December 18, 2013

Dragon's Crown Diary #2

This is the second installment of my Dragon's Crown Diary. Click here for the first installment.

So, perhaps one of the most noticeable things about this game, right off the bat, is the ridiculous character proportions. I get it, this is a highly fantastical world rendered through deliberately larger-than-life caricature -- and it wouldn't be the first video game to star anatomically-questionable figures. It's just hard not to be a little embarrassed at having this game running whilst female friends are in the room, and explaining to them: "Yes, this is the game I am into now." After all, here are a couple of the images that flash at you in the first minutes:

Yeah, that happened.

I mean, it's kind of cool that the axe-wielding Amazon is actually built solid, but was it absolutely necessary to give her a scalemail bikini? I can buy the Sorceress as the sultry, bewitching type, but why does each of her breasts have to be literally the size of her own head? It's as if the usual trope of "scantily clad, abnormally large rack" wasn't quite enough for them -- they had to crank that dial to eleven!! Again, I know this is not a realistic game, and one could argue that the proportions of the male Fighter are equally ridiculous, but not in the same way. His monumental shoulders and titanic suit of armor make him look menacing, and certainly don't warrant him a NSFW warning the way most of the females in the game might. Anyhow, I don't mean to dwell on this topic (TotalBiscuit speaks for about 25 minutes on this topic, and still barely manages to offer a 101 crash course on the issue). Aside from some questionable designs, that's really not what the game is about. It's just something that a new player simply cannot ignore, and it colours one's first experiences of the game significantly.

But enough of that, let's get to the actual game!

It's actually a lot of fun, though naturally the learning curve and story progress can be artificially drawn out if you're with a few friends and you're all trying to learn your characters amidst all the four-player, screen-sharing pandemonium. As with many multiplayer co-op games, I sometimes find it hard to keep track of where my character is on the screen. Is it just me? At least we don't all look like nearly-identical, green, mutant turtles, so that helps.

In some ways, it feels a lot like being a kid again and going head-to-head with waves of baddies. Hurried lines like "No, don't get that food, you don't need it!" buzz about the room. Plenty of weapons, armor, and magical accessories drop from chests, the rank and quality of which we surmise might have been dependent on the quality of our performance in some way, though perhaps not. Some aspects of the game remain a mystery in the beginning, like why there are runes carved into the wall in some places, or which skills are the best investments, though this becomes revealed in due time. Dragon's Crown isn't punishingly difficult from the start, though it does require your attention, and we did have a few desperate scrapes when allies went down during boss encounters.

One thing which I find quite enjoyable, though I probably shouldn't, is waving a little pointing hand around the field using the right stick. Hovering over several and various spots in the environment reveals hidden gold and treasures, which both act as currency in town and count toward your final "score" (experience points) at the end of the stage. You also use the pointer to direct Rannie, a non-combat NPC companion thief, to unlock doors and chests for you by clicking L1. You can also hit L1 on certain key spots to detect passageways to secret chambers, though it's up to you to judge where those might be. This can add an exciting element of discovery to the proceedings, though I would imagine it can be tedious upon repeated excursions into the same dungeons (and probably doesn't sound all that great via text). The degree to which one obsesses over these details is largely optional. You're rewarded for doing it, but not punished for cutting corners when you're feeling impatient.

Balancing equipment drops across a party can be interesting, as no character can equip everything. Each class has their own specific weapons, but armor and accessories are often shared between a couple of characters (for example, boots may be worn by the Elf or Amazon, while gauntlets are for the Fighter and Dwarf). Deciding who could benefit the most from an upgrade, and taking into account defensive and offensive bonuses on gear, promotes constructive teamwork.

Gaining levels accrues skill points, which can be spent on purchasing and upgrading various abilities from any of two pools: a class-specific category, and a common set of skills available to all. As an Elf, I had a number of good options including a powerful charge shot for my bow, increased quiver capacity, a strength upgrade for my melée kicks dependent on the defense rating of my boots, a whirlwind of elemental magic, and a vial of poison which I could equip as a "skill item" to enhance my arrow and dagger attacks with additional periodic damage. New skills, and higher tiers of existing ones, are accessible at higher experience levels.

As for the common skills, there are more generalized features such as health boosts, higher replenishment rates from food, coins counting toward the experience "score" at the stage's completion, and the like. They are less specialized, but very useful for any play style. I suspect many of the survival-based traits really come in handy if playing solo.

Of course, there's more to tell than what I've covered so far, and more depth and attention to detail than what first appears on the surface. Next time, I'll share some of my solo play experiences and expound on more features that become unlocked with further progress.

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