Porting Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen to the PC is one of the best decision Capcom has made in years. Well, that and the wonderful Resident Evil remakes. Dragon's Dogma was one of the most underrated RPGs on the last generation, and it’s finally getting the proper treatment it deserves. Higher resolutions (up to 4K), no more widescreen bars and a buttery smooth frame rate (it even supports 144fps for 144Hz monitors) make Dragon’s Dogma more enjoyable than ever. For anyone who still likes to argue that resolution and framerate aren’t as important should really play the new and old Dragon’s Dogma versions side by side to understand just how much of a difference a few technicalities can make.
Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen isn’t a remake or HD upgrade, but rather a port. Yet still, even without any texture and lighting enhancements, seeing the game in higher resolution and via fullscreen truly makes the superb art style shine. And best of all, it only retails for $29.99. Now that’s a bargain! If you’ve already played Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen on the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, the PC port is still worth getting. Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is drastically superior to its console counterparts and unquestionably one of the best RPGs in recent years. And for everyone else who’s never played this excellent title before, read on.
Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen opens with a familiar RPG trope and familiar character classes - vocations-to choose from that cater to one’s individual gaming style. Once a detailed hero creation process is complete, you find yourself in a lovely fishing village under attack by a horrific dragon, and your heroism brings you directly to his fearsome eye. He contemptuously knocks you into the surf and takes your heart with one delicately extended claw, and then tells you to seek him out and retrieve it when you are ready. After some exploration and meeting the game’s trainer pawn you are encouraged to leave the village, and eventually you are lead to the creation of your own pawn. And since you rose out of the waves from death you are now the Arisen, and such is the title and mission you bear. Obviously this type of sequence is necessary in terms of setting up the game’s main quest, but the way it plays out is enthralling.
"Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is drastically superior to its console counterparts and unquestionably one of the best RPGs in recent years."
The pawn system is where the game’s genius and madness lies. On its face a simple sidekick, your pawn is one of three additional members added to your party; yours is always present unless killed, while two additional pawns can be chosen from thousands of other pawns available through access points scattered throughout the map, called Rift stones. Your pawn levels up as you do, gaining experience and enemy knowledge questing by your side, while the two hired pawns only earn quest and enemy knowledge. Your pawn learns your fighting patterns through repetition and the orders given through the D-pad and its AI adjusts itself to your attacks and requests for two types of aid.
Playing online, you will be able to view and select pawns created by other players to complement your pairing’s abilities or your quest’s anticipated strategy, and who are, for the most part, superior to those created at random by the game. Pawns are the co-op element of Dragon’s Dogma; if your pawn is hired by another player, they return with the quest and enemy knowledge gained in the other player’s game, sometimes with a gift - and the player’s review of your pawn’s performance. Payment for your pawn’s hire is in an independent currency called rift crystals, which you can use to edit your pawn’s features and fine-tune its behaviors, rent pawns above your own experience level for extra assistance, or eventually edit both Arisen and pawn when desired. Pawns of players on your friends’ list are available to use free of rental charges.
"Playing online, you will be able to view and select pawns created by other players to complement your pairing’s abilities or your quest’s anticipated strategy, and who are, for the most part, superior to those created at random by the game."
So far, so good, right? Well… they talk. Pawns want to share their knowledge, and they’re intended to be helpful. They’ll tell you all about the enemies and the terrain features you encounter, over and over and over again. I sat mine down in the nearest Knowledge Chair and served him a nice cup of Shut-The-Hell-Up, because it was too tiresome to hear “Goblins are weak to fire!” and “Wolves hunt in packs, Arisen!” yet another freaking time, but, unfortunately, that command does not affect the behavior of rented pawns. I have thrown jabbering pawns off the nearest cliff - and now tend to choose pawns from within a select group I know aren’t going to infuriate me into committing pawn atrocities.
I get arrested a lot.
And once you have your pawn, you are on your own. This is my second issue, some imbalance, as if the director could not quite decide between total open-world freedom and linear progression as a certain plot point requires the Arisen to have completed all enrolled quests before progressing onwards, and fails them if this is not so. While I like that Dragon’s Dogma doesn’t hold you by the hand and lead you from one quest completion condition to the next, fortune favors the bold - and so the story unfolds better if all quests, other than the escort quests, are accepted as soon as they become available. Yet the map is immense, quests can be hard to locate without constant travel and monsters are everywhere - and you hoof it as the fast travel system is not available until much later in your game.
"Movement and combat is smooth, responsive and utterly riveting. What’s not to love about scaling a griffin and realizing that you’re flying through the environment as it’s frantically trying to buck you off its back?"
Quests appear and disappear on the notice boards depending upon progression of the main quest, NPC affinities and completion of earlier side quests, guaranteeing even more travel. Stumble upon something outside your present capability, you will die. If the sun goes down and the creepier things come out to hunt in numbers, there’s a very good chance you will be overwhelmed and die. Run out of stamina while on the back of a flying creature in battle and you will fall to your death. Run out of oil for your party’s lanterns while underground, and, yeah, I’m sure you got it in one. There was a hint of Dark Souls’ impersonal and impartial malevolence as my Arisen built her initial experience and vocation levels, and this was the second irresistible hook Dragon’s Dogma offered.
Yes, challenge accepted.
Movement and combat is smooth, responsive and utterly riveting. What’s not to love about scaling a griffin and realizing that you’re flying through the environment as it’s frantically trying to buck you off its back? Or climbing the leg of a golem to punch its medallions to bits before it peels you off and slams you into the ground for a solid stomping? Best of all - the dragons, oh, the dragons! Latin-speaking flying lizard things of medieval legend, they are arrogant, intelligent and cruel, with a varied arsenal of flame, magic and physical attacks that make each battle individual and memorable. Change your tactics or your vocation and get a swift kill on the Red Drake? They remember. And they’re out to get you.
"The PC port is superb, and serves as a fine example of how to properly carry console titles over to the PC."
Yet there is an underlying sense of disconnect in the duchy of Gransys. While you’re busily pursuing your own interests there is little sense of impending doom or foreshadowing. Interaction with other inhabitants is limited, repetitious, wooden and overly formal, and you are constantly reminded that pawns are unemotional despite attachment that grows due to long hours of fighting beside this person. Your Arisen is silent and his or her face is impassive throughout gruesome combat and what should be emotional highs and lows. Affinity, the name for Dragon’s Dogma’s understated romance system, is left for the player to figure out, which can offer the player a huge surprise at dramatically significant plot points.
While some of my disconnect can be attributed to the mannerisms of the game’s European medieval culture, Dragon’s Dogma takes itself very seriously, is unleavened by humor and, indeed, class differences are pointed out through some taunting and snobbery which I found off-putting. Overall, the philosophical concept of rebirth symbolized by the Arisen and his or her eventual fate isn’t quite effectively shoehorned into Western romantic troubadour culture and so I didn’t buy into the final scenes of the story. I don’t know if this could have been alleviated with a different translation from Japanese as most of what the significant NPCs say could have been lifted straight out of medieval quest poetry, but perhaps my disconnect could simply be attributed to a sense of bushido vs. Western culture clash in the game’s writing and direction. That said, I am now inNew Game ++, taking advantage of the game’s ability to roll over my existing game file to pick up the last few quests I managed to miss the first two times around.
In the end, Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is a remarkable experience, one that no RPG fan should miss. The PC port is superb, and serves as a fine example of how to properly carry console titles over to the PC. Bravo Capcom, just bravo. You’re finally making all the right moves and earning major brownie points. Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is a must have on the PC, and I truly hope it attracts more fans to warrant a sequel.