It can be easy to dismiss games that were obviously inspired by hits as clones. Terraria, for instance, is a 2D Minecraft clone…at first glance, but it’s clearly got more to it than that if you spend some time playing it. Spec Ops: The Line is pretty obviously a Call of Duty clone but when you play it, well, let’s just say it’s not so obvious.
Today’s subject is Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, an obvious Monster Hunter clone that takes the concept a little further than its pedigree would suggest. Then again, both games come from Capcom, so maybe there’s something to it.
Originally released in 2012 for consoles the PC port remains largely the same. You play as a mild-mannered fisherman/woman from the quiet coastal village of Cassardis. It doesn’t take long before the titular dragon shows up to impose some dogma on the citizens of Cassardis, mostly by barbecuing them. After a feeble attempt at stopping the dragon’s rampage, you end up with a badly-bruised ego and, more importantly, no heart. The fact that you yet live marks you as the Arisen, a hero destined to battle monsters, save the land and one day confront the dragon in order to win your heart back.
As the Arisen, you’ll need to choose a class and recruit allies to assist you. The class part is easy enough; you begin by choosing the Fighter, Strider or Mage, which are easy enough. Later, you can choose to switch between these classes and a set of advanced classes that offer hybrid functionality and increased power. Victory in combat and quests will earn you experience points to advance your base level as well as Discipline that can be spent on new active and passive skills. Focusing on one class will take you far, but to become truly powerful you’ll need to mix and match skills from many classes.
Allies, on the other hand, are a little more complex. The Arisen possesses the unique power to command Pawns, human-like beings without a will of their own. Your first Pawn is fully customized using the same character creator that you use to design the Arisen; this Pawn is with you at all times as a constant companion. You can select their class as well, though they’re not capable of using hybrid classes and tend to serve better in support roles. You can also take on two additional Pawns created by other players, just as they can use a copy of your Pawn as well. These Pawns are less customizable than your own, serving more as guests than permanent party members. You’ll want to switch them out for more powerful Pawns as you level, which will also allow you to send the originating player a message and item if you choose.
Pawns are perhaps the most innovative feature in Dragon’s Dogma. Unfortunately, this game lacks multiplayer, so you’ll end up relying heavily on your Pawns to get things done. Pawn AI is fairly intelligent; as mentioned, Pawns are very good at playing support roles to the point of almost being overzealous when helping you. They do a pretty decent job as fighters as well, but generally Striders and other agile classes are better controlled by the player.
Pawns also talk. They never shut up, really, which might be a source of annoyance for some players. They talk about all kinds of things, but most importantly they’ll give you hints regarding quests you’re working on and monsters you’re battling. This is handy, particularly with some of the more obscure quests. What’s more interesting is that, as mentioned, other characters are likely to adventure with a copy of your Pawn. As they do so, your Pawn will learn information about the quests and monsters they encounter and will bring that information back to your game. It’s a nice way to get a leg up on tough content without rendering everything trivial.
Gameplay overall feels a bit like a lighter and faster version of the Monster Hunter games set in an open world. Characters are fairly quick on their feet and there’s a strong emphasis on dodging powerful attacks. A nice innovation is a grab button, which is used in several ways. You can grab environmental objects like rocks and oil vases to throw at enemies, but you can also grab smaller enemies and fling them about as well. Throwing a goblin off a cliff side is a quick way to get rid of said goblin for good! What’s more, if you try to grab a larger monster, your character will actually start clambering around on top of them. With practice, you can climb on a monster to reach its most vulnerable points and give it a good stabbing. Some classes are better at this than others; the Assassin in particular lives for this kind of action and is a great choice for players who’d like to try it out.
There’s plenty of content to explore in Dragon’s Dogma. You’ve got several towns, multiple dungeons, mines, bandit camps and plenty of other locations to plumb for treasure, glory and fancy new gear. As the title might suggest, this release includes the content from the updated Dark Arisen version of the game, which includes an entirely new zone full of awesome loot to discover. You aren’t likely to get bored with this one anytime soon, though the game can be very difficult initially and it might take awhile to get into the groove. As for monsters, there are plenty to battle, ranging from chimera to cyclops to towering, evil liches. Each requires their own strategy, so it’s fortunate that your Pawns are there to help. Everything feels very rewarding overall thanks to hidden items strewn throughout the world and a constant influx of new skills, gear and abilities.
Presentation in this PC port is top notch. Everything runs well and the game boasts a gloriously stable framerate that was missing in the console versions. Monsters are imposing and look highly impressive; high-level mages, meanwhile, gain access to some truly tremendous magic spells. Sound and music are decent as well. As mentioned, your main annoyance will probably be chatty Pawns, but everything else is innocuous and shouldn’t be a problem.
If you haven’t played it yet, by all means pick up the incredible PC port of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen. This is one of the best examples of the hunting-action genre out there, on top of being a solid open-world exploration game in and of itself. $30 is a steal for this one, and fans of RPGs absolutely need to take a look.