So what do you do when you combine a traditional RTS strategy game, turn based strategy game and RPG elements? Add a dragon and put a jet pack on it of course! That’s what the developers at Larian Studios have done with their latest game – Divinity: Dragon Commander. You take the role of one of the sons of the late emperor vying for the throne against your siblings. There’s one thing special about you, however, and that is the fact you are a half-breed: half-human, half-dragon. This allows you to take the form of a Dragon Knight while on the battlefield and rule your armies from the sky.
Dragon Commander can really be called three games in one. As alluded to before, this game is part RTS, part turned based, and part RPG. During the game, you control your empire on either the campaign map or the battlefield. You can carefully plan your conquest on the turn based map, and then put your skills to the test in battle against the other generals. Balancing your playstyles is critical in this. Dragon Commander gives the same feeling as you would have playing Risk: Be over-zealous in your conquest and you stretch yourself thin, but not being aggressive enough you leave yourself cornered on the map. Carefully weighing your options before your end your turn is key, and thankfully if you’ve made a move and didn’t like it, the devs have added a nifty “undo” button to take back your prior move.
The way you play this game makes Divinity: Dragon Commander stick out from most strategy games. As stated before, you’ve got multiple different ways to play the game. If you launch an attack, or are attacked on the campaign map, you can either have one of your generals (if you’re playing the campaign) auto-resolve your battle, or you can command the troops yourself. The game uses a card system as well to allow you to boost your army with troop buffs and hire mercenaries, or debuff your opponents army.
Once you enter the battle map, the RTS portion takes over. This is really where the game shines. The goal of the battle is pretty straight-forward: obliterate the opponent. The troops you brought with you from the campaign map are available at the beginning of the battle, though you must take over strategic points on the map to create buildings. While you don’t have to collect resources like in other RTS games, there are resources you need to have in order to build anything: recruits and support. Each map has a finite number of recruits available, and so when you’ve harnessed them all you are unable to build any more units or buildings on the map, thus using your recruits wisely is a major factor. Each unit has an individual value to add to your overall support. You can increase your support by building more recruitment citadels. Doing this also increases the rate in which you gain recruits.
You command your units in the traditional RTS fashion, but another element of the game is your ability to transform into a Dragon (with a jet pack). This has both benefit and risk. Your Dragon, if upgraded is the most powerful unit on the field. The downside: you have limited control over your units and buildings while in Dragon mode. The game balances this out further and that it costs recruits to switch into Dragon mode, so you have to be careful and manage when you do use it, and when you don’t. Once you master this, you will start to dominate the field.
Some of the negative issues while playing on the RTS map is that once your enemy has researched anti-air turrets, staying alive as a Dragon is next to impossible sometimes. You can dodge attacks by moving in a direction and holding the R-Mouse button, but even then it’s hard to stay alive long against those defenses. Grenadiers are the same, and if your enemy creates a massive amount of them, you might want to send in the shock troops and take care of them first. Once your Dragon takes flight, you become target number 1 to any anti-air unit, and for good reason. If you pick you points though, you can come throughalright. By using your Dragon skills wisely, and being smart with how you use your units, no battle is too difficult for you to win.
Some battles, however, are just too easy to win. There was one battle in the campaign where I literally entered the map, sent my units over since our bases spawned nearby, and won the match in less than a minute and a half. In contrast, the occasional battle can take a long time, especially late in the game when you and your opponent have both researched a lot of tech. In the campaign your enemies will typically have some more advanced units than you, but play your cards right and you should have no problem dealing with those pesky siblings of yours.
Speaking of the campaign, Dragon Commander’s storyline is pretty good. Your siblings have murdered your father, the emperor, and have plunged an otherwise peaceful empire into a massive civil war. Maxos, a wizard and councilor to your father, has thrown his support behind you: the bastard-born son of the emperor. Aboard the Imperial airship with a demon at its core, you control all aspects of your campaign, interact with advisors and generals, research new technology and dragon skills, and more. As you progress through the campaign, your generals’ mood towards you will change depending on the results of your last turn. Win a battle, and they will praise you, lose one and you’ll be mocked and questioned.
Another strong point of the game is the political system. You will be constantly asked policy to enable or decline by your ambassadors from the other races: Elves, Dwarves, Undead, Lizards and Imps. You’ll never make everyone happy, so again, balance is key. Larian seems to have pulled issues from today’s political climate and ported them into the game, as you will be deciding whether government healthcare will be instituted, gay marriage and “smoking medicinal herbs” made legal, taxing the church, etc. Your councilors will give you their stance and the way you choose will affect your standing in their race the following turn. Political standing has a real effect on the battlefield as well. Not only is support determined by the number of recruitment citadels you have, but it is also factored by the public support of the race who calls that province home. Have a low number, and your ability to support more troops on the battlefield will be adversely affected. Pick and choose your decisions based on your next strategic move. If you are planning on invading an enemy territory that has a large Undead population, it might be wise to side with them a few turns in advance to boost your standing. Balance seems to be the key word when playing Divinity, so make sure you really plan out your moves before you act.
Down the road you will also be forced to marry a princess to solidify a political alliance. You choose between Elf, Lizard, Dwarf or Undead in this case, and the one you choose will boost your political standing with that faction. Each princess has their own personality and backstory, as well as their reason for wanting to marry the emperor. Choose this wisely as well, as the rest of your campaign will be changed depending on who you decide upon. For instance, the Lizard Princess is well versed in law and politics, and can give you a boost there, where the Dwarven Princess has the financial backing of her race.
All in all, the choices you make in the airship will affect the rest of the campaign. It’s a decent length and the banter between the characters will definitely make you laugh at a moment or two. If you decide not to play the single player campaign, you can skirmish against the computer or play some multiplayer and pit your Dragon against a friend or foe. The skirmish matches include both the turn-based map and RTS map, so be aware that these will not be a quick skirmish. Take over your enemy’s capital and hold it for one turn and you’ll be victorious, lose yours and wallow in defeat.
Visually speaking, the game is beautiful. Steampunk influences are seen everywhere, from the interior environments of the airship to the machine cog accents on the campaign map. The RTS visuals take the cake, as the unit models and landscape are well detailed, and the moment you use your Dragon you’ll be forced to admire the time taken to make sure your main weapon looks as deadly as he is on the battlefield. The audio is spot on as well, from lovely cello and piano themes during the campaign map, to the rousing music pushing you along on the RTS map, you’ll never sit back and feel as if there is anything lacking to the soundtrack. Each character’s distinct personality is brought to life by the wondrous voice-acting, giving a layer of depth to an already layered game.
In the end, Divinity: Dragon Commander is a well made game, though at times can a little frustrating on the RTS map. Once you learn the basics of the game, the rest falls into place. This is not a game where you can simply pick up and play, you really need to plan your moves, thinking a few turns ahead to get the upper hand. With the choices in the campaign, there is some replay value, but you’ll spend most of your time in skirmishes and mulitplayer. Few negatives make this game a must buy for any strategy fan, and one I know I will be playing for a while to come.
The Good: Beautiful visuals, great voice acting lend to the brilliant game-play. A decent learning curve. Few games in the genre really make you think carefully before hitting the “End Turn” button.
The Bad: Some battles can be very easy or very difficult, depending on placement on the battle map. Maps sometimes seem recycled and don’t always fit with the way a province looks on the campaign map. Though the learning curve is decent, the first few battles will be a strain as you learn to control in both traditional RTS fashion and Dragon mode.
About the Game:
Developer/Publisher: Larian Studios
Platform: Windows PC
Genre: Fantasy Real-Time Strategy
Release Date: August 6