Today we’re taking a look at Larian Studios Divinity Dragon Commander which comes exclusively to the PC and offers a tactical mixture of real time strategy gameplay fused with a bit of fiery action.
Dragon Commander tells the story of a young dragon knight who fights for the survival of Rivellon when his father, the king, is brutally murdered. Six nations must set aside their differences and unite to stop empress Aurora from taking over the world. These consist of Humans, Dwarves, Lizards, Imps, Elves, and the Undead.
In play terms the game offers both a single and multiplayer experience and provides a story mode, custom story, and single player skirmishes against AI opponents.
The single player story is perhaps the best place to start after checking out the tutorial which provides enough scope to become proficient. There are various difficulty settings which are well needed as beginners really do need a solid place to start which isn’t too punishing to get to grips with the game; in this regard, the game’s casual difficulty is welcoming.
The story is divided into three sections in which the player has to make decisions. Firstly, the dragon upgrades and development of units is a priority and this is done by spending research points which are gained through turns. Second, players then attend to any political matters that have to be addressed by agreeing or disagreeing with a proposal from one of the ambassadors of the six races. You can listen to each races opinion on the subject, and be warned that there are negatives and positives that affect the overall war based on the decision made. It makes for a welcome addition to the game, but in some instances where players might just want to crack on with the raging battling, it gets in the way – although is somewhat optional.
There’s also a little interaction with the commander’s officers who can be used to auto participate in battles giving a greater win chance over using the standard army. In the bar, all sorts of gossip and opinion can be heard from the very different personalities; there’s even a few squabbles and decisions to make here which can affect the quality of the officers – so it pays not to ignore them. Much like the political decisions, it becomes a bit of a balancing act depending on how you play, but there are quite a few moral issues to contend with in the process which obviously will be personal to the player which is quite a neat feature.
Once all the kerfuffle is dealt with, players enter a RISK like map screen which can be zoomed in and viewed up close. It is here where players tactically build units and move them around the map by land sea or air, to either attack or defend a section of land. The onus lies on capturing the enemy’s capital to wipe them out. In several instances it’s not just one versus one as full on battles between numerous races occur. Once an aggressive action is taken after all movement and building decisions are completed, the game enters the final battle stage. It’s here where players can choose to let one of the officers auto fight the battle, or jump in and take the reigns of the dragon. Using auto fight is based on percentage chance, and this is displayed, however, special cards can be used which can turn the odds around, adding a somewhat random element to some battles. Players can build structures on their lands that produce specific cards if they are smart, and this can be a neat way to tailor battles to suit your play style as some cards focus on dragon abilities, others on providing extra units, and those which can change the abilities of units in a negative or positive manner. Either way, if the percentage chance is high, by using an officer (for a small bit of gold) then this saves quite a bit of time.
Jumping in to take direct control is great when the odds aren’t so much in your favour, and you get a real feel for the battle by playing. There are two modes here, where one allows you to control units in either groups or individually, and send them off to capture points on the map. It’s here where players can quickly pan around the map and see what the enemy is up to. The crux of the battles lies in capturing structures to gain more recruits, and building units to push the enemy back in typical RTS fashion.
The dragon is a hands-on addition and can be used to attack the enemy or boost units with upgraded abilities. The dragon can fly around the map at speed and dodge incoming attacks with well times dashes and is a powerful ally to have on the team.
There are effectively two ways to play here, where the dragon can be ignored entirely and the game played in a traditional RTS manner. However, what’s neat and keeps players in the game is being able to retain some control over the direction of the units but also actively participate in the fight by either using support spells on your own units, or attacking and status spells on the enemy. Using the dragon takes on an arcade like flavour, although its entirely possible to take on smaller armies with the dragon alone.
Graphically, Dragon Commander looks good and runs pretty smoothly, although things can begin to push the hardware when there are lots of units on screen at once. There’s a pleasant and effective futuristic steam punk styled world on offer, some well animated characters, and even a bit of exposed bone – if you choose an undead bride.
The audio is of a high standard, with great performances all round for the cast of male and female ambassadors and officers. There’s a lot of content to listen to, and so it’s fitting that it be performed as best it can. It succeeds here thanks to an interesting script and unconventional characters. The in-game audio is functional with some meaty sounds when using the dragons fire breath and various chatter from the troops providing a full scale war on your ears.
Dragon Commander is a long game although can be dipped in and out of for quick battles. There’s a lot on offer here aside from the main story that will simply consume the hours, whether that be the multiplayer online or tackling the solo skirmishes with various customizable parameters over a number of very different tactical maps.
Dragon Commander’s story mode follows a pattern of learning new Dragon Skills and units, sorting out any political issues, using the map hub to move and build units; and then finally engaging either in hands on participation or via a simulated quick battle option. That’s Dragon Commander, and after so many hours have passed this is the reality – as engrossing as the game is, it’s certainly a time guzzler even though individual battles can be swift. The extra modes such as the custom story, cut out the fluff and make for a more streamlined experience, and the skirmishes add much life to the game where players can tailor the game how they want, and this includes, no dragons if required.
As a game, for non RTS fans, there’s something fun and quite accessible here – although requiring a bit more attention than your typical action game. On easier settings it’s quite possible to tear up the opposing forces with the dragon and ignore most of the tactical elements. On tougher settings, the RTS approach comes into its own with the dragon being used as additional force to boost the army rather than an instant win mechanic. There’s a neat balance of gameplay styles which makes Divinity Dragon Commander stand out. If you are an RTS fan, then this is well worth checking out as there’s lots to do and a cool game on offer here that will keep you entertained to the end of days.
Score 8.5/10 – Review by Robert Cram.