Dragon's Dogma official screenshot featuring a giant dragon

"You Should Try" is a series of articles where I'll showcase you a game I really enjoy while explaining what exactly makes it fun. This can be any game: new or old, action or strategy, indie or AAA. The only requirement is that it has to be something I've found myself greatly enjoying and in need of sharing with the world.

Today I think you should try Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen - a complex, open-world RPG that will truly make you feel like you're exploring a land filled with monsters and excitement at every turn. Since nearly every single encounter requires special tactics and equipment you're most likely going to find yourself dying fairly often, but that overwhelming feeling of satisfaction once you finally succeed in bringing down a giant beast is exactly what makes Dragon's Dogma so compelling. So if you're up for an epic journey that will see your character grow from a lowly fisherman to a nigh-unstoppable dragonslayer, come and join me as I briefly go over everything that sets Dragon's Dogma apart from the rest.

Video version of this article (~11 minutes)

Dragon's Dogma is often compared to Dark Souls, and while both games share the "challenging but fair" style of difficulty their approaches are vastly different. Dark Souls primarily focuses around giving you a series of combat challenges that culminate with a giant boss and a checkpoint. If you fail you can easily restart from the nearby bonfire and attempt to fight the same boss within two minutes. Dragon's Dogma on the other hand has very few actual bosses, even fewer checkpoints, and a much, much larger world filled with all sorts of monstrosities. What this means is that each quest in Dragon's Dogma is a serious undertaking, because if you find yourself dying half-way through due to negligence chances are you'll be sent 10-15 minutes back.

The difficulty might sound a bit harsh, but it gives Dragon's Dogma that feeling of adventure most RPGs lack these days. You aren't just going on a merry stroll through the woodland, you are going on an important mission that requires your utmost attention! As such, before you even think of undertaking a quest you will need to stock up on healing supplies, magical enhancements, new gear, and even torches because the nights in Dragon's Dogma are dark... and also full of horrors! But even when you're properly equipped and stocked up on supplies you will still need to give your enemies the respect they deserve, since even the lowly Goblins can bring you down through sheer force of numbers should you ever get overconfident. All of this makes the quests in Dragon's Dogma unique and memorable, because even though the objectives themselves might not be anything special, the journey definitely is!

Dragon's Dogma screenshot of the great Dragon

Just make sure you don't run into the dragon before you're ready, he's not one of those gentle ones

The other area where Dragon's Dogma differs from Dark Souls is in the ability to travel with up to three companions, or Pawns as they're called. You will be able to create your personal Pawn early in the tutorial zone, after which you will need to fill out your party with Pawns recruited from other players. This is where the multiplayer aspect of Dragon's Dogma comes in to play. No matter where you go, and no matter what you do, chances are you'll run into a Pawn some other player created. And since your main Pawn gains experience and quest knowledge while in the employ of other players you want to make them as appealing as possible, both in terms of looks and their battlefield prowess, so don't worry about any deformed, clown-faced abominations wondering the land. The experience gain is self-explanatory, but the Pawn's quest knowledge is far more useful than what you might expect. If your Pawn helps solve a quest for another player, or beats a difficult monster, it will bring with it a bunch of useful hints and tips to help you out on your missions. This can be as simple as giving you directions towards your next objective, or as complex as executing new maneuvers against dangerous enemies, but whatever the case may be its always something you want more of.

Besides simply chatting with you, all of the Pawns are capable fighters in their own regard. Much like you, they can choose from all three base classes (Fighter, Mage, Strider), as well as all of their improved versions. This gives Pawns a wide variety of abilities they can bring to the battlefield, everything from the nimble dashes and slashes of the Strider to the healing and destructive magic of the Mage. But these abilities aren't what makes them special, its all of the strategies and maneuvers they are able to perform. If you're fighting against a weak enemy your Pawns will try to hold them down while you beat them senseless, and if you're fighting something as gigantic as a Chimaera you warrior Pawn can give you a helping hand by tossing you onto to the beast's back where you can do some serious harm. The Pawns might not have the most memorable dialogue given that they're soulless husks, but they are still one of the best and most useful companions I had the pleasure of traveling with!

Dragon's Dogma screenshot of a Pawn

The very first time I encountered Valkyrie, a Pawn that would end up being my constant and most trustworthy companion

As for the combat itself, its pretty much exactly what you would expect from a fantasy RPG. You have strong and weak attacks, you can choose between a variety of weapons that all come with their own pros and cons, and you can also spice it all up with a bit of magic. I mostly played as a Mystic Knight, a defense-orientated combination of a Mage and Warrior, and throughout the entirety of my 50+ hour playthrough I have not once regretted my decision. But if you end up feeling like your chosen class, or even your pawn's class, is completely boring and ineffective, worry not as you can swap your entire build for a surprisingly small fee. The only catch is that you will need to journey to the capital city in order to do so, but you'll be spending a lot of time there anyway so its not that big of a deal.

While the general combat mechanics are nothing special, Dragon's Dogma makes things a bit more unique by allowing you to climb all over your enemies. Doing so will exhaust considerable amounts of stamina from your character given that giant Ogres aren't really fans of tiny things crawling all over them, but it does give you the opportunity to unleash some truly devastating combos. Just make sure you keep in mind that gravity is a thing that exists, because if a monster starts toppling over backwards you might not want to be hanging on to its back. Let's just say that being squashed by an Ogre's smelly behind is not the most pleasant of ways to depart this world.

Dragon's Dogma screenshot of the player climbing on a gryphon

Once you manage to climb a monster, do make sure not to let go!

Out of all the things Dragon's Dogma does well, it is the monsters that are my favorite. They aren't exactly original or innovative in terms of looks given that most of them are generic fantasy creatures such as Goblins and Harpies, but they more than make up for that when it comes to combat. Wolves hunt in large packs and love to attack you from behind, Goblins are cowardly and tend to scatter all over the place when you try to go after them, while bigger monsters like Ogres will try to use their size and weight advantage to annihilate you in one punch... or bite in some cases. All of this is fairly obvious once you fight the monster for a couple of minutes so it never becomes annoying or overwhelming, but the fact that each enemy has their own personality makes the world much more interesting, and much more dangerous!

What this means in gameplay terms is that whenever you encounter a new monster its going to be a special occasion, and one that you'll have to approach with extreme care. For example, the only way to find out a Cockatrice is able to petrify you is to charge in there and learn on the fly... or die trying! Eventually you'll gain enough power and gear to make some of these monsters and mechanics trivially easy, but during the initial phase of your journey the world is going to be one scary, but extremely intriguing place. I find this type of design to be amazing since you really get to see your power grow throughout the campaign. Dying to a cave filled with Ogres over and over again is frustrating, I'll be the first one to admit that, but when you come back a couple of hours later and just steamroll through them the feeling is quite exquisite!

Dragon's Dogma screenshot of an Ogre eating my character

Being an Ogre's tooth-pick is about as nasty as it sounds, I'd suggest avoiding it

The final and perhaps most controversial thing I would like to talk about is the story. Dragon's Dogma is not written or structured like most other RPGs, so if you're planning to play it for the story alone I'm afraid you might leave disappointed. Mind you, the story isn't bad, its just told in an extremely strange and convoluted way that requires almost 100% completion to fully understand. Ironically, it starts off extremely strong as a giant dragon flies in from nowhere and straight up cuts your heart out. What follows next is a journey to uncover what exactly being a seemingly undying Arisen is all about, and how one mere mortal could ever hope to fight a gigantic, nearly godlike dragon.

However, after the initial few story quests all of the intrigue and excitement quickly gets replaced with mundane side-quests, boring politics, and characters that only exists to dish out even more side-quests. If this was the whole story I would just call it abhorrent and move on with my life, but Dragon's Dogma pulls a complete 180° later in the game and starts going into Lovecraftian territory of all places. I won't comment on any specifics since I want to avoid spoilers, but let's just say that once I finished Dragon's Dogma I was left excited, confused, depressed, and relieved all at the same time. It really is a unique and interesting ending, its just a shame that getting to it is such a chore from a narrative point of view. The gameplay is thankfully strong enough to carry the story through some of its most confusing parts, so don't worry about the strange narrative ruining your playthrough.

Dragon's Dogma screenshot of a battle against a giant golem

The story may be a bit confusing, but the journey is definitely enjoyable!

Closing Thoughts

Dragon's Dogma is truly a one-of-a-kind game. When compared to most other RPGs it doesn't excel in any specific area, but the combination of all of its elements makes for some of the most fun adventuring I've seen in quite a while. So if you're up for a journey across a wast and dangerous world that will simultaneously excite and frustrate you, I do believe you should try Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen!

And if you're looking for more interesting games to play, may I suggest trying Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition. It is a combat orientated RPG that is so well designed it practically ended up creating a genre of its own! It features an expansive and interconnected world, plenty of viable playstyles and weapon choices, a difficulty curve that will always keep you on your toes, as well as just the right amount of frustration to make each victory feel all the more glorious!

[Update]: It took a decade, but Dragon's Dogma 2 is now finally in development!

Dragon's Dogma screenshot of the Hydra fight

Sometimes you'll win, sometimes you'll lose, but at least it'll never be boring!