Whatever else you might like to say about it, Dragon's Dogma was very much its own game. An Eastern take on Western fantasy RPGs, the resulting title resembled a particularly sticky wall after an idea-throwing jamboree. Tactile battle systems, graphical problems, an unexpectedly deep storyline, terrible traversal and Pawns, the brilliant asymmetric multiplayer solution, all shoved at each other to earn the player's attention. And it worked - we still haven't played anything quite like it.
Which makes it doubly strange that the new portions in Dark Arisen - the full version of the original game is included here - amount to what appears to be an amazingly competent Dark Souls mod.
Far from the continent of Gransys' rolling wilderness, new area Bitterblack Isle is an altogether different environment, rich with interlocking, corpse-strewn warrens, battle-scarred courtyards and all the trappings of a fantasy fortress gone terribly to seed. From a gameplay perspective, it takes the intricately crafted level design of the Souls series and infuses it with a threat offered only sporadically in the main game - darkness. Dragon's Dogma made the night a scary time. Monsters were tougher, visibility was drastically lower - you were going to die, so you rested and waited for dawn. On Bitterblack, it's always night.
Appropriately, that threat's matched in execution. Dark Arisen's most notable for its difficulty - we were told not to attempt it unless we were Level 50, but our Level 75 Sorcerer met his match many times over. Bosses are thrown at you with abandon, appearing out of nowhere and forcing you to create new tactics on the fly. They're a newly varied bunch too, with everything from a troll with a bright pink baboon-arse weak point to Death itself, a mix of the original's incrementally-defeated Ur-Dragon and the constant threat of Pyramid Head rendered in 20ft-tall, scythe wielding form.
What we're saying is it's really bloody hard, and the almost objective-less nature of your quest on the Isle, pieced together by finding literal fragments of story during your travails, makes it an even longer experience than it might have been. Xbox Live interaction remains much as before - sidekick Pawns are sent to other players by way of Rift Stones to earn and learn. That said, with 100 new items there's more to equip them with before handing over control.
A mysterious bonus disc includes a high-res texture pack and Japanese voice track installation. It's not all gravy - the former causes a few more framerate issues than it should, and the second means you'll never hear the wonderful word "aught" again. Choose wisely.
Given that this is a boxed release, seasoned veterans will need to decide whether they value even this much new content at such a price. Transferable save games, unlimited fast travel access and 100,000 rift crystals to spend might help swing the deal. For those on the fence however, the full game with hours of new content should be all you need to hop off. We wouldn't be surprised if this is the best budget release all year.
By Adam Glick
New island, new challenges, new content, still insane
- New approach to a unique game
- A genuine challenge for veterans
- An amazing deal for newbies
- Expensive for repeat players
- Original's problems still unchanged