A Bolting Start, and then a Slog – Impressions of “Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen”
These are my impressions after the first 3.5 hours of gameplay. From metrics I’ve seen, there are likely around 25 hours of gameplay in the single-player campaign.
While new to the PC (this game released on January 15th of this year), Dragon’s Dogma has been around the block a few times and I suspect has a loyal niche following. Debuting initially as simply Dragon’s Dogma on the XBox 360 and the PS3 back in 2012, it’s semi-sequel, Dark Arisen, was released on the same platforms roughly a year later. I say semi because Dark Arisen is really the original game with all of the DLC and some additional maps and missions.
I really liked the start of “Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen”. The premise is pretty simple. There’s a dragon, it’s a terror, it has a connection to you somehow. It rips out your heart, but you’re still alive for some reason. So you go to get it back and vanquish the dragon. My video diaries of the first two gaming sessions are attached here, as I refer to them below. Session 1 is above, session 2 is at the bottom of the post.
The game drops you in at the end of the single-player campaign, fighting a Chymera before you, I’m guessing, round the corner to face the final Dragon. You get a plethora of abilities to use in this first fight, as well as a good bit of weaponry and some stout companions. I really like the combat mechanic of being able to grapple onto a larger enemy and hack away at it while it tries to throw you off. After this first fight, the game takes you back to the beginning of the adventure, where you have no equipment and no abilities. At that point, things started to look a bit more tarnished to me. The initial, seaside village is very non-descript and sparse. Not a lot of characters or features stand out. After spending a lot of time running about trying to figure out which of the shops (which have no signs or signifying frontage as to what they are, other than the grocers, and I still can’t figure out why you actually need to buy food from the grocers), was the armorer, I just left and set out on the road.
Initial combat on the road to the encampment was neat; three small goblins. Then on to the next village; an encampment for adventurers. Here, Capcom fleshes out the back-story of the “pawns”. Really? We’re just calling NPC’s full on pawn’s now? The label does not really endear me to any of my AI companions, or elicit any concern about their well-being, which takes away from what sense of immersion there could be in a game like this. Anyway, in order to gain access to followers, you have to go about the encampment slaying any beasties you find. At that point the game ramps you from the first three goblins to a 18 foot tall orc/ogre/troll cyclops thing. You could imagine my surprise. Still, that combat was pretty damned satisfying. It was then in play-session two that things started to come off the rails.
Sad to say but this is “just another Capcom game” to me after this second play session. Full of the typical things I would expect of Eastern game design, but wrapped in a Western cloak to disguise it as something more palatable. That is most typified by the zero value-added speed bumps that are placed in front of you simply for the point of being a thing. But you don’t really learn anything from those challenges and they do not really advance the story.
The inconvenience of not having names on the shops so that you can clearly tell where to go buy new gear. The training mission that starts off the second video diary entry is absolutely useless and does not really train you to do anything. It’s just annoying that the way to get through the final scarecrow training mission is that the two scarecrows on the upper platforms do not react like all of the other scarecrows on this mission or the one before, and that you just need to knock them over rather than destroy them. Then you get the arbitrariness of the dialogue after, which really requires you to take a rest. But there’s no exhaustion meter or anything on-screen to inform you that you have to sleep. So I ran around for several minutes because I wanted to fight something, not sleep, not realizing that sleep was required to progress to the next chapter of the game.
On top of all of that, the game is amazingly devoid of combat, despite having some very good and interesting game mechanics. I like Dark Arisen despite all of this. The game looks great IMO. The RPG elements are ridiculously byzantine and buried underneath a veil of utter mess, though.
Still, I want to play more. But this is not going to be one of my go-to games that I whip out on a whim. This will likely sit in my backlog for years, with me slowly whittling away at it, waiting for times when I can block off a couple of hours to endure all of its torturous inaneness.
And I’m likely going to have to read at least some of a guide or walkthrough to better understand its most basic systems. So some of that is on me and the type of gamer that I am. And there are those who like digging through all of that complexity to get to the chewy sweet center. For me, I’ve got too much work, the house, kids, and the dog to expend my time researching how to play a game.
I said at the outset (first video diary entry) that I was expecting this game to be more Diablo-like. And I’ve commented in the past how much I feel like Diablo misses the mark and other games, such as Torchlight, refine and better execute on that formula. But after playing this, I’d love for Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen it to have been EXACTLY like Diablo. I would find that far less frustrating.