While everyone is out praising the genius of Dark Souls II, I've been moping in a corner because I don't have the money to buy the game. (Not that I'd buy it at full price. I was never that big of a fan of the original's tiring punishment.) Eager to play something challenging with dark fantasy elements, I slapped in my copy of Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen to set off to the area I had yet conquered; Bitterblack Isle.
I absolutely adored Dragon's Dogma when it first came out. It had amazing action-packed combat, huge monsters, incentive to explore and experiment, and a fairly interesting lore if you were willing to explore. It has it's problems, but overall I think the game was incredibly fun through and through. It also had the best final boss I've seen this generation, and that alone is worth the price of admission. Since then I've bested the strongest monsters, found the rarest loot, and explored every inch of the map. So finally, it was time to sail to Bitterblack Isle to find new challenges.
The first thing I notices was how much more grim and desperate the Isle is compared to the rest of the game. Gransys is filled with wide fields, deep forests, and marvelous ruins. Bitterblack is a dark,rocky mass with foreboding Gothic architecture, dark dungeons, and ominous caves. Gransys is a place where heroes are born and epic battles are won. Bitterblack is where those heroes die and despair reigns supreme. It's a nice change of pace, and the atmosphere and locals are pretty impressive most the time.
Keeping with the despair theme, Dark Arisen throws every challenging foe at you as well as a bunch of harder enemies to keep you on your toes. But I will admit, most of those new monsters are reskins of existing monsters. A good chunk of the biggest and baddest bosses are derived from other monsters. They have may have some different moves, some stat/behavior changes, and different weaknesses to keep you on your toes, but it's still a bit disappointing. To be fair though, most of the main bosses have something that really changes up an otherwise derivative fight. You may have killed hundreds of 15-foot-tall cyclopes in the main game, but a 40-foot constantly-enraged cyclops with a giant metal club requires different tactics.
But the game still does like to throw surprises at you. In the original Dragon's Dogma, enemy placement was fixed and repetitive. It was great when looking for supplies and farming materials, but it got really boring really fast, especially for a game that had you running the same paths back and forth constantly. Dark Arisen tries to spice this up with elements of randomness thrown in. Certain areas or rooms spawn different enemies, so one run may have you running into a litch, the next a cockatrice. Scattered around are "cursed" treasures that can yield powerful new weapons or armor, but they have to be purified by an NPC (naturally all the way at the beginning of the dungeon) before they can be identified and used. There are even powerful new enemy types called Necrophages that have a chance to randomly appear the more corpses you pile up. What may seem like a normal battle with goblins could end up bringing Death himself (one of the few truly new enemies) into the fray. It's a great change, especially for a location that that tries to instill fear and bleakness at every turn.
As far as a story goes, it's a Dragon's Dogma story so there's not much going on there. You are called to Bitterblack Isle by a mysterious woman and set out to slay the dark presence that has dominion of the Isle, and that's about it. However, here is a bunch of lore to uncover about the isles through talking with a reappearing NPC, listening to the whispers of the dead, reading epitaphs left behind by other doomed souls, and just generally piecing things together with the little explanation you're given. (It's kind of like Dark Soul's approach.) So while the actual plot of the game never really goes beyond "go here, do this, kill that," it is fun to find the backstory of an Arisen who refused his destiny and figure out why exactly Death incarnate stalks the dark halls of the Isle.
Overall, it's a great expansion for a game that I loved the moment I tried the demo. There's new thrilling new challenges, tons of new and powerful items, and plenty of bleak sorrowful corridors to explore. For fans of the original Dragon's Dogma who want more challenging things to do, I recommend it. To anyone who hasn't played Dragon's Dogma, I highly recommend it. After all, Dark Arisen is an example of a classic Capcom re-release, for better or worse.
Quick-Quack is a series of short articles by Zachary D Long, AKA InvadingDuck. You can follow him on Twitter @invadingduck . That...turned into a review. I honestly wasn't going for that, but whatever. That's how I roll.