As the plot progresses in the game, the main missions have become increasingly elaborate. The difficulty curve leading to this place has been fairly consistent; I never felt as though I undertook a mission and was grossly underprepared. It’s a very gradual, logical progression, and I never felt overpowered, either, even as I unlocked varied skills with great usefulness and benefits to gameplay. But more so than the skills, the greatest determiner of success is tied largely to the weapons. The starting bow, even as it is fully upgraded with an increased rate of fire, is basically made obsolete by the long bow. It has more power, a zoom function, and increased range. It is very satisfying to use, particularly when a kill is made from great distance. I wouldn’t say it changes the game completely, but it certainly brings about more flexibility and opportunities for success. Beyond that, there is the third bow, which shoots a pair of arrows at one time, supposedly with increased damage. I never use this, really, as it is a great drain on resources and the increased damage seems minimal. While less radical shifts, the upgrades to the spear and club are also godsends. Even still, with these new empowerments, there is that mentioned difficulty curve. Even with a full health bar, the sight of a heavy enemy can be quite terrifying. About the only way to dispatch them is to advance forth and use a stealth takedown. They are fierce enemies and are enticing foes.
Going back to the stealth that I have bemoaned so far. Things haven’t changed too much, but I now have at my disposal things like hunting traps, berserk shards (which compel enemies to attack one another), and even a type of bomb, which serves a similar purpose to the mentioned shards. The traps can be pretty situational, but it is fun to use them. I’ve used the bomb a few times when there was a large cluster of enemies in its AOE, but other then that, I haven’t really experimented with it. Beyond these new tools, I’ve come to realize – yet again – the vitalness of the animal companions. Some of the tamable felines are especially stealthy, particularly the jaguar and its rare, black brethren. The controls are easy to use, and it is fun to command him to enter an outpost, devour an enemy, and then retreat away without causing the least bit of alarm. It can be painful to see his detection and consequent destruction, almost as if there is an attachment. It is strange, but the developers almost seem to encourage this, what with the varied petting and feeding animations. The saber-tooth tiger and brown bear can also be used as mounts, but more often than not, I haven’t used them. The pathfinding for the animals is quite solid, but with the verticality of the map, they have a very difficult time keeping up with the player. Still, they are good companions, and along with the crafting help to situate this game as different from the others in the series.
I have done a few of the main missions, as was said above. One of the most involved was one instigated by the shaman character. There was an immense, sprawling cove, crawling with enemies. Tasked with retrieving a mask which will supposedly bring about the doom of an entire tribe, it was very enjoyable. Being so cramped, the options for maneuverability aren’t quite as strong as in the open world proper. Still, there are vines and climbable cliffs which do permit some flexibility. The number of adversaries is impressive, and while I failed the mission a fair few times, when I finally did succeed – through stealth, actually – it was very rewarding. Also, there is another recruitable character you can add to the village, a member of the northern Udam tribes. He dwells in an outpost and serves as a final mini-boss of sorts. Surprisingly, I didn’t have as much trouble with assaulting this outpost, or at least not as much as I was anticipating. Once he was pacified, he makes his way to the village. I actually found him to be a pretty sympathetic character; naturally hostile to the Wenja tribe, he shows initial bitterness, naturally. Takkar tries quickly to relate to him and calm him down. But it is the Wenja who show hostility, trying multiple times to kill the man. I think this shows the savageness of the whole world, and how even the Wenja, supposedly good people, also have within them a great deal of evil. It is almost as though there are in the game world no truly good, honest people, with purely altruistic intentions.
In terms of side content, I did another mission with the obnoxious Urki, with his irritating voice acting. I get they’re trying to insert some comic relief, but it falls flat with me. Even the nature of the mission was boring – travel to this area, collect dung, bees’ nests, and tame a bear; it’s not exciting stuff, certainly not rewarding. The great beast hunting missions, though, are fantastic. I did first the mammoth mission, in the snowy, glacier-filled north. His health bar was seemingly endless, and he was swift to boot. Certain traps do slow him down, but I died an embarrassing number of times. The mission is somewhat trivialized by the fact that all damage delivered before death is carried over, but still, if that wasn’t the case, I probably never would have beaten him. The saber-tooth tiger was somewhat easier, but still very tense. It felt fun following clues and exploring the caves and was the ultimate triumph to bring the beast down and add him to the taming menu. The bear brawl was similarly exciting, and I am anxious to engage with the legendary wolf; once he is subdued, I believe I’ll have all tamable animals in the game fully under my control. It is odd that that brings me more satisfaction than, say, a club with increased damage or a bow with longer range, even if the animals are somewhat less useful than those mentioned weapons. The companions, even if they can’t speak, say much about that world.
With regards to highlights, there were a few things which stood out to me in these latest sessions. I was exploring the world when I game across a pair of Izila enemies. We were exchanging blows; I was shooting my bow at an archer who was positioned near a body of water. As we were fighting, she became increasing close to the river. She reached for an arrow, then suddenly an alligator emerged from the water, grabbed her, and brought her down to a watery grave. It was so shocking because of how sudden and unexpected it was. In another instance, I was fighting that same tribe. A spearman was standing just in front of a wooden animal cage. I threw my spear at him from quite a distance away, and the impact sent him soaring backwards into the cage, shattering it violently. It was very visceral and exciting. Finally, I made more forays into the explorable caves. As with the missions, some of these are more involved than what is to be found in the starting areas. One cave had the climbing puzzles to be found in the radio towers of the previous games. The controls weren’t perfect here, and I did miss several jumps. But the whole design of the place was engrossing and lovingly crafted, so I never really felt frustration. Finding the hidden cave painting at the end was also rewarding. I also stumbled across an Easter egg of sorts while I was exploring. I couldn’t made sense of it, but the achievement said something about the future. It looked to be the skeleton of a dragon, so I assume they were hinting at a sequel to Blood Dragon. Sadly, this has never materialized, and may never materialize. Still, I’m almost proud that I stumbled across the place naturally. It points back to the world, and how fun the exploration is. These moments of discovery are some of the greatest facets of the game, and while no completionist, all I want to do is explore further.