Dragon Marked for Death (Steam) Review

When I first reviewed Dragon Marked for Death last year, I got the impression that I probably enjoyed it more than most. Despite its many small issues, the game still managed to feel unique, and as a co-op experience, there really wasn't much else like it on Switch. There were some very real issues with character progression, and the game was definitely more than a little obtuse about how it expected you to play it, but level design, mission variety, and more definitely helped it stand out. With a great soundtrack, a charming art style, and a relatively low cost to entry - I felt confident in recommending it, and I still do. Which is why it's weird to say that I was surprised to learn just how much the game has changed with my return to it on PC.

Normally when I review PC ports of games, I tend to keep the commentary more to the state of the port itself, and less on the game as a whole - with the exception being that it's a game that we haven't reviewed prior to the PC release. Dragon Marked for Death is different. The port itself is straight-forward, and from that standpoint, it could see some tweaking. Graphics and resolution settings are basic, which is well enough considering that the game is a 2D pixel-art based action RPG - but the complete lack of any sound options is a head-scratcher. Regardless it's more than serviceable, and for what it is I doubt it's lacking enough in any particular manner that folks who would otherwise be interested in the game would want to skip it.


No, what makes Dragon Marked for Death a sort of a special case is in how its entire gameplay loop has seen what can only be described as a complete overhaul within the year since my initial review. 

A refresher; when I originally reviewed Dragon Marked for Death, character progression was almost entirely based around which equipment that you could find in levels, as even a basic +1 sword would greatly outclass any weapon that you could purchase from a shop. Since equipment drops were randomized, and there was no real guarantee about what would drop from a level, players would be heavily incentivized to replay levels over and over again for a chance at that sweet, sweet loot. Otherwise, later content could (and would) be excruciatingly frustrating, not to mention difficult, to play through.

Now with the updates made to the game, while you still have the chance for +1/2/3 weapons to drop during missions, a variety of "enhancement gems" can also drop during levels that can be used to upgrade your base-level equipment. Additionally, "coins" can also drop, which are used to purchase new ones. Both of these new types of materials will regularly drop from enemies that you defeat in each level, so even if you're unlucky enough to *not* receive a stronger piece of equipment upon completing any level, you're now still making some sort of progress towards strengthening your character, one way or another, as you are accumulating gems.


Naturally, this disincentivizes players from replaying levels to a certain degree, but that's ok. Since the PC version of the game comes complete with all 6 playable characters (the base 4 that were originally sold separately in 2 packs on Switch, and then 2 more that were added to the game later post-launch), and the game's true ending hinges on completing the main scenario with all 4 of the original classes at least once, there's still plenty of reason for you to revisit older stages, albeit with a different character build each time.

On that note, besides rebalancing the character progression, the game has also clearly been host to a few quality of life changes. Some of these are exclusive to the PC version - you've got access to a few macros on Keyboard and Mouse that you wouldn't with a standard controller, and certain aspects pertaining to progressing the games' narrative have been made just a little clearer, whereas before it was admittedly quite a bit obtuse. From a content standpoint, players can now change each classes' elemental attribute - which also changes their abilities in a few ways.


All in all, I don't think these changes actually warrant a change in score from my initial impressions - but they absolutely help sand out the rough edges on the overall package. Dragon Marked for Death is a game that I'm sure many people will have an easier time getting into now, than if they had attempted to at launch. It's in a much more playable state, and is undoubtedly all the better for it.