Dragon’s Dogma Dark Arisen is an expanded content game released from Capcom and features all new content as well as the original game (click here to read that review). One thing to be aware of is that this is a stand alone purchase, not just a bit downloadable content, meaning that anyone who owns the original will have to shell out for a new copy.
However the Shimmering Isle content that you do get is impressively large, bigger in scale than just a mere added dungeon. Roaming its terror-clawed shores leaves the player feeling menaced, imparting that nervous twitchiness that comes from thinking something may be about to jump out from round a corner, and snaffle your entire party. The nerves are further ramped up by the fact that this does actually happen quite a lot. An infuriating amount actually. But more on that later.
As well as the Shimmering Isle expanded content, Capcom have seen fit to add both the option of having the original Japanese voiceover and a feature that gives the game a slightly higher resolution. Whilst you could read this as an admission that the English language voice acting was a bit ropey and that the graphics could have been better, it is genuinely nice to see issues being acknowledged and addressed, particularly when it would have been easier to do nothing. Also of note is the way the ferry stone system has now been made infinitely less tedious. Long journeys are no longer the expensive headache they used to be.
Anyway, back to the core gameplay. It’s recommended being level 50 before taking the Isle on and this is something I would wholeheartedly agree with. Even at this level, be prepared for plenty of mildly frustrating deaths and many instances of gamer rage. Even so, to start with this feels about right. After all part of the charm of Dragon’s Dogma was the sheer challenge of it’s difficulty. However the final third of the Isle is where things start getting a bit silly. Even now, being well above the recommended level there is no escaping the grim reach of this games difficulty. You will die ceaselessly.
It’s a little unfortunate that a game I had always felt to be stern but fair has transformed itself into a mad grinding challenge that slaps you in the face with meanness at every turn. It doesn’t seem to matter how well leveled or stocked with provisions you are; you will loose pawns. Doubtless there will be those (I’m thinking Dark Souls fans here) that will see this as part of the appeal and will therefore slavishly grind away to prepare for the challenge. The problem I have is one of balance. Let me explain.
Shimmering Isle is filled with fantastic boss fights with grand, hideous monsters from Greek mythology and beyond. It has some cool new items for your party, and the bleak tone reflects the toughness of the challenge. In short, the balance between level grinding, combat and item stocking is good. The game flows well and exploration of the Isle is a challenging pleasure. But when you hit that difficulty wall, the balance is upset. You are forced to spend long periods of time leveling up in easier areas that simply don’t hold your interest anymore. I am prepared to do this, but I don’t enjoy it. I want to explore more of the Shimmering Isle please.
Still, as a package Dragon’s Dogma Dark Arisen holds up very well. The expanded content is, for the most part, great and this version of one of the better role playing games of recent times is a very good thing indeed.