Dragon’s Dogma first made its way onto our consoles all the way back in 2012. It was met with huge praise, and like previously mentioned, during its initial run, Dragon’s Dogma sold over 1 million copies, which is a huge, huge deal for a brand new IP, especially given it was made by a developer not renowned for their Western RPGs. After the initial run on the previous generation of consoles, the updated Dark Arisen version of Dragon’s Dogma made its way to Windows, Xbox One and PS4. Now, finally, the (probably not) final release is here on Nintendo’s hybrid console as Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen releases on the Nintendo Switch, but does this aging RPG still have some life in 2019?
If you’ve never played Dragon’s Dogma before, chances are you have heard how popular it was/is and that it was critically acclaimed upon its initial release. If you are brand new to the world of Gransys (the world Dragon’s Dogma is set in), then the first 20 minutes or so provides a decent tutorial on how the game mechanics work, a good setup for the (not overly original) story. You will also get to create your character, but this is nowhere near as in-depth as other character customisation screens. There are a dozen or so models to choose from and three initial character classes, or vocations, as they are referred to in this game. You give your character a name, and then off you go. This really is a blessing for players like me who spend far too long deciding on customisable options when given the chance. There isn’t any need to fret over which vocation to choose from either as you can swap them later on in the game when visiting certain characters.
One aspect of Dragon’s Dogma that becomes clear extremely quickly is that you will not be facing this adventure alone. As an Arisen (the name of the fabled “hero” in the world), you have the ability to summon and control Pawns. These mysterious beings are human in appearance, but they seem to have something missing that would make them truly human. They are loyal to you and will follow your every command, and they will be by your side until you finish your quest or choose a new one. The first Pawn you recruit will be as customisable as your main character, so you change the appearance, assign a vocation and give them a name. After this one, they are all pre-generated, and to recruit them into your party, you simply walk up to them and select them. These Pawns are either just wandering throughout the game world or are in the magical plane in which they “live”, and they all offer different vocation types, so it is always good to have a variety in your party. You can have up to three different Pawns in your party, so you do have the ability to have a good number of different fighting styles at your disposal, or you may just to choose to overload your party with the same vocation you are. The choice, my friends, is yours. Pawns are tied to their current levels (with the exception of your main Pawn, who levels up with you), so as you level up in the game, it is always a good idea to change out your Pawns for better ones as it is pointless having a level 7 Pawn when you are approaching level 20.
Generally, the Pawns work exceedingly well. There is always a slight sigh when you are forced to have an AI companion, but there is no need for such negativity here as the Pawns perform well in combat. They will follow your basic instructions (tied to the D-pad) during battle relatively well. Speaking of battle, we get to the part of Dragon’s Dogma that really sets itself apart from The Elder Scrolls series that it is always compared to: the combat. A battle in Dragon’s Dogma is where the game really comes into a world of its own. The combat is excellent, fun, and, well, just downright brilliant. Combat in Western RPGs generally struggle the first few hours into your adventure, but not here. It comes as no surprise, really, that the combat is as good as it is due to one of the directors (Hideaki Itsuno) having worked on Devil May Cry. The combat isn’t an overly complicated affair, which is a main reason as to why it is so good. You have weak and strong attacks, which can be used together to create some truly impressive looking combos. There is also a decent flow to the combat, so it actually feels and looks like you are dealing some damage to whichever foe is unlucky enough to be in your way. Aside from the basic attacks, you also have the chance to unlock/learn four special abilities mapped to the L and R buttons, which are your vocation skills. These skills can help make or break an intense battle but come at the cost of stamina, which like in all RPGs, will open you up to take some serious damage if you deplete it completely.
Another positive aspect of combat is the ability to grab your opponents. On the smaller enemies, this will just allow you to grapple them, and if one of your Pawns grabs an enemy, this will give you the opportunity to slash at them while they are defenceless. Grabbing a larger enemy, however, such as a Cyclops, allows you to climb on them and slash away. Much like the vocation abilities, this will eat away at your stamina, and if you completely deplete this, you’ll just tumble off your enemy.
The world of Gransys is a fun and varied world to explore, but it does fail slightly in comparison to, say, Skyrim or even Lordran. Gransys is a huge world, but due to only having a small number of actual settlements, you will end up seeing the same areas regularly. The settlements do look great and are fun to explore, especially the capital city of Gran Soren, and it is always a good idea to head to the settlements while you’re still at a low level because at night, Dragon’s Dogma becomes a lot harder. This is hinted at by various NPCs warning you not to go out at night, so it’s a good idea to visit an inn to advance the game time forward when the sun goes down.
Performance-wise on the Switch, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen performs exceedingly well, but this really shouldn’t be a surprise as it is a game that was released in 2012. There is only a slight performance dip when there are a lot of characters on-screen at once, like during a large-scale battle, and there are some occasional scaling issues, but this is generally only noticeable while in handheld mode, and even then, the performance never dips to a level low enough to make Dragon’s Dogma an unplayable nightmare.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 24th April 2019