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on May 23, 2012
Dragon's Dogma is an interesting hybrid. With Japan's game industry languishing in the wake of newly risen Western RPGs like Skyrim and Mass Effect, developers of the Far East have been scrambling for a way to catch up. Dragon's Dogma may not be the first attempt of East-Meets-West the industry has seen, but it's certainly one of the best.

After a non-sequitur tutorial beginning which sees you filling the role of a presumably ancient warrior, you're eventually given the reins to craft a hero of your own. Here is the first step of the game's quiet brilliance, providing a staggering buffet of customization options. Not only can you set such minutiae as the angle of your hero's brow, or even choose two differently colored eyes, but you can set the big things as well: gender, height, girth, muscle, even the length of your character's limbs. Each of these things has subtle effects on gameplay. Add a few inches to your stature, and you can carry more items without being burdened, but your stamina replenishes slower.

Once you've crafted your avatar, that's when things start to get interesting. A dragon strikes your village and literally steals your heart, setting up the crux of the game's plot: The serpent, by robbing your pulsing organ in a splash of blood, has marked you as its rival, an Arisen, destined to challenge it in a far-off battle. But between you and that far-off fight stands an enormous, living world to explore.

The demo Capcom released for this game prior to launch does not do the world justice. It is a coy place, filled to the brim with shining hidden things that, in similar vein to Capcom's own Monster Hunter series, can be combined into ever-better items, or sold at shops for a premium. The quick and functional inventory menu helps turn this system into a true avenue for experimentation: Every item's properties are explained in full detail, giving you clues as to what materials might be compatible, and when a match shows up in your inventory, or the inventory of your party members, you can easily and faultlessly combine at will.

And what a party you will amass. Unlike games like Skyrim or Dragon Age that have a set pool of companions who will walk at your side, in Dragon's Dogma the legion is limitless. For in this game we have an exultant twist in the form of Pawns, who are the sidekick creations of other live players.

An hour or so into the game, you'll have the chance to craft your own Pawn--using the same breathlessly deep customization as for your own hero--who will stay loyal by your side throughout your entire adventure. As you explore the nooks and crannies of Gransys, the game's world, and tackle all manner of enemies and quests, your Pawn will learn alongside you. Later, when you rest at an inn or travel into the smoky realm of the Rift, your Pawn will be uploaded to the world amidst thousands of other players' companions. And that's where Dragon's Dogma shines.

Gransys is not a world easily tamed. When night falls, the fauna grow vicious, and the only way to prevail over the mightier enemies such as Griffons, Chimaeras, and Cyclops is to have extra hands at your side. You and your Pawn will make an unshakable pair, but the other two spots in your party are open for hire, and that's where other players' Pawns come in. Step into the misty veil of the Rift, and other players' Pawns will approach you. Through a slick menu system, you can immediately see what skills and knowledge they have at their disposal. Bring along a Pawn that's already completed a quest you're about to begin, and he or she will dispense tips about treasure and enemies. The game even offers a search option to narrow down exactly the kind of help you're looking for.

Other players' Pawns don't level alongside you, however, so there's the rub: You'll want to constantly switch out your party to make sure you're in prime shape for the challenges ahead. It's a wise move on Capcom's part, encouraging you to make the most of the Pawn system and see what concoctions fellow players have made. For those of you without Internet access, don't fear: the game comes pre-populated with a bevy of developer-made Pawns as well. Also a boon: none of the online features require Xbox Live Gold. You can get by with the free version and still make full use of other players' Pawns.

In all, Dragon's Dogma stands as a testament to the strength of hybrid sensibilities. The combat is meaty, fierce, and distinctly Japanese: as you level, you can learn ever-more-vicious moves, assign them at will, and devise bloody combos to take down your foes. Larger enemies can be clambered upon, encouraging you to go for the weak spot and hold on for dear life when you're bucked about, while smaller enemies can be grabbed by you or your party members for satisfying finishers. In fact, the grabbing mechanic adds another layer to battles: throw rocks, explosives, or jars of oil at enemies to afflict them with all manner of debilitations. The sheer tactical possibilities only emerge once you start peeling away at all your moves, items, and party combinations, and it can have you number-crunching for hours.

And yet this fast, visceral, and stylish core is wrapped in a world that wouldn't be out of place in an Elder Scrolls game. It's a perfect marriage of two distinct and complementary styles: the obsessive depth and detail of JRPGs combined with the epic sprawl of the West. Much has been said of how Japanese development needs to step up to the plate, and step up they did. And yet, perhaps it's less of how much Japan can learn from the West, and more of how both sides can learn from each other.

If you are any sort of fan of either genre, you owe it to yourself to pick up Dragon's Dogma.

-----Quick Points-----

* The game runs terrifically well on Xbox 360, even without an install. Load times when moving between the overworld and towns seem even faster than in Skyrim, and I was pleased to find that there are no loads when entering and exiting buildings in town.

* While the game doesn't offer true multiplayer, it does have online features. These can be accessed even without Xbox Live Gold, and if you don't have Internet access, you can still use developer-made Pawns. There is no online pass.

* If you played the demo, you can seamlessly and easily import your created characters into the full version of the game. I'm glad to report that this worked flawlessly.

* While fast-traveling isn't as free and easy as in games like Skyrim, you have an extremely fast sprint that can be used to cover a lot of ground. Your sprint is limited by your Stamina and carrying weight.

* You can combine items from any of your party members without requiring those items to be in your own inventory.

* When upgrading equipment, you can use your stored items without first needing to place them in your inventory. This is a big time-saver.

* Money is rather easy to come by, so it's worth experimenting with new equipment and items.

* Your pawns are fairly autonomous. They'll often find items on their own that you can then take from them. They are also fairly smart in battle. However, you can also issue simple commands with the D-pad to influence their behavior.

* Pawns don't die immediately; they get knocked unconscious, at which point you can run over to them and press a button to revive them. This doesn't use items and is instant. Pawns can be revived as many times as needed. If they're unconscious for too long, however, they'll become "forfeit" and return to the Rift. If you die, it's game over. Pawns don't revive you from death, but they will heal you.

* After you return a Pawn to its owner, you can review the Pawn and leave a pre-selected comment for its owner. You can also send along a gift item when releasing another player's Pawn from your party.

* The world is absolutely filled with goodies. Search for shiny stumps, barrels, plants, and treasure chests everywhere.

* Items can weigh you down. You can place items in storage at inns, or you can distribute your inventory across the rest of your party.

* You can pick up and throw a variety of things--even your Pawns and enemies. Thrown jars can damage enemies with debilitations, or you can find hidden items in broken-apart containers.

* While there's no dedicated lock-on system to target enemies, it seems like there's a sort of invisible smart targeting system anyway. I found my hero "sticking" slightly towards the closest enemy I was facing.

* Striders have unlimited arrows! You can also purchase special arrows tipped with all manner of poisons that are limited.

* Your starting class and your Pawn's starting class aren't locked in stone. You can switch classes later in the game, multiple times.

* You can save anywhere.

* When the game gets dark at night, it really gets dark. There's a real sense of danger here, and it's vital to keep a lantern or torch on your person. Alternately, you can set enemies on fire and try to walk by the light of their flames as well.
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on April 30, 2013
Dark Arisen follows the course set by Dragon's Dogma-a great, atmospheric RPG with a few flaws. If you haven't played the original, the fact that Dark Arisen comes with the original Dragon's Dogma, all its DLC, and a moderately lengthy expansion (in a market otherwise saturated with low-quality DLC) at a discount price makes it a solid purchasing option. If you loved the original... the new content is well worth the investment.

Value: (5/5)
Before I get into the game, I'll talk a bit about the packaging and changes made to the original. First, Dark Arisen comes with two discs-one installs new high resolution textures and a Japanese voice track. The new textures are hardly noticeable on my 1080p 42" HDTV, but cause sometimes significant issues loading NPCs (especially in Gran Soren's busy market.) I have not tried the Japanese voice acting out yet, nor do I really care to... not in a world based so firmly off of medieval Europe (with monsters from Greek mythology thrown in, but in both cases, it's strictly western-looking.)

If you owned the original game, you can import your old save. This creates a copy of the save-but doesn't touch the original. If you put in your old Dragon's Dogma disk, you can still play with your old character. The new character, however, has access to all the new Dark Arisen content, which features the new Bitterblack Isle-the subject of most of this review, but no more of this paragraph. The new DLC content can either be purchased at the Black Cat in Gran Soren... but it's not cheap. To get two of every new piece of equipment it cost me over 20,000,000 gold. Other content comes in the form of quests, on various boards. Even if you had the original game, the new DLC content cost more than twice as much as Dark Arisen, purchased individually. If you bought the old DLC gear... well, then this expansion is something of a slap in the face. Other new stuff has been well publicized-an Eternal Ferrystone (which allows you to fast-travel around the world for free, but only to customized Portcrystal spots) and 100,000 Rift Currency, which allows one to purchase custom gear... which is far less rewarding in Dark Arisen than in the original game. You also get some DLC NPC-based armor for free (Madeline, Julien, Aelinore, Festus, and Nun apparel.)

Gameplay (4/5)
Going into Dark Arisen, I had a pure-offense level 200 Assassin build (10 levels of Fighter, 190 of Assassin.) I thought I was ready for anything... but, without getting too deep into the mechanics, many power-gamer skills were nerfed. Still, my character was rather potent, so I figured Bitterblack Isle wouldn't be too rough. I felt that way until I ran into my first Elder Ogre, which was able to smack me around for 1800 damage a hit, and took me several minutes to kill. Even if you're fully leveled, Bitterblack Isle is a stiff challenge. Many of the new monsters are palette-swaps of original monsters, or larger versions. Despite they, their ominous surroundings, feral power, aggressive AI, and sinister appearance work well. Some of the redesigns are so drastic, they hardly even feel like the old monsters you're used to fighting. Living Armor, Golden Knights, and Silver Knights hardly even feel like the old Skeleton Lords on which they're based, and the Gazer and Gorecyclops have increased in proportion over their originals so much they can't help but impress. If the game felt like Shadow of the Colossus before, these newer, even more immense foes can't help but heighten the connection. Some foes, however, are just shameless copies with special auras or lighting-Dire Drakes, Dire Wyverns, Dire Wyrms, Dark Bishops, etc.

Bitterblack Isle's content all takes place in a subterranean dungeon, divided into three strata, after the first two of which you'll find a shortcut to the surface. Minor stops exist along the way, where a former Arisen will help you out by providing Inn/Merchant services, such as storing your loot, changing your Vocation, and enhancing your gear. Inventory management has been improved with some better navigation options (the ability to try out gear right from your stash without having to take it into your inventory is a welcome addition.) All in all, you shouldn't ever feel like you're doing a serious grind. Unlike Dark Souls, safety is never too far away. Lifestones exist in great quantity to take you back to the surface should you need respite. If you're going to die, you'll do so in one encounter, not over several. On the other hand, monsters and treasure respawns much more quickly, so back-tracking to get to the surface is likely to be just as perilous (and less rewarding) than soldiering ahead until you reach a shortcut out or your friendly fellow Arisen.

The game starts out fairly easy-Hobgoblins and Wargs (a new wolf creature in between a Direwolf and Hellhound in power) aren't much of a threat. The difficulty picks up satisfyingly a short distance into the dungeon, however. Individually powerful new foes like the Elder Ogre, Living Armor, Cursed Dragon, and Gorecyclops provide thrilling encounters, and Death-cast as the typical tattered-robe wearing wraith with a huge scythe-shows up randomly throughout, adding to the suspense. Death is a multi-stage boss, he kills in one hit, and can put you to sleep with his lantern, but can be driven off with enough damage. He is not invincible, like many reviews have said.

By the time you reach the third strata, however, the difficulty spikes immensely, and unjustifiably. I had my head smashed in by an Eliminator (more as a result of bad play than the difficulty, but it set the stage for what was coming.) In another part of the third strata, I had to fight a huge Elder Ogre and an Eliminator in a cramped dungeon filled with water. Since I play a Ranger (formerly an Assassin, but since the Assassin's skills have been nerfed, the bow power of a Ranger is a welcome improvement) I need to dodge often-I can't block or weather blows. This forces me to drench myself in water, putting out my lantern. Stuck in a cramped, dark tunnel, with two huge, powerful foes capable of killing me in two or three hits was not fun. The next level wasn't any better-in the midst of fighting some undead, three Garm appeared out of nowhere, forcing me to scamper up some rocks and laboriously shoot them to death. It wasn't fun, it just felt cheap. Shortly thereafter a Sorcerer Pawn cast a Maelstrom spell that annihilated my entire party-my Arisen included-in one hit. By comparison, the end boss was fairly easy, but the massive ramp in difficulty was unexpected, not fun, and out of balance with the moderate increase in difficulty from the first to second stratum.

The worst part of Dark Arisen is-as it was with Dragon's Dogma, the AI. Your main character is called an Arisen, which-without going into the story-grants you the loyalty of the Pawn legion, or Myrmidons. They're essentially violent, kleptomaniacal, wonder-struck children who comment on everything you do and everything they see. They also are your partners in adventuring, and the steep difficulty of Dark Arisen (with the nerfing of skills like Autonomy) requires Pawns-at least initially. The confined spaces and ultra-challenging enemies conspire to make your Pawns more annoying than ever. Getting your Pawn to cast an offensive spell on a half-dead suit of Living Armor (at which point being immune to physical damage) is a nightmare. Having your Pawns mindlessly jump off ledges when you run over to loot a chest is aggravating to no end. When Death shows up, you can count on your Pawns to walk casually into his scythe attacks. If you find yourself prey to a monster in a chest (Maneaters), you're better off wiggling the analog stick like crazy and healing with inventory items... your Pawns would rather allow you to get devoured rather than walk over and whack the beast to free you. My greatest joy in Dark Arisen came from becoming so powerful that I could ditch my Pawns again, and rid myself of their incompetence.

There are only a few new augments, most of which are worthless (increasing ballistae reload speed, stamina drain when running, speed walking through water, lantern oil consumption rate, etc.) There are no new Vocations, the level cap hasn't been expanded, which is kind of a downer, if you power-leveled during the first game (like me.) Still, the original Dragon's Dogma was immensely fun, boasting the best combat in any RPG I've played in a long time. Whether you want to play a full archer, a robed mage, a platemail-clad sword-and-shield bearing fighter, a war-hammer wielding warrior, a foe-climbing, weakness exploiting rogue... you can do it, and in most cases, do it well. The variation between the fast-paced, dodge-happy Assassin, the massively powerful Sorcerer, the well-defended Fighter, and the ponderous, slow-swinging, weapon-charging Warrior, or the nimble archer is amazing, and it allows for many viable play styles.

You can level up to level 200, and your stats (Hit Points, Stamina, Magick, Strength, Defense, Magick Defense) raise as you level up-varying depending what your Vocation is each level. This encourages builds that focus on various strengths-Mages will end the game with more Magick, Warriors with more Strength, etc. And mixing Vocations will allow you to create specially-tailored characters to suit whatever your playstyle. Despite the obvious similarity to Final Fantasy Tactics, however, you cannot uber-grind godly jacks-of-all-trades. You cannot reverse the leveling process, so whatever character you make is bound to be locked into a certain role.

Almost as great are the character-customization options. Most RPGers by now are used to the fact that most RPGs only provide you with one body-and allow you to customize the face. Not so in Dragon's Dogma. Whether you want to play a young child, a buxom female, or a massive brute... you can do it. Your height and weight (variable from about four feet tall to seven feet tall, and over 100 kilograms) effect how your get about the world. Taller characters walk faster, use up less Stamina, but regenerate it slower, too. Smaller characters walk slower, use up more Stamina, regenerate it faster, and can fit into small spaces. Your weight also influences how you encumber foes you grapple. The custom options in Dark Arisen include many more hairstyles and colors than found in the vanilla Dragon's Dogma.

The new weapons are satisfyingly powerful, and look fairly cool (subjective, I know.) Improving all your resistances to 100% and becoming 50% resistant in all the elements is great fun, and it's provided me with hours of grinding to score all this new loot. The loot, however, doesn't just come usable out of chests and from the bodies of the slain-most of it has been cursed, which is a just a gimmick to limit the save/load farming that was so useful in the original game. Now you'll instead find 'Bitterblack Armor', 'Bitterblack Weapon', 'Bitterblack Novelty' or Bitterblack Gear', leveled one-to-to three, to denote it's basic quality. To make this new gear usable, you must take it to an NPC outside the dungeon and have her 'purify' it, lifting the curse and allowing you to identify and use said item. This isn't free, however, costing anywhere from a few hundred to nearly 30,000 Rift Currency... which thankfully drops in great quantities throughout the interior of Bitterblack Isle (expect over 100,000 or so for clearing one strata.)

Despite being an excellent RPG with great gameplay, leveling, and customization, it falters in one major area-the story. From the beginning, the game focuses on the Dragon, your antagonist. After a brief but fateful encounter at the beginning of the game, however, you won't see much of the critter. The entirety of Gransys is concerned over the return of the Dragon, and its presence permeates most quests, but the presence of the wyrm itself is strictly limited only to the beginning and end of the game. NPCs are bland, and establish little character. Despite this you'll be forced into a romance, deal with political intrigue, combat a cult, and help out a great deal of characters on various errands. The NPCs that ask you to do these things, however, have very little long-lasting impact, and fail to endear. The romance, however, is the biggest failure for this game. Without spoiling too much, you don't get to choose your partner-but you will have one. This romantic interest isn't chosen by conversations, quests, or design-just an invisible affinity rating. You can give gifts to improve this rating, and some interactions do help (saving the duchess from imprisonment is bound to win her affection, for instance, or letting a she-knight eager to prove herself defend her own honor will increase her disposition), and a rare, one-time gift of a ring will provide a massive boost, but nothing is set in stone. You could easily go through the entire game flirting (and financing) a busty burgeoning merchant, only to end up dating a bland, overly talkative innkeeper or an elitist, shrewish child. Capcom has no mercy.

Graphics/Sound (4/5)
The first game looked pretty good already, even without the texture pack adding much. Despite this, the game was ridiculed as being fairly bland... or rather, cliche. Personally, I enjoyed the creature design, and the contained area of Gransys made more sense than the unjustifiably rapid climate changes round in Skyrim. The palette employed through most of Dragon's Dogma is green-rather than the typical brown and grey seen in many RPGs and shooters as of late. The verdant meadows and forests are broken up only rarely by dark catacombs, water-filled caves, and mountain rifts. The monsters all look fairly traditional-but in my mind, a well-designed staple beats a crappy novelty any day. The Goblins, Hobgoblins, Saurians (lizardmen), Drakes, undead, Chimeras, Griffins, and Evil Eyes (Beholders) all look spot-on, and if you're like me, you'll appreciate the attention given to cherished monsters. The world is, however, somewhat on the small side, for what aspires to be an open-world game, and there is a fair amount of dead-space. Some of the western areas of the game are never referenced in the story at all, and unless you wander off the beaten path, you'll never bother to see much of Gransys.

The atmosphere of Dark Arisen's Bitterblack Isle, however, is far darker than anything found in the original game, save the Everfall. Green meadows are now joined by dank dungeons, crawling with beasts, and the sometimes gruesome remains of Arisen to dared to tread into the depths before. Unlike previous dungeons, which tended to look incidentally dangerous, Bitterblack's depths aren't just decrepit-some areas look purposefully hostile to explorers. A multi-level cylindrical area connects elevated ramps with rickety wooden bridges, occupied by mages that love to pelt you from the safety of height. Piles of corpses and bones lie stacked nearby, a flowing river of blood drains into the abyss, and wrapped corpses swing at the end of chains. Darkness permeates the entire game, from the abandoned ruins near the entrance to the remains of the city near the end. The mood contrasts well with the lush countryside of the original game, and gives you no false impressions-you're on hostile territory.

The dungeon's appearance is fortified by its design. At any moment Death can pop up (with the somewhat annoying choir that picks up when you encounter him adding to the tension.) Any treasure chest could contain a Maneater-a tentacle monster that dwells in containers, waiting a foolish adventurer. Slay your way through a level, and the festering meat of your slain foes might attract scavengers-who aren't afraid to add you to the menu. The unpredictability of Bitterblack keeps you on your toes-especially when one or two hits can prove fatal.

The sound is also fantastic-particularly the music that plays when you injure one of the game's many gigantic foes. You've never fought a Chimera, Griffin, Cyclops, or Ettin like the ones in Dragon's Dogma. Sound effects are appropriate, and the voices are well-done, even though the NPCs rarely have anything important to say. Even more than the heraldry, the crumbling-yet majestic-stonework around Gran Soren (the capital and one real city in Gransys), the heavily-accented voice overs sell the world you're in, which aspires to medieval Europe. I'd be tempted to rate this category 5/5 for Dark Arisen simply for removing the awful title music that plagued Dragon's Dogma... but I'll practice some restraint.

Reviewer Bias (5/5)
Dragon's Dogma is much of what I had been waiting for in an RPG. A game with good character customization, great action-packed combat that allows for great variability in play-style, and that isn't shy about adding some statistics. We're not that dumb, Bethesda, most gamers won't get scared away by attributes and numbers. The story is a letdown, but the game is just so fun to play, I've been stuck on it for almost a year now. Shadow of Colossus-style boss fights, the gear and stat grinding, the Dark Souls atmosphere of Bitterblack, the beautiful (and sometimes misleading) tranquility of Gransys... I love it all. Dark Arisen adds to the challenge and content of the original game in a meaningful way. If you loved Dragon's Dogma, don't be shy about upgrading to Dark Arisen. If you haven't purchased the original yet... what have you got to wait for? It's easily the best RPG experience of the past year, and at $40, Dark Arisen provides an awful lot of great content.

Overall Score: 4/5

Review By: Nathan Garvin (Haeravon)
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on July 8, 2012
Dragon's Dogma has a lot of things going for it. I think that's why the more I played it, the more frustrating its negative aspects were. Because there were many things I really liked about it, the fact that there are such serious flaws were heartbreaking. Before I get to the meat of the review, let me say that overall I really enjoyed Dragon's Dogma. That being said, if the game is never patched, I will probably never play it again. So on to the review...

As I said, there are a lot of aspects of this game that felt original and fresh. The one that should be first on everyone's list of pros is the pawn system. In the game, once you create your character, you then create your main pawn. In the DD universe, pawns are humanoid beings whose sole purpose is to help your character defeat the dragon that has stolen your heart and marked you as the Arisen. Basically what happens is, you design your main pawn, and then if you are playing while connected to XBOX Live, that character is uploaded to a place called The Rift, a gateway that connects you with a wide selection of everyone else's main pawns to recruit, and where other people can recruit your main pawn into their game. The idea itself is just really cool to me. That any pawn I recruit (you can have two on top of your main pawn and yourself) is something that is purely the creation of someone else. Then, your main pawn adventures with other people during their game, and when they are released from another person's party, they/you can choose to send them back with an in-game gift, and you can rate their performance. In this way, your main pawn accumulates more experience on top of what they are gaining in your game. Everything gets updated every time you rest at a camp or inn, and that's when you can receive the gifts from other players. I think this is the single greatest strength to the game, and without it I don't think I'd have enjoyed the game nearly as much. The novelty never wore off, and I still believe the system is fantastic, and the best usage of single player online connectivity I've ever experienced. If you don't play online, no worries, the game either has a set population of scripted pawns you can choose from, or ones that are randomly generated by the game.

Second, also a huge positive, is the boss battles. As far as combat goes, this is one of the most original things about the game. Even though none of the functions are new in and of themselves, I've never played a role playing game where you can climb onto a dragon and slash at its heart, or climb onto a cyclops' head and stab its eye, or mount a chimera and cut its snake tail off, and then kill the goat and lion. It's fantastic, and there are plenty of them to be had. It never feels too repetitive either, since there are so many different ways to approach battle with them. It's especially fun once you're a sufficiently high level, because then you are be more inventive and experimental with your approaches.

The third noteworthy thing about the game that I loved was the variety and depth of the items. I put 60-70 hours into the game, exploring most of it quite thoroughly, and I know there are probably dozens of items and crafting materials I haven't even found yet. Most enemies drop loot, and there are chests, barrels, crates, plants, minerals, and an assortment of other items to be found, picked up, combined, used to enhance weapons and armor, or just sold for some major cashola. If you played Capcom's awesome Resident Evil 5, you'll be familiar with the inventory and combining system. Except in the case of Dragon's Dogma there are hundreds and hundreds of items to be acquired. It keeps the game feeling fresh when you're interested to find or use various new rare items to enhance weapons and armor. Each weapon and piece of armor in the game has a 3 star tiered rating system. The first tier only costs money to upgrade to. And then the second and third tiers require a specific number of a specific item to upgrade to. The better or more rare the equipment, the more expensive and difficult it will be to find those items.

Another worthy mention goes to the landmass of the game itself. The world of Gransys is quite large, even if it isn't terribly varied. Elevation is used frequently to change things up a bit, and it works well, providing long falls for unlucky enemies (or adventurers).

So on to the bad parts of the game. There are going to be more than four things listed here, but I still maintain that hidden in the mess that is Dragon's Dogma is a truly good game.

There are two main problems with the game, and I could go back and forth about which one is more irritating all night: The (lack of) fast travel, and the way pawns interact with the world.

First off, fast travel is almost nonexistent. There are items called Ferrystones that you can carry with you that will instantly teleport you back to the biggest city in the game world. Aside from that, eventually you will also be able to take what's called a Portcrystal with you, which you can set down anywhere in the world and then your Ferrystones will transport you there instead of the city. And that's it. You get one Portcrystal, and aside from that, you can only teleport to the main city. This becomes more frustrating the more you play the game, unless you're a masochist, because the world is quite large. And not only is it quite large, but since the terrain is so varied, you cannot ever travel any great distance in a straight line, so you end up sprinting until you're almost out of breath, and then jogging while your stamina regenerates, and then sprinting again. And over and over and over to your destination. The game tries to provide a couple of shortcuts between areas of the world, but it's really not very helpful. A lot of your time in game will be spent running from one place to another. Not only does this get really grinding after a while, but enemies also respawn in the exact same places every time, so you will have the exact same fights again, and again, and again. And then some more. To the point where I pretty just ran past them and kept going. Because it got so tedious. And then if you don't have a Ferrystone, you have to run all the way back to where you came from. And not only that, but

Secondly, your main pawn and the two you can also have with you will repeat the exact same lines of dialog when you hit certain markers in the game. The exact same lines, in the exact spots, every single time. It got so annoying I went to the options to see if I could turn off the voice volume for just the pawns. You can't, unfortunately. If I had a quarter for every time I heard the phrase "Perhaps we'll find aught of use," I would be seriously loaded. The main problems in the game all kind of flow into the other, and they make it quite a big mess. Even just describing it, it probably seems to someone who hasn't played the game like it's really not worth it to even give the game a chance. If you like highly polished games, you might want to pass on this one. So yeah, the pawns get really annoying after a while. If they would just change it so they only spoke when you initiate conversation with them.

If Capcom fixed only those two problems, the fast travel and the pawn irritation, the game would easily earn a four star rating from me. However, those aren't the only problems with the game...

As stated, fighting normal enemies becomes tedious after a while, because they appear and respawn in the same places every time. It makes that combat repetitive and very boring, even though the combat itself is pretty fun. There are only so many ways you can kill goblins after the four or five hundredth one.

Texture pop isn't actually an issue that I noticed in the game. What is an issue though, is people pop. From the start of the game all the way through, I'd find myself running into people because the streets would be empty, and then suddenly three appear, and then ten, and then twenty-five, all of a sudden. It's not so much an irritation as it just feels lazy. There's no way they didn't come across it when they beta-tested it.

Lip-syncing is godawful. Which is to say it's laughably bad, or just nonexistent. I don't particularly care if lip-syncing is bad, but this isn't even bad, it's like the already bad lip-syncing wasn't matched the recorded audio, so characters are speaking when their lips aren't moving, and vice versa. Another thing that just felt pretty lazy.

Side quests are extremely boring and unoriginal. Most of them fall under two categories: escort missions, and kill set number of [this creature]. Almost all quests not in those categories are main story-related. Kind of disappointing. I think this might be because there are only actually two cities in the whole game world. And no real villages or just lone houses at all. So there aren't quirky people giving you odd quests out in the middle of nowhere.

One of the most bizarre things to me about the game was the "love interest" aspect. Or lack of, I don't even know. I'm still not sure if it's possible to even have an implied relationship with any of the characters you meet. I think this is one thing that maybe I just don't get, because I'm not a fan of Eastern-style RPG's, and am much more used to there being a clearly defined list of things that can or won't happen in a game as far as role playing relationships. There are a few cutscenes in the game where your character will exchange...let's call them "significant stares" with other characters...and then that's it. It's never revisited or mentioned again or anything. And I'm not sure what the point of it is, or what the payoff is either. It's just kind of baffling to me. Music swells and two digital people are staring into each others' eyes not saying anything...and then it ends and nothing.

The save system is also lacking. The game only allows one save slot. It autosaves, and you can save when you want as well. But it's all one save file. If it corrupts, you're screwed. I imagine this will be one of the first things addressed if and when there is a patch for the game. But poor design in the first place, and pretty unacceptable for an RPG.

The last thing I can mention are the graphics, which I'm only mentioning so I can say that if a game is engrossing enough, graphics really don't matter that much. And in this game, they don't. They are function-only, and it works that way. I'd much rather have this deep and varied universe with pared-down graphics than a gorgeous backdrop with no real substance.

So, with so much working against a game, how can I possibly still actually like it? The honest answer is I don't know. I think because the things I like about it outweigh the things I don't like about it, and because I see a ton of potential for this to become a really good franchise if certain simple changes were made. Towards the end of the game I was really reminded of playing Alpha Protocol, which is another highly flawed game that I really liked. So much was wrong with it, and yet I loved it, and saw great potential for it to grow into something really great. That won't happen now, of course, but as with it, I think if Dragon's Dogma gets a sequel, it will be far better than this one as long as a few key things are addressed.

If you're on the fence, I would recommend you at least rent the game to see if it's something you'd like. As I said before, I'm convinced there's a really great game buried in this mess. As I did, you will probably alternate between total immersion and utter boredom. In my opinion though, its pros outweigh its innumerable cons.
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on May 8, 2013
For enjoying the beating so much!

Brutal. Just Brutal. Even on the easiest setting, the new creatures that await you on Bitterblack Isle will make the Boss Dragon seem like a hob goblin in comparison. Although I’ve never been one to rush through a game, I found myself slowing down even more to observe my surroundings before haphazardly turning some dark corner or entering a new room. There was a real sense of dread, wondering what kind of new monstrosity awaited my team, or if my lantern would go out leaving me swinging blindly in the dark at whatever horrible thing was pounding me into the ground. I learned quickly that racing for the exit ( and leaving my witless pawns behind as bait) was an actual survival tactic when mobbed by two Gore Cyclopes, three Sirens and a Wyrm… all trying to end my painstaking progress, AT THE SAME TIME.

Really, Capcom?!?!

For me, I enjoy a good challenge so long as it isn’t so frustrating that the game loses all it’s fun. This is where DD: Dark Arisen gets it right. While I’m inclined to compare Dark Arisen with Dark Souls, I enjoyed Dragon’s Dogma more because there was an actual sense of accomplishment after surviving an ordeal. It’s dark, without being too depressing or drab. It’s challenging enough to make you want to continue playing without aggravating you to the point of giving up. The graphics, story and gameplay were also more appealing (to me). The added bonus is the ability to fully customize your own character and that of your companion (pawn) in order to play as whoever and whatever you like. A feature I’ve always preferred in RPG’s with the good sense to accommodate a broader audience.

Having already purchased and played the first release of Dragon’s Dogma, I found the expanded version was well worth the price given all the extra content and added gameplay hours it includes. As a die-hard completest, I’ve already spent an additional 40 hours in the new area alone, and still haven’t finished all the new quests made available. Add to that the high replay value of this game, and at $40.00, it’s still a bargain!
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on April 23, 2013
I vow to never again whine about the dearth of quality swords & sorcery games. With Dark Souls, Skyrim, and now Dragon's Dogma, we have a holy trinity.

When you fall in love, you want it to be perfect. You want beauty, you want purity, you want everything to just happen like it was written in the stars.

Translating that roughly into fantasy RPG terms, that means you want ONE, photorealistic graphics, and not just any old kind. You want ivy-cloaked ruins, rendered artfully; you want to stand in the cool shadow of granite cliffs, and slip into a reverie as it brings to mind your real-life vacation to Yosemite or some other beautiful place. You want to walk through fragrant redwood forests, and you want little glowing numbers and circles all over the picture about as much as you want to see a Chicken McNugget box on a hiking trail.

It means TWO, you want a consistent world that is devoid of anachronistic elements, other than maybe the odd piece of steampunk paraphernalia.

THIRD, you want the play controls to feel like you are wearing a second skin. The combat feels rock-solid, like you can feel the weight difference between a stiletto and a mace. When you switch classes from archer to sword-and-shield fighter halfway through the game, it feels like you started a brand new game. When you finally get up the courage to attack a high elf patrol on the road (Skyrim), or stand firm against a griffon instead of running (Dragon's Dogma), your heart actually races. Combat has tension.

Last summer I finally rediscovered videogames after a 20-year hiatus. Before that, I was the guy saying that video games had never progressed past the NES.

One night my gf was gone and I stole away with her copy of Skyrim. Let's just say that I fell in love that night.

I recant, all right?! Oh, you want me to spell it all out? Okay, here goes: "I hereby recant all my previous nonsense about videogames being better when they are "stylized" (i.e. not photorealistic), about Legacy of the Wizard and the original Legend of Zelda being the high-water mark of silicon-based gaming, etc etc ad infinitum."

Alas, all good things come to an end, and when that summer fling in Tamriel ended some 600-hours later, it felt like it was the end for me. I was still laid off, the economy was still in tatters, and games like Dungeon Siege III and Dragon Age: Origins have god-awful graphics, not to mention the fact that they are not even remotely open-world. [EDIT 2015. I would subsequently sink quality time into Dungeon Siege III with the better half, and realize that it is a great game with very pretty graphics. But it's more of a co-op game IMO, and not the experience someone coming off of Skyrim would be seeking.] Winter *came*. I sunk some quality time into modded PC versions of Oblivion and Morrowind (I don't recommend the use mods on anything but very old PC games, by the way-- your little affair will be discovered-- i.e your game will break-- when the official DLC rebuilds the game from the ground up). I also came to bitterly resent the 70 hours in anime-esque Amalur I will never get back.

Then Dragon's Dogma appeared, like a radiant goddess, and winter's chill thawed in the hot breath of a torrid new love affair. There IS hope after Skyrim, and you don't have to wait around until Witcher 3 (with its open world "20% bigger than Skyrim", per Game Informer). Nor must you play some white-haired freak of nature. You can play whatever kind of freak of nature you want.

This game does pretty much everything right, but let me just make a few notes.

a) While anyone with a brain knows that the face is what you are going to look at most of your life, Dragon's Dogma lets you customize your main pawn's other assets "Weird Science"-style. Suffice to say that the only way to describe my henchman's chainmail-adorned backside is "luscious". There is something to be said for the serendipity of love in Skyrim, but Dragon's Dogma asks you upfront: "What is your fantasy?" Whether such wish-fulfillment is a vestige of the game's eastern roots is irrelevant; Rekall Corporation would be proud.

b) You can hire "pawns" made by other players. This also means that if you are a *real* control freak, you could make multiple Xbox live or PS Network accounts and have three fully customized henchmen. Or you could just go with the flow and hire people on the road as you meet them.

c) I like the idle chatter of my pawns, repetitive or not, and have come to regard their incessant and idiomatic use of the word "aught" to be endearing. Oft is the time my fiancée has caught me talking to them from the other room. You *will* catch yourself talking to them or yelling at them when things get intense (though their combat smarts is pretty high, mind you).

d) Generally, I am a fan of the suicidal, masochistic dedication that the pawns pay their master. It's realistic, even, given the feudal hierarchy of knights and squires. But could there be a few more snotty, reluctant followers? Sure. There is a wide variety of behavior-types nonetheless, and the voice acting is first-class.

e) Let's say you have a magick sword hanging on your belt. When you wade through water, the glow of the blade ripples through the water. What's more, when you get out of the water, your character is still wet.

f) I don't want to convey the notion of a chainmail fetishist, but if it's a bright day and you look closely at someone wearing chainmail, you can discern skin in places where the chainmail is not padded, or where nothing is worn beneath.

g) You will change your team's clothes like a girl playing with dolls. The costumes, armor, and weapons are exquisite.

h) The crackling of fires, howling of wind, and fluttering of banners is breathtakingly perfect.

i) You can interact with almost EVERYTHING in your environment, sometimes with rather amusing consequences. While fighting a pack of goblins once, the party's mage accidentally set a nearby cow on fire with a fireball. You can wrestle, throw things, and climb all over the place. When you stun someone in combat, you can pick that person up. Let me tell you, knocking out one of the she-bandits of the Westron Labrys and then throwing her off a cliff is divine.

j) People have talked about this a lot, but when it is dark, it is dark. And the undead come out...

k) Vertical dungeons!! Skyrim had a couple places with scary pits (Shriekwind Bastion was one, I think), but falling was rarely a consequence of combat. Quite the opposite in Dogma, which is more akin to Dark Souls in that regard. Losing a low-ranking henchman to a really long fall is kind of amusing in a... "well, that was realistic" way. It doesn't matter how high level you are if a flying beast catches you and drops you from a high altitude.

l) You can toggle off EVERY single hud/interface element in this game. Even Skyrim insisted on keeping that blessed compass!

m) Built-in screen shot functionality. If only more game developers would pick up Microsoft's slack in this department. Since I don't use FB, I made a "fake" FB page to upload my DD pics and voilà! Decent quality screenshots of my heroes without having to pay a single dollar for an image capture card or the non-existent PC version of the game. That shows that the game designers really were thinking like role-players. They know we would sooner sell our mothers than forget our favorite character.

n) Solid as a rock, knock on wood. I have never experienced a crash or freeze with this game.

o) The Dark Arisen expansion was made available as a complete packaged game instead of DLC. After a (presumably damaged) Two Worlds II official DLC download corrupted all of my saves for that game, I much prefer a physical disc for add-ons.

p) Fast-travel is only enabled by the use of expensive ferrystones. Okay, some of you will probably see this as a downside, but I think that rampant fast travel is immersion-breaking. Well, it's a toss-up now, because this new and expanded version supplies players with an Unlimited Ferrystone.

The only downside to the original Dragon's Dogma was that it wasn't huge enough. The April 23rd version, which includes the entire original game at a discounted price, remedies that by opening up the huge new realm of Bitterblack Isle.

INSTALLING THE NEW VERSION: The game required a 2MB update as soon as I slapped in the new disc. It then automatically imported my save from the original edition. The game then mentioned that I could install the optional high-definition texture packs from the second disc if I wanted to.

When the game started, I was in the exact place I left off at with the old version of the game. Win. Have fun! I know I will.

This is it, ladies and gentlemen, the zenith of fantasy role-playing. In the end you have a big-budget epic with an old-school D&D soul, a story of camaraderie and the usual clichés about facing insurmountable odds, coupled with an absolutely unique meditation on the archetypal hero and the price of Utopia.
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on May 22, 2012
Dragons Dogma was a game I've had my eye on for quite some time. Not really getting my hopes up high in case of disappointment yet still anticipating it, the game has finally reached my hands. What do I think? The game is quite frankly hard to put down.

Right off the bat I will just point out that the story is there, yet not very captivating or interesting. There is a very electrifying beginning, except as soon as that exciting start is over the story is just meh. The main attraction of Dragons Dogma is the combat, which is very very fun and addicting. I highly recommend Dragons Dogma for anyone looking for an open world adventure game similar to that of Dark Souls and monster hunter, and maybe even those who enjoyed Devil May Cry. (The game is hard, yet it still is able to be more forgiving than Demon or Dark Souls). The hack and slash combat will feel familiar to those who have played Dark Souls or DmC, probably because people from DmC series actually worked on Dragons Dogma.

Dragons Dogma allows me to forget the story and just simply go out, slay some monsters, beef up my character(as well as my NPC buddies) and just have a blast. There is actually a really cool and unique system to customizing NPC's, or Pawns. You have one permanent one, then two others you can hire from a rift where Pawns from other players are patiently waiting for the next adventurer to adopt them. This is all adds to the addictive nature of the game, where customizing is almost as fun as the combat.

These Pawns help immensely during combat. I chose a ranger as my class, and my Pawns are able to complement me in very effective ways. i can sit back and plug away with my bow, while my companions can do some serious damage up close, and vice versa.

It's not perfect though. Some minor camera problems and graphical issues are present, but don't get in the way of completely ruining the experience. Just minor frustrations at most. The game could've used some more time in the oven.

I've played for about 7 hours now, and besides the first hour or so which was a bit boring(except that exciting start), I've hardly wanted to stop playing. Will probably update if anything significant occurs.

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on June 12, 2013
They compare this game to Dark Souls and Yes, you can get "One Hit Killed". I read many reviews of this game and they say this game has a lot of unfair battles and cheap kills. Then the same reviewers will say Dark Souls is a "Gem". Dark Souls is a very good game because i have it but the Cheap Kills in Dark Souls is ABSURD compared to this game. I cant count how many times i got killed on the "Back Swing" from and enemy or Boss. In Dark Souls you can get Killed hiding behind a WALL or any other place you think is safe. An enemy can shoot an arrow that will somehow follow your movement, unless you are lucky enough to roll it might mis you which is rare.

Dragons Dogma is difficult but i have yet to get killed standing behind a wall or any other object that's used for cover. The cheap shots are FAR and FEW between. You can create and level your character, weapons and armor. But the thing i love most is the magic in this game. IMO, the magic in this game outshine whats used in Dark Souls. The visuals are spectacular and the Bosses are HUGE. The story gets stale but the combat makes up for it. An overall great RPG.
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on May 31, 2013
RPG's are my thing. I've played them since the windows 95 days, across more consoles and OS's than I can remember. None, NONE of them have given me such enjoyment and had me constantly smiling as much as this game.

I haven't played the original DD, so I cannot comment on the changes made with this re-release, but I can safely say that this is damn near perfect. The controls are tight and responsive, the graphics (while limited in their fidelity by the dated hardware in the 360) are beautiful and well designed. The combat is fluid, easy to learn and challenging to master. Boss fights will have you on the edge of your seat, mouth agape and eyes wide. Random encounters with gryphons, drakes, chimeras and other familiar mythological creatures will have you panicking the first few times you run into them, and cracking a smile at the welcome challenge each time after that.

The storyline is one of the best I've seen, both in its originality and its execution (the final quests had me applauding, seriously).

The only glaring issue I have with this game, is that your hirelings (pawns) are far too talkative. This isn't an issue on your first playthrough (they give hints about your quests, about the landscape, and on combatting foes) but once you've essentially "seen it all", they can get tedious. Personally, they don't bother me that much, but your mileage may vary.

In conclusion, if you're looking for an RPG to sink literally hundreds of hours into and love every minute of it, this is it.
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on July 29, 2013
First of all the fighting in this game is some of the most epic stuff ever! I don't think I've ever played a game that has such amazing boss battles! I mean the boss battles sometimes take like a half hour to defeat the enemy and it's awesome. I actually feel accomplished after defeating the powerful enemy, and then my pawns begin to talk... Pawns are very annoying in this game. They talk a ton and nothing they say is interesting, and they repeat it about a million times.

Then the capital: Gran Soren, is very dull too. All the people walk funny and talk funny too. The people you buy stuff from say the exact same annoying line every time you speak to them like "The masterworks all you can't go wrong." I can't even tell you how many times I've heard that line... Had to change the voice settings to japanese so I don't know what they're saying.

Probably the most annoying part of the game is the fact that you only have 1 save file. With a world this big and it being filled with so many enemies, having only one save file is quite a pain in the butt. And when you hit restart to last checkpoint it does not bring you back to when you first entered the city or in a building, instead it takes you back to the last time you saved on your own or slept. To me this was very annoying because the rest of my games I own do not do this.

Though this game is full of flaws it is also one of the funnest most frustrating games I've ever played. I'll rage for a minute and turn off the game because I died and forgot to save but then I'll jump right back to the game so I can fight some more ogres and cyclops. It's worth 30$ for sure but just be prepared to be quite frustrated throughout the game and remember to save often!

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on June 5, 2013
i wasn't expecting much from dragon's dogma given its lukewarm reception from critics, but i enjoyed the demo on LIVE (especially the shadow of the colossus-esque ability to climb on enemies) and decided to give it a shot--which is easy with it's budget pricing. the game exceeded my expectations on all counts.

in particular, i think that the game's pawn system (companions--one of whom you create personally and an optional other two that can be rented from other players' games) is incredibly innovative, though not as useful as it could be. an example of how this works is as follows: a random player rents my pawn, Khalia, and takes her on a few quests that i have yet to try. Khalia is still in my game--your main pawn is a constant companion--but the next time i sleep at an inn (synching the servers and downloading data), she informs me that she has new information and sometimes even items. she can then give me advice on how to complete those quests that she completed in the renter's game as well as strategies on how to defeat enemies that i may not have encountered yet. it's all very interesting, and my only complaint is that the utilization falls short of the concept.

the only real shortcoming of the game is its abhorrent save system, which allows you only one save file (meaning both the frequent autosaves and manual saves share the same file). while this helps with the immersion (ex.: if you wait too long, you'll have to live with the consequences of your choices and permanently miss quests), it hinders the degree with which you can experiment in the game. the inclusion of a new game+ mode (whereby all items and stats are carried through to a new play through) and the fact that new game+ is actually integrated into the storyline makes this a bit more forgivable, but still a glaring oversight considering how well the rest of the game plays.

+great action/combat
+innovative pawn system
+new game+ adds length and challenge to an already large game

-camera can be problematic, especially when climbing (which is arguably when it's the most necessary)
-some optional quests have time limits that are not explicitly stated
-terrible save system
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