Content of the article: "Playing Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen for the first time in 2020 – a review without spoilers"
tl;dr: It's a fun game with fascinating story that botches the execution at every turn. Frustrating, confusing, and addictive, the gameplay is worth experiencing despite any flaws.
For anyone unfamiliar with the game, here's the elevator pitch. It's an open world action RPG where you command a small squad of AI companions known as "pawns". You create your own character, as well as your primary pawn, and can change their class and equipment as often as you like. The third and fourth members of your party are the primary pawns of other players from the internet, who act as temporary companions in your game.
I think what this game is, at its core, is a "singleplayer MMO" but in a good way. This game, more than most, lets you really feel the upgrades you unlock. Seeing the pawns other people created in the world is fantastic, sometimes showing off cool abilities and weapons I hadn't unlocked yet. The game isn't shy about recycling content, and but you won't enjoy the game if you can't tolerate a bit of a grind.
In terms of visuals, like most titles from around 2012, the colors are muted and the art design is realistic and forgettable. However, outside of cutscenes with extreme closeups, the characters are definitely a highlight. Character customization is up there among the best I've ever seen in a video game, and lucky us, we get to make our character AND our primary companion (the pawn). Clothing and weapon choices are varied and usually pretty high quality. This is a good game if you like to play dress up, and get a sample of what fashion other players have come up with.
The music is pretty forgettable, but the sound effects are above average in terms of selling the action you're performing. The voice acting never stood out as particularly good or bad. The Pawns have extremely repetitive combat chatter, but I ultimately still enjoy that, as it feels like I'm adventuring with a party and I'm not in it alone. There's a much bigger issue though: the scripts the actors had to read from are among the worst I've ever seen in a video game. I'm sorry Dragon's Dogma, but we do need to talk about this.
When a cutscene starts, just… lower your expectations. Every single character in a cutscene speaks like they're trying to filibuster you. Here's an actual line of dialog from a cutscene:
Him who knows that I know what he seeks to know, knows it well while he who knows not, knows not what I know or know not.
If you replay the game (and the game encourages you to do so), you will find that things make a lot more sense, and there are even some compelling bits of characterization placed here and there. I would especially note the quest Arousing Suspicion as something that's absolute garbage tier on a first run, but now that I know what it was trying to do, I can't stop thinking about it. (Also: when you meet a character named The Dragonforged, I strongly recommend exhausting his dialog options until he offers you a set of questions to ask. He offers helpful explanations of the plot that can be easily missed.)
So after you beat the game, you have two options. First, there's a robust New Game+ mode in which the world resets, but you keep your items and levels. There are mechanical and story reason to experience it all again, and you can skip a lot of the sidequests in a 2nd run to save time. In addition, the Dark Arisen DLC introduced an area called Bitterblack Isle that's perfect for people who want more challenges and don't give a hoot about the story. This DLC is one huge dungeon of much higher difficulty and much better rewards than the main game. It's certainly hard enough to justify your time spent mastering the game, and rewarding enough to make it feel like it's worth diving into, but if you've had enough after the main game, you're not missing anything too new.
I have so many criticisms, but the core gameplay of this game, the progression systems, the character customization, and the overarching narrative kept me going. I spent over 75 hours on this game, and it was a rocky ride, but I don't regret it. There were a few play sessions I just straight up quit out of annoyance, but the next evening, I was back to playing it because I needed to know what would happen next, needed to unlock that last ability, wanted to try out another class.
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