Divinity: Dragon Commander attempts to combine elements from a number of different genres into a single game. It has both turn based and real time strategy, some light RPG elements as well as a bit of action mixed in to form what is a very interesting, if rather unfocused, experience. I used to be a huge fan of RTS games during their golden years, when a plethora of games such as Command and Conquer, Rise of Nations, Age of Empires and many others dominated the PC gaming scene, but recently it has been rather hard to find quality RTS games to play. Many of the former giants of the genre, such as the aforementioned Age of Empires and Command and Conquer, have turned to browser based, free to play shadows of their former selves. Thus, I was excited to get the opportunity to review Dragon Commander, but can it bring back the magic of the golden age of RTS, or will it slump to the bottom like the free to play travesties?
Dragon Commander is set in the same world as the other titles in the Divinity series. The player takes control of the half-dragon bastard son of the former king, who is determined to reunite the races of Rivellon with him as their leader. To achieve this goal, the player must attain the help of Maxos, the mage, as well as a number of different generals. Each character has his or her own personality, but they are all highly stereotyped, which is rather unfortunate. The player also needs to appease the various races of Rivellon within a political meta game. Every few turns a new proposal will come up, each basically a fantasy version of a real political issue, either contemporary or from the past. These proposals include some rather comedic takes on issues such as the legalization of marijuana, which is heavily pushed for by the elves (who represent the heavily eco-friendly left wingers). Unfortunately the politics seems to be rather pointless, as it is possible to get all the races up to incredibly high relations without much effort, and the dialogue becomes rather tedious, though credit to the developers for having everything fully voiced.
The actual plot of the game is incredibly bland, consisting of the rather overused ‘siblings vying for the throne’ story. There is a slight twist, I suppose, in that the entire conflict is also fueled by a darker presence, but in the end Dragon Commander falls pretty flat in terms of storytelling. I was expecting more, considering Larian Games, the developers, are planning to release an RPG, named Divinity: Original Sin, which is based in the same universe. If they don’t improve their storytelling in Original Sin, we may be in for a rather boring adventure.
As far as game design goes, I felt the game was way too unfocused. It tried to combine the elements of too many genres and some of them just didn’t work out. The RPG aspects were pretty much pointless, as the choices in both the political meta game as well as in dialogue with generals just result in a rather arbitrary choice between 2 options, which don’t actually effect the gameplay much at all. As I mentioned above, it is possible to attain a high relationship with every race at the same time with very little effort involved, and there is very little consequence to dialogues with your generals. The RTS side of the game didn’t feel right to me at all. There is very little construction, and everything is only able to be constructed on preset positions on the map.
This results in the main objective of the game being to rush the best points as soon as the match starts. After this initial race, the game transitions to a tug of war phase, where you and your enemy will charge each other over and over again until eventually someone wins. It’s not fun, and I am just glad that there is an auto calculate option for the battles in campaign mode. The slight redemption of this mode comes in the form of the action aspect of the game. It is possible, when in the RTS phase of the game, to morph into a dragon which can shoot fireballs and cast many different spells in order to help your troops to win the battle. It is, admittedly, a ton of fun. Your dragon also comes equipped with a jetpack, which allows you to dodge incoming projectiles or soar at insane speeds across the map. I don’t understand why they didn’t design the whole game around this concept to be honest.
The other main aspect of the game is the turn based strategy phase. This phase plays out like a slightly more advanced version of Risk. Basically you research technologies and spells, you recruit troops and construct up to one building per country and you move your existing troops around the map. This is a fairly enjoyable system, rather reminiscent of one of the game modes in Rise of Nations, but also a bit too basic. There is no fog of war, espionage or anything really besides the use of a card system, which allows you to gain bonuses or inflict penalties on your opponents to spice the gameplay up, which is rather unfortunate. Even the card system isn’t exactly groundbreaking. The game mode in Rise of Nations, which I mentioned earlier, already made use of that system many, many years ago.
I found the visuals of Dragon Commander to be pretty good overall. They aren’t anywhere near to any of the new AAA titles, but they have a nice aesthetic and style which is all that really matters in my mind. The map of the game world in the turn based strategy phase looks great, though the graphics in the RTS phase are rather lackluster. I did, however, like the work they did on the dragon models and textures, as they looked amazing.
The audio of the game is pretty standard for the most part. The music set the scene very nicely, though it is set to be incredibly loud by default, and I had to set it down to about 10% to be able to hear notifications on Skype. Apart from that slight niggle i didn’t experience any other sound problems. The NPC dialogue is all fully voice acted, which is always a nice touch.
Honestly, after playing through the campaign once, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to Dragon Commander again. There is some great humor contained in the fantasy parodies of contemporary political debates, but they have little value when it comes to replaying the game. I found the turn based strategy aspect fairly fun, as I haven’t played anything similar in a while, but if I ever feel the need to play something similar, I would just go back to one of the Total War games or invite some friends over for game of Risk instead. Even the dated Rise of Nations mode which I keep mentioning trumps Dragon Commander, as it has options from various different time periods, which adds a bunch more replay value than is brought by Dragon Commander.
Overall I’m left rather disappointed by my experiences with this game. I really wanted to like it, as it’s one of the only RTS games I’ve seen recently, but the RTS element was so fundamentally flawed that I ended up just auto calculating almost the entire campaign. It was good for a single play through, but for the little amount of entertainment time that offers, the $40 price tag is rather steep. Dragon Commander definitely isn’t the genre reviving game I was hoping for.
(Review code provided by Larian games, thanks from OnlySP!)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 5/10
Gameplay/Design – 6.5/10
Visuals – 7/10
Sound – 7.5/10
Lasting Appeal – 5/10
Overall – 6/10
(Not an average)
Developer: Larian Games
Publisher: Larian Games