Re-marking Dragon: Marked For Death

As Inti's multiplayer looter comes to Steam, a promised update on... er... the updates

I didn't like Dragon: Marked For Death when it initially released on Switch. Ancipating a Mega Man Zero-like experience because of the (excellent) graphics was likely misguided, but even considering that I just couldn't get along with the thing. The balance felt out of whack, the enemies seemed to take too long to kill - boss battles would be five or more minutes long, consisting of dodging the same three attacks. It just didn't feel right, it wasn't satisfying. And that bummed me out, because I like Inti Creates. I liked Azure Striker Gunvolt (and sequel), I liked Blaster Master Zero (and sequel), and I just about tolerated the existence of Gal*Gun. As time wore on and I didn't go back to Dragon: Marked For Death, I'd hear of regular patches being added to the game and resolved to check it out some time and see what state it was in now. But I didn't. Priorities, you know? I had to 100% the Ice Age GBA game again. Please understand.

Now, with Dragon: Marked For Death launching on Steam, seemed like the time to check it out again. After all, I did make a promise to you all that I would update you on its changes. And I didn't. Yet another promise broken by ol' promise breakin' Gipp. But thankfully if there's one community that's quick to forgive, it's the gaming community. So here I am. Making up for my transgression. You're welcome.

Anyway, just a few seconds into the prelude mission on the Steam edition of Dragon: Marked For Death, it's instantly clear that things have changed for the better. Playing as the DPS Empress character, I find that I'm actually outputting pain at a rate that I would expect, meaning even the most basic combat no longer feels like a slog. Indeed, it's fun to simply cut through opponents, and when they scale up to match you it's no longer about pure attrition - the first major boss battle (against a vicious ogre) no longer takes forever. It's not easy, but it's much more fun. Enemies also seem to give out more experience; previously I'd find myself only levelling up once every handful of missions, now it's much more frequent. Drops, too, have been tuned up, meaning that you'll be able to afford new gear much more often. This helps add to the satisfying sense of personal improvement that's crucial to this kind of game.

Online play was great fun, too - I had no trouble joining or hosting games, finding the communication system perfectly robust while also being simple to use, and playing with strangers presented no problems. That said, I had just as much fun playing solo, which absolutely wasn't true of the initial version of the game. Playing through this edition of Dragon: Marked For Death, I'd still run across missions I couldn't beat. Instead of finding it frustrating, though, I'd know that it wouldn't be long before I'd have a much better shot, whereas before I'd just be disheartened thinking of the grind.

It's not perfect - by their nature, these kinds of loot games are repetitive, but I feel as though people who enjoy games like this, Mercenary Kings, etc, are well aware what they're getting into. It's also a little bit frustrating when you return to the village between missions and are told "someone needs help" but - unless I missed something - the only way to find out who is to run from one end of the map to the other. Still, this is a minor qualm, and doesn't detract from the fact that Inti Creates have woven straw into gold with a handful of patches; something I wish more developers would put time into.

Of course, I have to note that these balance changes have been patched into the Switch version too, with another update coming soon. It's also nice that the Steam version includes all the character types, rather than the silly choice of splitting them into two "versions" on the Switch. It's a little pricier, but the game feels more complete and satisfying, so it doesn't bother me.

Remember that it's always worth revisiting games you didn't initially enjoy, even if they haven't received the treatment that Dragon: Marked For Death has. Tastes change. You might discover a new favourite that you hated first time around.

A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher.