Fuck's sake, Capcom.
Do you know how much I like Dragon's Dogma? Here's how much: it might very well be one of my favourite games of all time. I know that likely sounds hilarious to you, o reader, because it is statistically probable that you either haven't played it, played a bit of it and didn't like it, or played a lot of it and quite enjoyed it at first but got fed up of having to travel everywhere on foot and gave up before things got really interesting.
Because Dragon's Dogmais interesting, see. Much more interesting than the first twenty or so hours would have you believe - oh, it's a brilliantly fun man- and animal-murder sim up to that point, but it's in the game's final third that you really find out what's up. And in that final third there is a good chance you will see and think some stuff that will stick with you for some time. As opposed to, say, BioShock Infinite, the story of which was pretty good but did little other than make players google 'bioshock infinite story explanation' and then go "Ahh, okay."
So, you can imagine how happy I was to hear that not only was an expansion for Dragon's Dogma on the way, but it would include the original game with a bunch of fixes and be cheap as heck upon release. Suddenly, I'm getting tweets from people. "Sean," they'd say, "you won't fucking shut up about Dragon's Dogma, I take it I should buy Dark Arisen for fifteen quid?"
Aye, I said. Aye you should, because it's brilliant, and surely the expansion will be too. SURELY.
Now, hear this. Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen has a number of tweaks that make the main game more palatable, and it's cheap. Please consider buying it and playing one of my favourite games of all time.
But that new content? Ugh.
It's set entirely on the dismal Bitterblack Isle, and comes highly recommended to fans of fucking interminable dungeon crawls with constantly reused assets and enemies that absolutely refuse to die. I don't mind hard games, folks. But this is more Takeshi's Challenge than Dark Souls.
The brilliance of Dragon's Dogma's tougher bosses was that each one was designed to make the player move from 'oh god there is no way I can do this' to 'GUYS I THINK I KNOW HOW WE CAN DO THIS', in the space of one attempt. But Bitterblack Isle's enemies - and this includes some of the normal enemies, not just the bosses - have impossibly large health bars, seemingly impenetrable defences, and they can often kill you in one hit, even on easy mode. COOL.
[A TYPICAL SCENE FROM THE MAIN DRAGON'S DOGMA CAMPAIGN]
At several points, a message will flash up. THIS AREA IS INTENDED FOR EXPERIENCED ADVENTURERS, it says. MAYBE GO AND LEVEL UP IN THE MAIN STORY FIRST BEFORE YOU TRY THIS. Presumably it's referring to the main story that I've already finished twice through with the same character. I'm at level 80, and Friend of the Resistance Ashton Raze has had the same problems at level 130. Christ alone knows how many times we're meant to finish the game before Bitterblack Isle is anything other than an interminable, joyless slog.
It'd be so easy to fix, too! Just weaken the enemies a bit! It's okay to be difficult, but not when it boils down to a war of attrition where you've been fighting the same monster for literally twenty minutes and you've only damaged one of its ten health bars. The monster will never get bored and say "oh, fuck this." But you will!
And yet, because this is Dragon's Dogma, there is some brilliant stuff in there. Bitterblack's story is a short one, but it makes superb use of the game's lore to create a fairly heartbreaking tale; I've not felt this sorry for a game's final boss since Lord Gwyn, man. And this is exactly what I wanted from a Dragon's Dogma expansion! But again, what should be an emotional encounter is soon undermined by the absurd difficulty level. Even my main AI companion could repeatedly be heard saying "Ugh, are we even hurting it!?" So it seems this bollocks is almost definitely by design.
It's not even like the enemies are scary, either. Death himself makes repeat appearances, and he's an absolute arsehole. But you're not afraid of him - you just jog past because there is absolutely no point in even trying to fight him. Bye, Death!
[A TYPICAL SCENE FROM BITTERBLACK ISLE]
There are a load more incalculably daft decisions in Bitterblack Isle, too. Like the fact that rift crystals, earned when your main pawn assists other players, are the main currency. Now that the game's player-base has dwindled, it's not hugely likely that your pawn will be summoned to help anyone - especially not if you're just starting the game. Oh, but you can buy rift crystals with real life money instead!!!!!!!!! Great!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
There's also the fact that enemies will - seemingly at random and without informing the player - only be vulnerable to either magic or physical attacks, making all but two of the game's classes basically unusable. Ace.
I just don't get how this happened, man. Conceptually it is still pretty strong, but it's all buried beneath a tower of piss-poor design.
The kindest thing I can say about Bitterblack Isle is that it gives me an even greater appreciation for the likes of Dark Souls, and Dragon's Dogma's main campaign.
Beyond that, fuck it.