Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is what happens when a Japanese game studio does a take on Western fantasy. First released as Dragon's Dogma, then later again in 2013 as the enhanced "Dark Arisen" on consoles. 2016 saw a PC port. This is what we're looking at today.
I'm running this via Steam using the Glorious Eggroll custom build of Proton, with an updated D9VK installed on top of that. Each just installed as per the provided instructions on their respective source hubs. I strongly recommend making sure your D9VK is on or above version 1.2.3.
This game is a mystery to me. Not the game, but the fact that people were not talking about it more. I spotted someone on Twitter asking for suggestions of open world fantasy games to play, and I saw upwards of 40 replies of various things, none of which were this one. It's baffling because it so, so frickin' good.
The tough sale could in part be due to the fact that it looks rather conventional. Standard western fantasy monsters, standard environments. And yet, it's so satisfying to play and explore. The combat feels great. The sense of immersion grips you in a way that few other games do.
A big part of this immersion is the pawn system. As the hero, the "Arisen", someone whose heart was ripped out by a dragon yet still walking, you have the power to enlist "pawns" to your aid. You create one, with the exact same character creator as your main character, but in a twist, you also get to enlist two pawns created by other players. These will either just be wandering around in the world, or you can enter a "rift" where you can search and refine your choices to best mix and match classes and abilities.
These pawns will aid you with quest knowledge, sometimes guiding you to locations, but also learn about monster fighting strategies. They go from just being blunt instruments, to genuinely helpful. At higher levels they will do things like carry fallen pawns to you so that you can revive them, or throw exploding barrels at monsters, or call out strategies.
And the combat is dynamic. Mobs range from the usual goblins and bandits to Monster Hunter-esque big creatures where you have exploit their weaknesses. The cyclops does not like an arrow in the eye, but what's that, it's got a helmet on, so someone has to clamber up the monster Colossus style and get that thing off. Flying monster being pesky? No problem, your mage can enchant your arrows with fire and you can scorch the feathers off it, forcing it to fight you on the ground.
Ogre in a dark tunnel is weak to fire, I'll just... what the hell Ogre?? Come back with my pawn!! Stop! Put her down!
Over time I have found myself bonding with the pawns quite a bit and some were more difficult to send off when I needed to hire someone of a higher level. Sending pawns off, you get to gift something to the pawn's owner and pass along a message. To me part of the appeal of the pawns is that they are never silent and seem to have minds of their own. Even if they will rather buffoonishly smash boxes wherever you go. No, Brick, no... that's vandalism, stop that.
The game is structured much like the likes of Skyrim and such. There's a main quest line, plus a bajillion distractions. It's not as pretty as Skyrim, and certainly a smaller scale, but I found it way more satisfying to play.
Every adventure feels like an adventure. They can be quite exhausting, and arriving back at the inn sweet relief.
If this is your jam, do check it out. Some mild wiki-ing might be needed as some concepts are not well explained, but otherwise it's not a difficult game to get started with and subsequently lost in.