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Dragon Marked for Death sees developer Inti Creates leverage their experience with side-scrolling action games into a fresh genre for them: mutliplayer action-RPG. The transition is far from smooth though, and although Dragon Marked for Death retains elements of the fast-paced action that the developer is known for, the game as a whole is marred by some seriously tedious gameplay design. You play as a survivor of the Dragonblood Clan who, after their home is destroyed by the Kingdom of Melius, forges a pact with the Astral Dragon Atruum in an effort to reap revenge on the royal family. It's a set-up that's dripping with cliché and sadly never tries to be anything more than that. To be fair though, the gameplay is structured around replayable missions, so storytelling isn't a huge focus when the bulk of the game involves taking on contracts and beating up some monsters. It's a shame that even the world-building feels hollow, though, as the mission structure should at least allow for good opportunities to flesh out the game's lore and setting, but as it is players will most likely ignore the plot completely without missing anything of substance. As mentioned the gameplay in Dragon Marked for Death revolves around taking up contracts at the local bar and setting out on short quests—similar to something like Monster Hunter. At the beginning of the game you can choose your character class from four options, each of whom plays a little differently (i.e. the tanky warrior, agile ninja, delicate but powerful Witch) plus you're able to augment their abilities slightly based on choosing an element. Once you begin a quest you're transported to the relevant area of the world and cut your way through minor monsters and massive bosses while collecting experience points and loot. Rinse, repeat. And there's a lot of repetition. Dragon Marked for Death is unabashedly a grindy game, even by the standards of the genre, because the best (and frankly, only worthwhile) equipment has to be crafted from materials dropped by monsters or randomly found while on a mission, and in both cases the drop rate is frustratingly low. Games that require a lot of repetitive gameplay get by on solid fundamentals, but Dragon Marked for Death isn't quite up to par in that area. There are some flashy features to fighting monsters but the vast majority of it is mind-numbingly repetitive, not least because there are only a handful of different monsters found in the game. Each character really only has a handful of combos or techniques, but enemies tend to be massive damage sponges so you end up just hacking away at them over and over. Your movements can feel oddly stiff as well, and it doesn't help that there isn't any kind of basic dodge ability so getting cornered is all too easy. Bosses are at least more engaging but these battles end up swinging to the other extreme—they're seriously challenging, and the tedium of spending twenty minutes running through a level just to die against a boss is, needless to say, frustrating. There's an unfortunate degree of repetition in the level design as well since there are only a handful of locations that you'll revisit over and over. There are actually some solid dungeon designs in the game, such as a level that's a giant tower which requires you to find batteries in order to power its elevator, but doing it half a dozen times makes the charm wear thin. And levels are long, with no breaks or checkpoints, which honestly just makes them feel like work more often than not, with your reward being a slightly more engaging boss fight at the end. These flaws are all the more egregious while playing solo, because Dragon Marked for Death is clearly made for multiplayer—some of the clumsy design mechanics start to make a little more sense when you have a full team of four players backing each other up. For example, the witch's long, stationary cast time is hard to work around while solo, but if you have a friend drawing the attention of the enemy you'll be able to dish out massive magical damage. Multiplayer unquestionably makes the game more palatable, though it doesn't fix the inherent issues of tedious combat design and repetitive level structures. It's also a bit unfortunate that multiplayer is a little harder to execute than it ought to be—there's local LAN wireless play but no split-screen co-op, and the online community is so scarce that you'll have to plan meet-ups with friends through something like Discord. These can be problematic hurdles in a game that desperately relies upon multiplayer gameplay. And one note on the controls: it's straight up nonsensical that you have to repeatedly press the dash button in order to run. Environments are fairly big—and you'll occasionally want to backtrack for one reason or another—and there's no stamina meter that relates to combat, it's just that pressing the dash button only gives you a few seconds of running time. Why make a feature so pointlessly clumsy. Just finishing the game should take around 20 hours, but even that's being generous depending on how lucky you are getting valuable material drops for powerful weapons or how quick you are grinding experience points. Even after finishing you can of course replay the game with different characters with their different play styles, which can quadruple your play time. Dragon Marked for Death is simply designed to keep you playing over and over, even though the gameplay devolves into tedium fairly quickly. The weirdest aspect of the game's progression though is the fact that you won't unlock the final mission until you complete certain side quests—side quests that are completely hidden, which is just another awkward aspect of the game's design. Despite its issues with gameplay design, Dragon Marked for Death certainly looks stylish, once again relying on a pixel art style that Inti Creates has honed over the years. The visuals are colorful, the animation is fluid, and although the monster and environment designs feel overused by the end of the game they are undeniably well designed. The soundtrack isn't half bad either, though there are few songs that will stick with you after turning off the game. Dragon Marked for Death has some solid action-RPG elements but can't seem to bind them together in a cohesive game. Despite mimicking the loot grind formula of similar games, the shallow combat mechanics and tediously repetitive environments lack the kind of spark that keeps players coming back to these types of experiences. The focus on multiplayer is also at the complete expense of the single-player experience which feels woefully unbalanced in comparison, but the limited multiplayer options make teaming up with others just a bit too difficult, and the rewards too meager. Ultimately the game fails to inspire the kind of long-term community that it was clearly built for. Rating: 5 out of 10 Dragons