When Dragon's Dogma dropped from the sky, breathing fire on unsuspecting gamers distracted by the snow-covered world of Skyrim, it caught a lot of people unaware. It had dragons in the title, but you spent a lot more time running away from the big wyrms then standing in front of them swinging your sword. It had unforgivable pop-up problems, practically non-existent fast travel, and a fractured story with some likable characters that were there, then were gone, and by the end you realise that they didn't really have anything to do with anything anyway.
BUT - and that's a very deliberately capitalised "BUT" - Dragon's Dogma was my kind of game. I loved the big world full of bandits, goblins, beholders, and dragons. I loved climbing up stuff, and killing it. The long treks through forests, castle-ruins, and mountains. The dangerous change in mood when night falls and you run out of oil for your lamp. And the pawns, your little buddies that you create yourself and borrow from other gamers online. Pawns that help out, have your back, but never bloody shut up.
Now we get to do it all again in Capcom's Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen. But, just like the original game, which came with more than its fair share of problems, Dark Arisen has its own issues. Or rather, one issue that has nothing to do with the gameplay, but just drives you nuts. Why do you have to pay more than fifty dollars for the original game, bundled with the new location and a few enhancements, instead of spending twenty something dollars on a download? Why?
Putting that aside, Dark Arisen is a perfect addition to the original experience. The centerpiece to all the new abilities, magical items, weapons, equipment upgrades, monsters, and missions, is Bitterblack Isle.
Bitterblack is what action/RPG games are all about. You reach it from the pier in your village, on the beach where the whole Dragon's Dogma story started. Go there at night and you travel by boat to the dark, ominous isle. If you have a save from the original game, you can carry over your experience points and equipment. Then you can charge straight in. Powerful and fearless. But, if you're new, or like me decided to start from scratch, Bitterblack Isle is a place where slowly and carefully is the only way to go.
The first time I entered the crumbling dungeon, I stumbled on a group of goblins who conjured up Death. An enormous Death, complete with flowing robes and a scythe, a Death that killed my pawns and me instantly. When the game reloaded I took the time to look around. There were doors I'd missed, cracks in walls, ledges, and broken stairs that took me from jail cells, to peaceful courtyards, slime filled sewers, and crumbling towers.
Bitterblack Isle is dungeon crawling, as it should be. Behind every door, and around every corner, death waited. From trolls, cyclopes, spell casting spirits, to gargoyles that swoop down, pick you up, and turn you to stone. Every step was terrifying, and every battle, brutal.
But that's if you do it at level fifteen, the fool's way. If you carry over your level fifty mage from the original game, it's a full-on, fifteen hour rampage of spell casting and special moves against some seriously amped up versions of familiar Dragon's Dogma foes, along with plenty of new challenges.
Once you beat the Isle, or if you're new to Dragon's Dogma, you can replay the original game, along with the extra missions originally available via DLC. There's more places you can fast travel to, but nowhere near that of Skyrim where after a while the whole game is fast travelling and opening doors, and waiting for locations to load. In Dragon's Dogma there's always a lot of walking to do.
Alternatively, with your maxed out hero, you can try Hard mode with reduced stamina, extra damage, but the prospect of much more loot. You could also give Speedrun mode a go. In Speedrun you play offline, can't save, and have a clock running in the corner telling you just how many hours, minutes, and seconds it's taken you to get through the story.
If you like old school RPGs, but never played the original release, buying Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen may be the best fifty dollars you'll spend all year. If you bought the original, and all the downloadable missions, sorry people, prepared to get gouged. And not in the good way, by mythical creatures and packs of hungry wolves. In the bad way, by people who should treat fans of their game better.
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360