Divinity: Dragon Commander Review: Genre Potpourri
The tactical map is relatively straightforward, involving little more than selecting various territories and building structures such as mines for some extra cash or war factories to churn out troops for use in battles in the region you’re in. That last bit can’t be emphasized enough, as victory in the real-time strategy portion of the game that may pop up at the end of a turn relies heavily on the resources at your command.
Therein lies both Divinity: Dragon Commander’s weakest and strongest aspects. Weak, because the real-time strategy elements are fairly simple; strong, because transforming into a dragon and taking on the troops yourself is consistently entertaining. Indeed, some of the RTS phase’s weaknesses may lie in the need to balance these two elements, as the tiresomely predictable balances of, say, armored units against hunters allow some peace of mind when you’re flapping around as a dragon and not paying as much attention to what’s unfolding on the ground. Hardcore strategists will lament that speed is essential here above all else, as victory on the smallish battlefields usually hinges on which side can amass the most units the fastest.
That, and how well you can control your dragon form once you activate it and go flying about the battlefield with a rocket pack strapped to your scaley back, firing off balls of flame at enemy bases and ground units through several hotkeyed abilities . It’s not as overpowered as it might sound, even though you can even add some perks back at your ship for greater effectiveness; in fact, if you try to go solo enemies in one part of the map while your troops handle others, you’ll likely get yourself killed. You can still control your units while in dragon form to some extent, but it’s a clumsy, annoying process that forces you to learn how to set up your troops beforehand and use your dragon as a backup. Not too keen on even this simplified form of strategy? You can auto-resolve if you’d like, but usually at the loss of many more troops than you would lose if you took care of the battle yourself.
Rest assured, the entire process is much more exciting in the multiplayer skirmishes, particularly since you’re no longer the only dragon in town. What’s more, the extra layer of challenge in dogfighting enemy players on top of the need to deploy your units and secure bases marks a welcome shift from the predictability of the relatively short campaign. Other elements help keep the fairly predictable RTS matches from slipping into the same tired routine. Build houses of parliament in the world map phase, for instance, and you’ll earn a small stream of collectible cards that affect specific areas of the game for one round, such as increased gold gain when you’re planning your next conquest in the world phase or stronger attacks when you’re in the RTS section.
Oddly enough, one of the most enjoyable aspects of Divinity: Dragon Commander doesn’t even concern itself with direct combat. Huddled around a table at the bar with representatives from the game’s main races between battles, you’re asked to give your opinion on issues far more relevant to our own world in the hopes that your answers may sway the representatives to send more resources to your side. Dipolomacy is the name of the game here, and at times–perhaps true to life–you’ll be forced to make decisions that run contrary to your views for the sake of a strong alliance.
The topics run the gamut from same-sex marriage and banking overhauls to the possible banning of “violent games,” with the latter revealing itself after critics point to connections between a killer and his love for the violent games in question. Elves, for instance, will speak of their love of smoking “drudanae” leaves in the hopes of legalizing them, while also pointing out that “studies have shown this plant’s medicinal use can do wonders to alleviate pain.” It’s all the more impressive because each accompanying story is worded in such a way that the right course of action could swing either way, making it difficult to judge the ambassador’s reaction until after you’ve made your stand.
Sit through enough of these diplomatic sessions, and you may realize that you look forward to them more than the core strategy gameplay. Divinity: Dragon Commander oddly finds its comfort zone when it’s focused on interpersonal relationships rather than on sweeping tales of high adventure, and that’s bad news for players looking for anything resembling a truly challenging strategy experience on the battlefield. Divinity: Dragon Commander can be fun despite that important caveat, but it’s a relaxed brand of fun that’ll appeal more to the RPG crowd than to the fast-fingered masters of StarCraft II or Total War. Divinity? Nah, it doesn’t even reach Cloud Nine. But Larian’s strange concoction of multiple genres allow its dragons to get off the ground, and for long enough to make the trip a memorable one.
- Well-worded inclusion of contemporary issues for diplomacy
- Dragon combat is usually fun, especially in multiplayer
- Generally satisfying mix of genres
- Surprisingly good voice acting
- Good individual characterization
- Simplisitic RTS elements
- Difficult to control units in dragon mode
- Weak overall story
Final Score: 67/100
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