Divinity: Dragon Commander Review8 Aug 2013  by
This self-awareness in tone also means that the “which princess should you marry to forge a political alliance?” section is a little higher-minded than the cheesecake art design of busty Dwarves and Lizards might suggest. It’s a shame, in this game of great choice, that you can’t opt to shock the pious Undead by instead pursuing a dalliance with a prince; but there’s still plenty of chance to be gay and lesbian friendly in your legislation. Or rigorously oppressive, if that’s your thing.
Your generals each get a mini side-story and a scattering of decisions too, but they’re somewhat lacking in dialogue compared to the council. During most turns they’ll hang around in the bar and not have much to say aside from stock phrases about the war effort and their fellow commanders. Here, again, Dragon Commander feels slightly loose in its feedback. After resolving one matter with my generals they received stat upgrades, but this never seemed to happened again (or it was never communicated.)
Of course, all of this politicking and strategising is preparation for battlefield conflict. Dragon Commander is a game of territorial conquest, and while it would be possible to get through the game just using auto-resolve it’d be a shame not to even give the RTS skirmishes a try. After all, you do get to turn into a dragon (your genes, remember?) and wreak personal havoc on the enemy.
The RTS sections are brisk (unless you dial the default speed right down) and demand both aggression and a firm grasp of where all your hotkeys are. It’s not simply a case of selecting all your units and rushing the enemy, especially later in the game when smart unit composition is vital, but keeping up steady pressure on the opposition bases is rarely a poor tactic.
You’ll begin each battle with the units that were present on the world map (plus any you brought as mercenaries through playing strategy cards,) so there’s an impetus to strike quickly and hard if you arrived with a dominating force. Additional units can be purchased by building one of the four production buildings, but only those types that you’ve researched can be bought. So if you’ve yet to invest in how Imp Fighters work, you can’t produce them.
The support (directly linked to your political relationship with the majority race in the region) and population of a country have a direct role in how battles progress. Support dictates how many units you can have on the field at once, while population will slowly drain as you produce troops and send them to their possible demise. The more recruitment citadels owned by a player, the quicker recruits will flood to their side. This is an ingenious little mechanic which forces the aggressive capture of citadels and all-but prevents defensive turtling (though I was able to win a couple of comeback victories by holding off the enemy and striking back when the population total was exhausted … which is pretty grim when you think about it.)
Naturally, it helps to be able to pop into dragon form and belch flame (and worse) at things when your units need a hand. The dragon, particularly when upgraded, is a powerful unit that can make the difference to an offensive push at just the right moment. It also has a jet-pack for added speed because, you know, Imps. However, while you still have some control over nearby units in this form, it inevitably means losing some focus on other parts of the battle. It’s a calculated risk when, and where, to take the dragon form.
The RTS sections of Dragon Commander are not quite as enthralling as the character writing and political intrigue, but the interplay between air, sea and land units (each with their own individual abilities,) along with causing spectacular mayhem as a dragon, was interesting enough to keep drawing me in.
Dragon Commander’s AI seems to be a competent adversary, offering a decent challenge on the RTS and campaign maps. This is thanks, in part, to the numerical advantage it holds over the player. Unlike many other strategy titles of this nature however, the AI doesn’t seem to cheat. As it loses control over territories, its ability to research new weaponry and pump out new troops (on normal difficulty at least) diminishes. This makes a fantastic change to the all-too-familiar scenario of a lone enemy outpost still pulling gigantic armies out of nowhere.
Once you’ve seen off the three chapter campaign (which took me 15 hours or so,) the game still has plenty to offer. There’s plenty of scope for replaying the campaign and taking alternative decisions to see other dialogue and story outcomes, or, if you don’t want to bother with that, hopping into a custom campaign. This option lets you choose a map and some enemies from a broad selection and spits randomised political choices at you.
There’s also a full multiplayer mode that lets you compete in skirmishes or a full campaign. To see an hour or so of Tim McDonald and I doing just that, watch the video below.
Despite the difficulties associated with embarking on such a genre-hopping title, Larian has created a unique, engrossing combination of strategy, political choice and rapid battlefield command. That they’ve managed to produce something able to compete with the Civilizations and Total Wars of this world on the budget of a much smaller studio makes this game something of a minor miracle. Amidst the wealth of strategic options available to PC players this year, Dragon Commander should not be overlooked.