Thanks to Xbox for the code!

A Gransys Adventure

I have a soft spot for Dragon's Dogma, then Dark Arisen, and now Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen HD Remaster for the PC, PS4 and the Xbox One. I've not come across a game yet that offers so much character flexibility, customisation in terms of your character's looks and body type, as well as vocation (your character's chosen career) across the board. It might be a little janky and strange and first, but DD:DA is a heck of a fine game with some great moments. The story is convoluted and typical of this kind of outing, but it's very much a Japanese made game with a Western RPG influence.

It shouldn't work, but it does, and it's extremely addictive once you get into it.

The Arisen's Task    

Without going too deep into the plot, since if you wander the site you'll see I reviewed this game, and the Dark Arisen expansion on the Xbox 360 ages ago, there's you: the Arisen. You're a prophesied kind of hero who is going to face a dragon, lose their heart and come back from the dead to battle said dragon and save the world. There's more to it than just that, but that's the main story heart-beat.

You get to choose your arisen from a wide array of sliders, and when I say wide array, I'm talking a huge amount of tweaks and things you can do in character generation. You also need to know that if you change your height and weight, you'll alter fundamental things about your character, such as the amount of Hit Points and Stamina you have. Yes, those things matter in DD:DA, they always have. It's one of the great things about the game, tying the height and weight into the overall stats is a genius move that means you can opt for some amazing builds and mimic your own body type and weight if you so desire.

Once you're out of chargen and you're into the world at large you're going to want to start adventuring.

Arisen's First Steps

You awake in Cassardis, the first village (a tiny fishing village) in the game and a pretty small, but substantial location with a bunch of starter quests for you to do. My advice out of the gate? Do them, do as many of these things as you can and rake in that XP. As you level up you'll get noticeably stronger and stronger.

You'll also recruit your first Pawn. These are your side-companions and the mainstay of the game's asynchronous multiplayer aspect. You can play the whole thing offline if you like, and just recruit developer designed Pawns. This Pawn is your first one, and he's always the same. With Rook in your party you'll be able to go further down the road.

Advice: kill goblins a few times, collect all the things, but watch out for your weight. DD:DA does not mess around when it comes to you carrying stuff. Fortunately your can drop your items and gear and materials into a storage facility at any rest spot or Inn. Pablos Inn in Cassardis is the first one you'll encounter.

The Combat System

If you're familiar with DD:DA from the previous gen then I don't need to talk about this at all, you can skip to the other bits of the review. If not, here's a quick refresher. You have lots of special moves you can learn, but you can only ever slot 6 of them, 3 each on the right and left bumpers. You get them as you level up your Vocations and you can spend ages getting the right build.

From this point on though, you're going to be thrust into a combat system that has weight, mass, force, inertia and an understanding of hit boxes and stamina management. If you hit a thing that's lighter than you, you're going to knock said thing flat on its arse. If you are smacked by a bigger thing, say a cyclops, then you're going to get knocked around like a leaf in a storm.

Positioning, timing and respect for your enemies in DD:DA leads to victory. If you go in button-mashing, you might win, you might get lucky - likely you're going to get hurt and that's where DD:DA's take on health comes in.

You take damage, you lose HP. But there's also damage that sucks away the length of the bar, so it'll never be the same again until you use a healing item or rest for the day/night at the inn.

Then there's the big monsters, the cyclops, monsters that you can climb, which have weak points and you can exploit. There's never quite been a combat system like this one, and whilst it can take some getting used to - it's brilliant once you do.

Big monsters have weak points, they are subject to elemental attacks and various status effects. Set a cyclops on fire and he'll likely be unhappy, burn, and thrash around like an angry bull in a very tiny china shop. Or perhaps a tiny angry bull in a huge china shop. Get too close, mistime your assault and you're going to get smacked for several feet back from where you came.

Experimentation is key with DD:DA and that's why I'm not going to go too deep into explaining the systems on offer.

Vocations

If you hit up the Wiki of DD:DA you'll see more on Vocations, or go read our review on the first game/expansion if you haven't already. Basically, these are the classes you're able to play in the game and you can switch out at any major inn that allows you to do so.

You'll have to change your equipment when you do that, so be prepared to swap everything out if you go from a melee to a pure mage based class.

You'll start with Mage, Fighter, Strider (bow using class) as your base class. From here, when you get to Gran Soren, you'll be able to choose things like Sorcerer (assault mage), Warrior (two-handed brutal fighter), Ranger (more specialised Strider) and a few others like Assassin. You can also get into a hyrbid class like Magick Archer or Mystic Knight.

Note: If you're going to play a MA, or a MK, you need to slap some levels into Mage. The more you can get Mage levels the more your Magick stat increases. You'll also need something like Strider for MA or Fighter for MK. You'll need the HP and Stamina that comes from these classes to support the later play of a Magick Archer for example.

I played my Strider till about level 20 or so, then levelled 10 as a Magick Archer before I went up to a few more levels as Mage. I ideally like to max out my Vocations as much as possible, since you unlock skills and various other things early on. You can slot in Augments from different Vocations and build a pretty specific build.

My recent re-play thanks to DD:DA HD Remaster has hit 108 so far and I put a lot of levels into Mage for this one, only swapping back to Magick Archer at level 100. I started out weak, now, I can one-shot a health bar from a minor drake in a few seconds with the gear I'm rocking.

There's a ton of flexibility here and it's another corner-stone of the game.

Hot Pawn Action

So, we talked about Rook. Well, Rook isn't going to last long since Pawns don't level with you. Well, your Main Pawn does, which you get when you go to the Encampment near Cassardis at the start of the game. Your Main Pawn is another character you can customise but don't get to directly control, you can give him/her all vocations barring the ones that are Arisen locked (Assasin, MK, MA) and it's wise to pick the Pawn that'll complement your Arisen's build.

I went Fighter with Hellion and she's badass now.

Fully customisable and decked out with badass gear.

You can then hire on 2 more support Pawns, either from the game's roster if you're offline, or from other players who have customised and built their Pawns to be as badass as they can be. Here you'll enter the Rift, choose from a bewildering array of search options and find the Pawns that'll suit your Arisen and Main Pawn.

My current party is: Me (Magick Archer), Hellion (Fighter), then I swap in a Mage Pawn (with heals and support magic), and a Strider/Ranger Pawn for more ranged support. If you choose a level equal to yours, or lower, it costs nothing in terms of hiring them on. If you go higher, it costs more Rift Crystals.

You earn RC from playing the game (tiny amounts) or people recruiting your Pawn for their games. So don't stint on your Pawn at all. The better your Pawn is, the more badass they are, the more they get hired and you'll be rollin' in RC in no time at all.

When you're done with a Pawn, you can send them away with a gift and a nice message for their owner.

Content for Miles

There's a lot of content in DD:DA, especially since it bundles all the DLC from the previous gen version and adds the expansion to the mix as well, all done seamlessly. You can enjoy the Bitterblack Isle when you're high enough level and get even more sweet XP and loot from that area. There is a lot to see and do in the game and there's a lot of side-quests that you're going to be able to discover.

Pawns can help you too, since they gain knowledge of quests as they're used in other people's games.

Deep and Rewarding

DD:DA is a deep and rewarding game, the more time you put into it, the more it rewards you. There's a plethora of build options, New Game+ and even an Easy/Hard mode for you to sink your teeth in. Hard Mode increases the XP you get and resets the game to the start, letting you keep everything you earned up until the point you choose Hard Mode. New Game+ changes the world a bit at the start, again, you keep everything and have to play the story again. A few things will change in terms of world state and the biggest/baddest boss will have a Rift Portal close to Cassardis for example.

The Ur Dragon...

A late-game boss-battle that can be played offline or on. Play it online and you'll contribute to the overall progress of the latest generation (8 for Xbox One) of this titanic confrontation.

Also, just when you think you've finished the game's main story, it opens up post-game into even more content where you can explore for more hours and gain more levels and loot. The max is 200 by the way.

Same game, Fresh Coat of Paint

DD:DA is fundamentally the same game, the gameplay has been slightly refined and the whole thing feels as awesome as it did back when I first played it. It looks significantly better, the HD textures and repaints are really good and the best thing is, there's not a dropped frame. It runs silky smooth and even when some of the titanic boss battles are going off, with some of the best magical effects in a game, things rock on at a decent frame rate without slacking off at all.

There's still some pop-in but that's always been there, and the HD Remaster helps counter a little of it with some faster load times for these assets.

Hard but Fair

DD:DA is a hard game, it's a fair one. Die and you'll get respawned at the nearest checkpoint/rest stop. You can save anywhere, and you should. You can't save in combat, so you'll need to get out of that area so you can save. If you want to go back to a save and you don't die, you can quit to the main menu without saving and load in again - this will load the last manual save.

Expect the game to kick your ass in the boss fights. The AI in DD:DA doesn't mess about, it is good, it knows the environment and uses all kinds of tricks intelligently to battle you.

You know you've been in an awesome fight, when you've fought even a minor drake in this game.

Seriously, the dragon fights are some of the best I've ever seen. This includes: Skyrim, Dragon Age: Inquisition and a few others.

DD:DA has them all beaten.

Third Time is the Charm

This is the third time I've played DD, first with the base game when it first rolled out. Then Dark Arisen, and now finally the HD Remaster. I forgot just how much I loved the game, the AI, the systems at play that make the game truly unique in terms of RPGs. It is a great game and if you're a fan of action-RPGs and you can get your head around the odd story at times, this is the game for you. There's no other game that offers this much customisation, career flexibility, and overall combat system flexibility as Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen.

It's time to face the Dragon!

(Arisen seen here attempting to stick dagger in Gryphon's head, this is my screenshot taken when I was battling the creature at low level)