A number of design decisions holds back this Action RPG.
Dragon Marked for Death is a 2D Action-RPG that puts a heavy emphasis on multiplayer, which can at times make the solo experience frustrating and a bit underwhelming. However, playing locally or jumping online with others helps to mitigate that problem. Building up your character is somewhat limited but feels empowering as you see direct results of your hard work on the battlefield. Combat can become a bit stale and some odd game decisions damper the experience, but in the right settings Dragon Marked for Death can yield some fun moments.
Normally, the first decision to make when creating a character is to pick a class, but with Dragon Marked for Death, that decision actually plays a part in which version of the game you’ll be purchasing. That’s right, there are two versions, each containing two of the four playable classes. If you want the full arrangement of classes you’ll have to head over to the eShop and purchase them via DLC. For this review we played the Advance Attackers edition, which features the Shinobi and Witch classes. These two classes have drastically different styles of play, which promotes making multiple characters, but only heightens the disappointment that all four aren’t available to you.
I started with the Shinobi class, which is a highly mobile class with excellent movement and jumping abilities. Zipping around the screen with a combination of double jumps, glides, and dashes feels really great, making much of the platforming trivial. However, I realized when switching to the Witch class, which is a much less agile class, that the platforming requires a high level of precision and when mixed with fighting enemies can lead to some annoying situations. There are a few different attack options that once again vary quite a bit between classes, but the standard attack is used to deal damage while building up energy. This energy can in turn be used for different dragon abilities. For the Shinobi, I found myself using the dash a lot to rally combos, while the Witch uses her dragon ability to channel spells by inputting different combinations of button presses. More often than not I found myself falling into the same pattern of attacks, which does become a bit tiresome.
It quickly becomes apparent that the Dragonblood Clan aren’t the most popular group within the kingdom and the townsfolk will be sure to let you know it. They even go as far as barring entry to anywhere other than the slums. Fortunately, there is a solution to your woes, which is completing quests from the local bar as this allows you to gain a better reputation within the city. These quests come in many different sizes and shapes, with a wide range of objectives needed to be completed. The variety is welcome as it makes each quest look and feel different from one another. Some require you to find certain items within a dungeon while others ask you to protect a ships sails from enemies.
Despite the diversity, I couldn’t help but notice how these felt more tuned for multiple players. One quest asked you to save four children deep within a cave. When I finally got to the area with the children, I was only able to save two while the others died before I even saw them. I was given credit for completing the quest despite the losses, but it was a bit of a letdown knowing there was no chance to save them all. Another frustrating and all too familiar feeling is happily disposing of enemies along a lengthy quest to only get obliterated by a boss and then having to repeat the level, which is significantly less fun the second or third time around. While re-playing earlier missions to grind experience isn’t exactly the most fun, Dragon Marked for Death does have the option of changing the level requirements on quests, allowing you to replay missions for a higher reward.
Completing quests and killing enemies grants you both experience and gold, which are valuable commodities. Experience will eventually level up your character, rewarding ability points which you can assign to a number of different stats. Gold is used for purchasing gear and consumables for your travels. Most of my gold ended up going towards healing items, which I almost always blew through on any given quest. One of the more puzzling design decisions has to be that you can only equip your gear and even your items when visiting an Inn or Shop, but not from the Bar when selecting your quest. You can quick travel to any of these location within the city, but it quickly became a nuisance to work so hard to outfit myself.
With the focus set on cooperative play and online being an option, it’s important to know it works as advertised. And luckily while playing with a friend online, it worked seamlessly and ran really well. I was able to search for friends and easily find a group, and we were off on a quest before we knew it. If you’re searching for some random people to play with, you can do so by searching open rooms or sorting through specific quests. Due to the nature of this review before launch, I was unable to extensively test how the matchmaking worked with random people.
Dragon Marked for Death is a frustrating experience because there are some good ideas buried behind some poor decisions. Level design always feels like it’s tuned for more than one player even in the solo experience, which is disheartening, especially after working through a big quest to only fall short and have to start back at the beginning. Coupled with some other minor annoyances and it’s easy to get irritated. Fortunately, playing online with friends runs lag free and helps to alleviate some of the issues that crop up in solo mode, but ultimately proves to be a mediocre Action-RPG.