Divinity: Dragon Commander is Larian Studio’s most ambitious game to date. The Belgian studio deserves serious praise for creating a game that blends elements from various genres, mixing them together masterfully into a video game experience unlike any other. Dragon Commander is easily Larians’ best entry in the Divinity series, and one that has the potential to attract legions of gamers in a way that few other games on the market can thanks largely in part to the unique structure of the game.
Time spent playing Dragon Commander puts players in three distinct different roles through the course of the game. Part RPG, part turn-based strategy, and part real-time strategy, it is easy to feel overwhelmed during the game’s outset. Thankfully, Larian does a wonderful job of easing players into the role of Emperor with well-made tutorial videos. Each part of the core gameplay requires serious thought and careful decision making. There are no easy choices to be found in Dragon Commander, and this is certainly for the better.
In Dragon Commander, players take on the role of the recently assassinated Emperor’s bastard son. As your siblings wage war across the realm to succeed the throne, Maxos, a powerful wizard comes to your side – urging you to defeat your siblings and become the Emperor’s true heir. Doing so is no small task, but thanks to your, shall we say unique, powers of being a half-dragon, things become a little bit more manageable.
Maxos is not the only one to come to the player’s aid, however. Dragon Commander features an assortment of colorful characters – some generals, some political advisers – who aid you in both combat and the management of your growing empire. These characters are perhaps the game’s greatest feature. Each and every character aboard your airship, the Raven, feel as though they are taken right from the pages of great fantasy stories and bring unique personalities and quirks to the game.
Gameplay in Dragon Commander flows in three main stages. First, aboard the Raven, the player will have the option to speak to both his general and political cabinet about various issues. These moments are the core of Dragon Commander’s RPG elements and provide for some of the best writing in recent video game history. Frequently, the political cabinet raises issues that are effecting your Empire and present options on how to deal with them. These issues are the game’s shining moments, as they manage to reflect real world problems in a way that feels absolutely natural. Topics such as same-sex marriage, taxation of the church, and legalizing narcotic use are just a small showing of the issues in Dragon Commander that reflect our very lives. Larian deserves much credit for presenting these hot-button issues in the world of Divinity without making any dialogue feel heavy handed.
Choosing what laws to enact inevitably effects your bearings with the various races within the empire. Your cabinet members speak for the entirety of the game’s main races – the Undead, Elves, Dwarves, Lizardmen, and Imps – and finding the correct political balance between them is the key to developing a stable political backing.
Despite the often hard choices, players are sure to find these dialogue-centric sections on-board the Raven a blast. They are a welcome relief from the games more traditional strategic components and provide some humor even when serious topics are addressed thanks to great writing and stylish graphics.
After players deal with political issues, the game moves to the turn-based strategy portion of Dragon Commander. Similar to RISK, players are presented a large map of the realm and have the option to construct various buildings, recruit units, or move their troops around the board. These turn-based sections are where the majority of Dragon Commander’s strategic appeal is apparent. Buying and moving units as you prepare to assault a new territory or defend from a threatening army is a rush, even if it does come at a slower pace.
During this phase, players may place cards on various countries, allowing for bonuses or handicaps. Playing cards can often be the key to gaining strategic advantages for when the time comes to raise arms and fight. The enemy is likely to play cards to their advantage as well, ensuring that each side is on somewhat equal playing ground. Larian did a great job of keeping the game feeling balanced while still maintaining a challenge. Players must always think ahead and plan their moves according, as Dragon Commander’s AI doesn’t waste a single turn. One wrong move can mean the demise of even a veteran player.
Once your empire’s moves are locked in, the game’s final main stage occurs. The real-time strategy element is presented when either your forces enter an enemy’s territory or vice versa. Upon initiating a battle, players are presented with a breakdown of their available fighting units, as well as the options to play various cards and select which general will lead the troops to battle. Choosing any of your generals will lead to the automatic resolution of the battle, and while each general has various strengths that can give your army and advantage, commanding the troops yourself is where the battles truly feel epic.
As you combat, battles play out in traditional RTS fare, factories can be built to assemble additional units and strategic nodes can be conquered. Initially the RTS components feel similar to other games in the genre, but Dragon Commander has one ace in its scaly sleeve that separates itself from the rest. During battles, players have the ability to transform into a dragon and wreak havoc from the skies. Controlling your troops is still manageable when in dragon form, albeit somewhat clunky. However, this is easily looked past, as spending time as a dragon is an amazing experience.
The RTS phase can be challenging to genre newcomers, even with the tutorials turned on and lowered difficulty. Much like the TBS section, your enemies pull no punches and will often take advantages of any oversights you make. This can be frustrating at times, but incentivizes players to learn the game’s systems.
There is much to love about Dragon Commander. The game manages to combine three different genres in a way that each feels fully realized. Gamers of different tastes will surely learn to put biases aside and enjoy each and every aspect of this unique and entertaining game. Larian Studios has succeeded with Dragon Commander in making a fantasy game that dares to be different. Dragon Commander is sure provide hours upon hours of deep strategy that has a little of something for everyone to love.
The reviewer received a copy of Divinity: Dragon Commander courtesy of Larian Studios for the purpose of this review.
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