laugh as it takes five seconds for them to fall back down”. It won’t take long for you to unlock all the abilities for a class, and while some are less fun to use than others, they all have their own charms.
There’s also one other thing you can use stamina to do: climb enemies. You fight foes of all sizes in Dragon’s Dogma, and for the taller ones, you can actually grab hold of their bodies and scale them, Shadow of the Colossus style, and strike at their weak points. Some enemies are easier to grab than others, some need to be climbed to really be damaged, and others will kill you pretty fast if you grab hold (Lookin’ at you, Griffon), but it does a great job of making each fight against these brutes feel huge and epic: there’s not much more satisfying than hopping off a Cyclopes face after gorging out his eye.
The big downside is that outside a weird convoluted button combo for thieves, there’s no dodge-roll mechanic, so avoiding damage can be tricky. There have been more than a few times I’ve seen an attack coming and I realized I didn’t have a good way to avoid the hit, and that’s always super frustrating.
Also, it can get pretty repetitive at points (you’ll have to fight like nine groups of goblins on your way to anywhere) but when it clicks, it’s a great feeling: like my 10-minute duel with a Gargoyle on the scaffolding in a tower. It’s been a while since a game has invoked that kind of excitement from me, and Dragon’s Dogma is great at making confrontations feel epic.
5) The world is big and alive.
No, it’s not as big as Skyrim, or as detailed. But what few details Dragon Dogma does add to the map are added with purpose. Dungeons feel very real and lived in, like a thing that would actually exist in that world and not just a random cave occupied by vampires. Every NPC has a name (and can be seduced) and will sometimes share some nuanced opinion on the state of the world. And every quest sort of ties into another, alluding to future events and making it feel as if the world turns with or without you, unlike many RPG’s where it feels as if nothing would happen if you didn’t do it.
This is especially true near the end, where the story shifts rather dramatically from a fairly simple premise and goes in directions you would never expect.
So, yeah. Consider this a big ol’ recommendation from me. And next week, we can go back to complaining about the games industry and its crappy practices. I know I can’t wait.