First up, some housekeeping. Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen isn’t DLC. It’s an expansion that adds a new area, a bunch of enemies and some new items and abilities to the existing game, and packages it all together for a cut-down price. If you want an in-depth evaluation of the original release, then jump on over to our Dragon’s Dogma review.
So why is this review in the DLC section? Well, it just made sense. This is a review of the expansion alone, nothing more. So despite the fact that the new content can currently only be accessed by buying Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, the format of our DLC reviews just seem like a better fit. Got all that? Cool, then let’s move on.
Dark Arisen takes place in the depths beneath Bitterblack Isle. Accessible from the seaside town of Cassardis once you’ve hit Level 45, it’s an entirely different prospect to the wide, rambling scenery of Gransys. Better described as a dungeon, it’s dark, foreboding and utterly oppressive. And away from the grimy sub-Tolkienity of the overworld, the content gains greatly from this increased sense of place.
To go along with this there’s all manner of fearsome new nasties roaming about. From the vicious Gorecyclops to the giant skeletons, the ghostly Living Armors and the seemingly undefeatable Death himself, everything wants to end you in the most brutal of ways. Make no mistake, Bitterblack ain’t a nice place to be and, aided by an ugly difficulty spike towards the end, it wants to grind you to dust.
Helping you along are a number of digital trinkets packaged with the expansion. There’s tons of new equipment to pick up, including high level armour sets and weapons, as well as augments for your trusty - but occasionally cripplingly stupid - sidekicks, the Pawns. Add this to a new tier of Level 3 skills, offering my Sorcerer a bunch of badass new spells to chuck around, and you’re in a far better place to dish out some destruction.
Regardless however, prepare to die, especially if you’re exploring the depths of Bitterblack with a character in the low 50s.
In this way Dark Arisen is most reminiscent of the Souls games, Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. Throw in the area names like Ward of Regret and Garden of Ignominy - plus living treasure chests that munch on you when you open them - and it’s clear that Dragon’s Dogma director Hideaki Itsuno has taken a leaf or two from Hidetaka Miyazaki’s little black book of masochism.
Most of this is positive. After all Dark Souls is widely regarded as one of the most brilliant, punishingly designed games of this generation. But there’s still a sense that Dragon’s Dogma is grasping at other titles for inspiration, rather than creating one of its own. Just like the main game, it borrows from here and there to create something pretty unique, but we’re still waiting for the series step out from the shadow of its influences.
More than anything, Dark Arisen makes us yearn for for what the next Dragon’s Dogma could be.
Which brings us back around to the question of, is it worth buying? Well, that’s a tricky one. If Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen represents your first taste of the franchise, then the answer is yes. Especially considering that it offers 100,000 free Rift Crystals (the game’s currency) and unlimited Ferrystones allowing fast travel (one of the original game’s shortcomings was trudging all the way through the map when you wanted to get somewhere). Throw in the cheap price point and it’s an easy recommendation. But then it already was before the expansion.
Viewed as DLC however, which is exactly what we’re doing here, the extra content in Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is a harder sell. £20/$40 for a few more hours content and enjoyment just seems a bit steep, even by Capcom’s standards. It's decent, but it just doesn’t represent good value for money.
So if you’re deeply invested in the world of Dragon’s Dogma and fancy a new test of your skills, then Dark Arisen may well be worth a shout. It’ represents a slightly new direction for the series and perhaps a hint of what’s to come. But if you’re anything other than a hardcore fan, you may want to look elsewhere.