Jumping back into the world of Gransys felt almost like a homecoming for me. I spent countless hours roaming the countryside, slaying Chimera, and simply enjoying Capcom’s mix of hardcore RPG action, with a hint of western flavor. Dragon’s Dogma was one of my favorite games of last year, and the idea of a traditional expansion truly had me excited to hop back into the world. After spending some quality time working my way through the massive dungeon on Bitterblack Isle, I can safely say this one is for the hardcore.
First things first, let me point anyone interested in the original Dragon’s Dogma to my colleague Drew’s review right here. Dark Arisen contains all the content of the original, but I will be focusing entirely on the expansion in this particular review.
Dark Arisen adds a new island to the world of Gransys, which can be accessed via a ferry in the city of Cassardis. Once night falls a mysterious new character named Orla will appear, giving players and their pawns the option to ship out to Bitterblack Isle. This new area is full of mystery and vagueness. So much, in fact, that when Orla describes the mission at hand, even she apologizes for lack of information.
While all of this sounds mysterious and intriguing, nothing in Dark Arisen really ever is. The new area is just one giant tomb players constantly progress downward into, fighting tougher and stronger versions of the game’s original foes. This dungeon also houses Death, a flying reaper that can wipe out any level party with one swift swing of his scythe. The first time I ran into this creature was nerve-racking, to say the least. Knowing that one fatal hit and the entire party goes down was stressful.
This brings me to the largest point about Dark Arisen: this is a high level area. The game suggests not even venturing to Bitterblack Isle until at least level 50. This is about where I was when I finished the original storyline, so I thought that I would be fine venturing over. I was wrong. About two hours into the dungeon I ran into a massive Ogre with six life bars. Now, normally I would not fret at such a challenge, but after watching him wipe out all my pawns, and take numerous attacks from me without even grazing his life bar, I knew it was time to get out of there.
This is commonplace in Bitterblack Isle. Dark Arisen is hard, even on the easy difficulty setting, if party members are not leveled up. I would not recommend even venturing into this wasteland without carrying at least a level 70 character, and even then expect a challenge. What bothers me about Dark Arisen is that even if I maxed out my character and level all the way up, this new dungeon contains uber bosses that simply destroyed me regardless. I understand that Capcom is trying to appease the hardcore fans, but it became ridiculous. I could not beat them, not at any level fathomable for a review game, so I resorted to running away like a coward. Dark Arisen is difficult if I hadn’t mentioned that already.
There is a nice bonus for those of us with a previous save. A selection of (useless) outfits to prance around in is fine, but the real prize is unlimited ferrystones. Combined with the increased number of portcrystals scattered around the world, this makes traversing areas much quicker, and more efficient. Even if players don’t have a save to import, Capcom has decreased the price of ferrystones making it much more viable to get around Gransys, which was one of the biggest hang-ups about the original.
This is where it becomes difficult to recommend Dark Arisen. Those that played the original are clamoring for more content; I know I was, but dropping $40 for one linear dungeon feels rough. Sure the new loot and massive challenge are appreciated, but what I loved about Dragon’s Dogma was the exploration, and randomness of the world. On the other hand, those that never played the original are getting a steal at $40. With that price tag you get the entire original game, plus the new content and all the fixed mechanics. It is also worth noting that Xbox 360 owners get a second disc to install HD textures and the Japanese audio track if they so desire. This is likely how Capcom got around the massive size of adding an entirely new area to the game.
The bittersweet reality is that Dark Arisen is an incredible package for the price tag, just know what you are getting into. The new area is only for the hardest of the hardcore, so be prepared to die. Those new to the series are getting a fantastic deal on all that content, so if you have been window shopping Dragon’s Dogma, now is the time to jump in. I will continue to level my character and pawn, and one day finally be able to take down these uber bosses. Until then it is back to climbing Cockatrices and listening to my pawns groan on about long boss battles.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.