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The Next Level In Gaming

Contributed by CJ

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When Dragon’s Dogma was first shown, I greeted the trailer with a little skepticism; not particularly wowed by the sense of design, or instilled any sense of awe whatsoever.

Instead my gut reaction smacked of Capcom trying hard to capture the Western gaming market. Skyrim was building popularity, both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls had attained a cult following, and that’s even before you factor in the universal success of the likes of World Of Warcraft.

Little did I know that Dragon’s Dogma would go on to become my Game Of The Year for 2012, smash into my top five of this generation, but become one of my favourite games of all time.

Now a new version of the game arrives, bringing with it the original game, a brand new area, a smish of fine tuning and kid-at-Christmas tummy butterflies in yours truly. Henceforth, Lasses & Gentlefolk, I give you ..

DRAGON’S DOGMA: DARK ARISEN

So, what turned that initial skepticism into eventual excite-o-glee? Well, close to Dragon’s Dogma’s release I read a few previews, with journalists surprised at how enjoyable the game was. This raised an eyebrow, a furrowed brow and I made a note to keep an eye out for further details as the release date drew closer. Colour me curious.

Such intrigue was cherried absolutely by a series of videos Matt Lees, then of OXM UK and now of Videogamer, posted up on Youtube. Presented with enthusiasm, and a belting sense of humour, Matt extolled wonderfully the fun contained in the game, the skills of the various classes, massive monster battles and the sinister spoken by darkness once the sun set each day. The game looked like a true adventure, and as each new video was posted, I began to grow ever more excited.

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Truth be told, I think those videos sold the game to the vast majority of us that bought it. Certainly everyone I spoke to upon release cited them as the main influence for purchasing. Thereafter, when I was jumping up and down on my ‘BUY IT!’ trampoline, the link proved a fabulous gateway to anyone tempted by the title, else purely by the fact that I wouldn’t shut up about it.

In the run up to release I’d downloaded the demos for both the Xbox360 and PS3, in an attempt to decide which one to buy. Often this meant having both running at the same time and switching between inputs on the telly to play a bit, turn over, play a bit, etc, and try to ascertain the best version to invest in.

At this point I was out of work, somewhat struggling for money, and any game, never mind a day one purchase was a big investment, but there was no doubt in my mind, nor a shortage of Tesco 11p noodles in the run up to release.

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Of the two versions, my findings were thus ..

The PS3 has more vibrant colours and heralds deeper blacks to its visuals, with the 360 iteration using an almost watercolour wash in comparison. PS3 runs a little slower than the Xbox game, but doesn’t suffer from any screen tearing whatsoever. Fantastically the Xbox version allows the online component of the game whether you’re a Gold subscriber or not, which is a wonderful touch. Photographs can be taken in game – and oh how ace this feature truly is – with the PS3 saving to the hard drive and 360 bafflingly posting them to Facebook.

My choice was to go with the PS3 version, but if you’re stuck as to which to choose I’d say go with the pad you like the best and the friends you have playing the game. I was playing with the PS2’s Dual Shock 2 pad running through a dongle into the PS3, which seemed fantastic and responsive, so that was really the decider for me.

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SO, ENOUGH WAFFLE .. THE GAME!

Opening moments show a crack in the moon, as if the glowing orb were naught but a glowing egg hanging within the womb of night. From there a Dragon tumbles forth, pummeling its way beyond a marauding flock of harpies, punching through clouds and winged beasts alike, ravenous for blood, a destination .. a seeming mission to .. somewhere

You live in the peaceful beachside village of Gransys, a place of sun, sand and the whispered lick of a tide, yet safely barricaded from the villains and monsters beyond its gates.

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Such sanctity is broken by the arrival of soldiers from the capital, Gran Soren, seeking new recruits to protect against a forthcoming prophecy. One which speaks of a Dragon.

On cue, the beast arrives, tearing into soldiers, villagers and Gransys in equal measure. As Citizens make their panicked escape, you pick up a fallen sword and make to attack the winged aggressor, stabbing it, only to be swatted aside. Yet the mighty devil is fascinated by the splinter of metal in it’s massive paw, perhaps the bravery of those who sought to inflict such worthless folly.

Does it see something in you? A truth? An enemy? Words of a tongue alien to your ears are spoken, upon which the Dragon pushes a claw through your chest and plucks out your very heart. As the still beating muscle throbs towards its final shudder, your last waking moments are of it glowing, moving towards the beasts mouth, of it being devoured. Yet, the next morning you awaken, the rip of a huge scar down the centre of your chest, and impossibly, you live. The people begin to think of you as ‘The Arisen’, a soul spoken of in the self same Prophecy which predicted the Dragon, a chosen someone designed to end its reign.

And so the game begins.

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NO, NO, NO – I’M AWAKE!

As you arise [hoho!] you immediately get to chose one of three opening classes – Fighter, Mage or Strider. Fighter’s your sword and shield type, with all the heft and thwunk as you might expect. Mage, much to type, carries a big magic stick adorned with summoning goodness of both the offensive and healing kind. My favourite was Strider, where you could rock a knife in each hand and a bow for good measure. Take out bastards from distance, or gut them like a kipper. Laavely.

Such options are later joined by a number of other classes. Warrior adds even bigger weapons into the melee based mix – think Dragon Bone Sword from Demon’s Souls and you’re on the right track. Ranger brings in bigger bows, greater distance and more accuracy. Sorcerer takes the magic of the Mage and infuses it was far greater power, as fire becomes massive firestorms, meteors can be summoned from the sky and all manner of elemental jiggerypokery scales ever more grandiose heights.

Later still come the hybrid classes, gloriously mixing things up with all manner of magic and melee, depending on your personal preference. Mystic Knight brings the weight of physical combat you’ve come to associate with the Fighter and Warrior classes, but adds in a magic element as well, giving you the option to carry a staff, or else enchant swords and use those to cast brand new magic.

Magick Archer – which is bloody amazing – picks targets for you as you highlight them, upon which you fire off your bow with far greater accuracy, and you can add in a staff, or daggers if you wish. Likewise with the Assassin class, a seeming evolution of Strider, but with a little added sneak to the footfall as well.

Each class has their own unique moveset, an evolving series of skills that can be upgraded as the game goes on. Add in a set of weapons which only that class, or similar group of them similar can equip and use. Your character’s skill levels can be augmented further still by learning new attributes to enhance speed, agility, defense, etc as well.

There’s a lot to go at and tons to play about with, but if it sounds fiddly, it’s not. Part of the fun is playing about with new moves, not just those that debut a potentially new style of attack, but the progressions which give you ever more powerful versions of those you’ve previously adored.

As you progress with one class, you’ll eventually max it out. It’s up to you as to whether you continue on with it, or change things up. More often than not doing so is a massive rug pull on all that you’ve come to know, and re-learning a completely new way of going into battle is as delicious as it is initially bewildering.

For example, I started off with Strider, loving hammering into monsters from distance, and had tons of fun with the twirly spin attack of the blades. Initial cuts brought forth favourite moves, including ‘Toss & Trigger’ [steady!], where you slice an enemy from the belly up to their neck, the knife would release a little gunpowder, and the moment you shiiing away from the chin, it ignites, blowing the enemy a good few feet in the air. Never gets old! Single arrows evolved into the likes of the ‘Pentad Shot’, where you fire into the air and a spread of ten arrows covers a spread o’ baddies; there’s ‘Fivefold Volley’, which hammers five arrows one after the other – and those are just the very cusp of the options available to you.

Which you choose are up to you, but the knives have 20 moves, the bows 12 – and which you align to 3 attack buttons per weapon is entirely your choice.

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After I’d maxed the class, I moved to Fighter and .. I was lost. I had no arrows, so had to run into the heart of the battle whether I liked it or not. Nor could I take out any winged creatures and had to rely on my allies to pull them down for me. Now carrying a heavy sword and shield I found myself weighted, lumbering a little more. Should I lighten my load and potentially take more damage?

You do get there, believe me, and end up getting a huge kick from most of the vocations. The only two I didn’t really get on with were the Mage & Sorcerer classes. By this point I was fully versed in ‘getting stuck in’ and sitting outside the battle and gobbing out healing and death from a distance just wasn’t enough fun in comparison. Oh and don’t expect to get through all the classes in the first run of the game. You could, I suppose, but about half way through I settled into variants of bows and daggers and confidently made my way towards the end game.

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NEVER MIND THE CLASSES, FEEL THE CHARACTER.

In the first instance, the character creator is one of the best I’ve seen in games. There are tons of different sizes and body shapes, going from small to tall, rake to chunky monkey with every variation inbetween. There’s a fair amount of facial options available, some neat haircuts and the character at the end of it can be as akin to you, or utterly bonkers as you desire.

It’s here you also create your Pawn. Pawns are characters which share your adventures throughout the game. Your Pawn can also be hired out by other people to fight in their game, and upon returning to you bring a number of added benefits. They will earn ‘Rift Crystals’ for the amount of time they’ve spent in that world, but also any experience they’ve had therein. So, if that person visits an area you haven’t, when you arrive there your pawn will advise accordingly, warning of monsters, quirks of the level and the suchlike. Those Rift Crystals? Just like your Pawn can be hired, you can bring in two other Pawns to join your own party, and whatever experience they’ve earned in their hosts game before that point will bring to yours. It’s a fantastic system and works really well.

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The redhead in the pics is my main character, with the mighty slice of Beefcake being my Pawn, ‘OptimusPrime’. It’s a decent idea to name your Pawn after something popular, something you love or a slice of geeky loveliness near and dear to your heart. From day one the most popular ‘hire’ was a Pawn called Olivia Wilde, so if you follow such an edict you’ve every chance of earning more rift crystals along the way.

My main character has somewhat of a ‘baby bear’s porridge’ kind of build, not too strong, not too heavy .. juuust right, whilst I built my Pawn to be a heavy hitter, big bruiser type. I hired in a Mage and a Sorcerer, one to heal, the other to lob of weighty chunks of elemental backhanders along the way. As I started trying out new classes, so my Pawns were changed accordingly. Ahe point I became a Sorcerer for example, I then retired the Pawn of the same class and brought in a Ranger, or Strider to fill in the void left by of my previous build.

It’s always fun to freshen things up, but as a rule I’d recommend keeping your Pawns on the same level as you at the very least – which doesn’t cost you anything at all. At best I’d say bring in a few around 10 or so levels higher, particularly if you’re facing a part of the game you’re struggling to get past. Given a decent amount of rift crystals, if you’re really stuck you can bring in someone of much greater power, so you can vary the amount of aggro you want to dish out as & when you need it.

Try the character creator out in the demo, and the game will notice you’ve played it and bring both your Main and your Pawn automatically into the retail game, which is an ace touch.

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As for in-game garb, the costumes are simply a delight, being both incredibly original, beautifully designed – and there are oodles of them. Where I ordinarily would choose the best, toughest armour, else perhaps that which suited the way I wanted to best play the game, here I was dressing my lass in .. whatever looked prettiest. I say this proudly. And she looked lovely. She also kicked every bumcake whilst doing so. So NER.

MONSTERS, TRAVEL, DAY TO NIGHT, ADVENTURE TONES.

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As your adventures take you beyond Gransys, to the City of Gran Soren and beyond, you’ll encounter beautiful terrain, lush, flowing green fields, craggy jagged mountain runs.

The lands are peaked with forts, incredible casts and broken ruins, glistening streams tickle betwixt and throughout these beautiful vistas no end of vicious nasties seek to end you.

These can take numerous forms, from cheeky excitable Goblins, to roaring Orcs, the bewitching song of a flock of Harpies, else all manner of bandits seeking to shiv you undone. This is before you get to the massive stuff.

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Huge beasts thoom through the countryside, the likes of Chimeras, Cockatrice, Giant Cyclops and Dragon’s make up the living, along with many a pile of seemingly innocuous rocks transforming into jagged behemoths before your eyes.

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You can take on the mahoosive as you would a regular foe, should you wish, but you also get the opportunity to jump on the creature, climb up ‘Shadow of The Colossus’ style and give it a good stab-o-punching from close quarters. Should the beast try to shake you off, you have to maintain a push on the analogue stick to grip on for dear life, stamina draining constantly, as you wait for a new distraction to pull its attention away. Actions such as these often reward the brave/foolhardy.

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For example, one of the Cyclops wears a metal helmet and is tough to inflict a head wound. Climb up it’s back and up to its noggin and the creature will reach around and try to smash you away from its neck, failing in all but pulling the helmet off. From there, game on!

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There’s a limited fast travel mechanic, activated about half way into the game, allowing you to place a Ferrystone at one point on the map. Otherwise, the adventure is to be traveled, experience earned, and a very important mechanic comes into play – the balance of night and day.

Where the daytime brings with it blazing sunshine, cutting winds and cloudy skies aplenty, seeing what’s ahead of you is a given. When night falls the way ahead is shown only by the light of the lamp on your hip, in a similar way to Tomb Of The Giants in Dark Souls. Throughout you have one eye on the map, attention diverted by new howls, growls and hellish mutterings, for amidst the inky black sing new enemies – including a wink to Resident Evil as the undead rise from the grave.

There’s one really neat touch in particular here, where one female undead says “Have.. have you seen my baby?”, which left me upset, open mouthed and genuinely affected. That said, I still gutted her like a kipper, because experience, yet all joking aside it was a wonderful attention to detail, a fabulous nuance which coloured the moment far more than if the enemy had been purely shuffling and mute.

Within the darkness you may stumble upon one of the giants I mentioned a few paragraphs previous, not seeing them until they arrive, and in an instant finding yourself locked in a panicked war to survive.

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Survival. One memory lingers wonderfully here – as shown in the photos below – whilst traveling to a brand new destination. I set off during the day, night fell and I was devastated by attacks – including the blight of something mighty.

By this point my Party was left staggeringly weary, and I had neither the confidence to go forward, nor to return home. So, we climbed a rock and waited for sunrise, captured by the dark echoes of all that sought us ill, paranoid that any of them might actually find us.

When the sun first peaked over the horizon, grew, blossomed and bloomed, it took my breath away. Certainly my group was still consumed by the atrocious state they were in before hiding, yet the wash of brilliant hope upon fresh footfall was truly glorious.

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Some might befall the lack of instant ‘boompsh’ for fast travel, but I like it. To make a journey you have to make a journey, and when you set off makes a big difference. If, say, you’re venturing somewhere new, you might choose to set off at night, make headway through familiar lands with a degree of confidence, and when you reach the unknown, your progress is enhanced by the extra detailing that daylight brings.

Before I leave nightfall, I have to mention one of the most stunning moves in the game – Magickal Glare [and later Magickal Gleam], afforded to the Magick Archer class. Here you can fire a bolt into the area ahead, which throws out a staggering wash of white light, rushing through the darkness and regaling the area in glory. It never, ever gets old. I think I’ve said that before, but .. I love this game.

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JACKANORY, TELL US A STORY

At first the story seems a little inconsequential, draped in fairly standard, common-or-garden RPG tropes. It doesn’t get in the way of the incredible world, or the amazing combat, but .. it’s just there for the most part. That the tale becomes as incredible as it does, being both truly profound and utterly epic, really took me off guard – and even before the amazing ending arrives there’s one rug pull in particular which is nothing short of gobsmacking. Persevere; because dear Lord does it get there. One of the best endings in gaming. I. Kid. You. Not.

OH – AND THEN THERE’S THE HUMOUR.

Try throwing bunnies off a cliff – oh the noise they make! Run with a piggy – they don’t like it at all!

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AND SO TO BITTERBLACK ISLE.

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Under the cover of night a ghost appears at the end of Gransys’ pier, beckoning you to Bitterblack Isle, wherein lies Dark Arisen’s brand new content.

A cherry on the cake for those experienced with the main game, Bitterblack’s walls contain brand new enemies, upgrades – and certainly a new feel to the gameplay as a spontaneous mechanic is introduced. Sometimes Death will arrive, a towering creature who can end your entire party with one swing of his mighty scythe.

Another variant brings back memories of the Red Zombies from the Gamecube’s Resident Evil remake, where a creature will run at you from rooms away from where you are, track you down and attempt to kill you. In my game this came in the form of a crazed Ogre, who beset my party with a gamut of fists and smackdowns. That all of us absolutely hammered into it and barely tickled off half of its first health bar – one of about nine might I add – inspired me to run like a mad lad for the nearest door.

It’s this unpredictability that leads to a renewed caution, an understanding that, despite knowing a series of enemies may be around the new corner, you’re never truly sure that the game doesn’t have a surprise up its sleeve, and can never count out that it’s just waiting to get you.

Given that some criticised there being no random spawning of enemies in Dragon’s Dogma, it’s not so much of a twist of lime, as a zing of grapefruit. Be wary, be warned!

Prior to this I’d been running around in NG+, which didn’t scale the enemies with the new playthrough, so I was running around with low level supplementary Pawns, hoping to gain them experience to pass into new players games. After being humbled by the Ogre, I decided immediately to cast off the dead wood and bring in something .. Biblical. Hence my level 85 characters hired in a couple of 95’s and .. well, I can’t wait until we meet again, put it that way.

AND SO, IN CONCLUSION.

PRO’S

+ Beautiful world, packed with character and all manner of nasties.

+ Wonderfully kinetic fight mechanics, lots of variety.

+ Incredible value.

CONS

- Story takes a little time to reveal itself.

- A few technical issues, with a little screen tearing in the 360 version, occasional frame rate problems on PS3.

- ‘Into Free’ by Bz is no longer on the title screen!

95 / 100XP

Dragon’s Dogma is phenomenal. I had so much fun with the original release, the amazing costumes, fantastic battles, an incredible world that had me beaming anew as I returned with Dark Arisen. I love this world, heck I’d missed it. I can look back over pictures I took in game and see my progress, the massive monsters, the new areas, sights of unspeakable beauty and of overcoming absolute evil.

Dark Arisen brings more, a new set of challenges for the experienced player, adding greater value into the mix.

That the best game of 2012 is now available for a third of the original price, with extra content to boot, is staggering. Don’t even second guess this for a microsecond. Everyone should own Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen. Everyone.

- CJ

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Plus XP Contributors On May - 3 - 2013

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