A mash up of genres that may be truly divine.
Once more we step into the fantastical imaginations of the guys at Larian Studios, but this time for something a little different to the usual RPG fare that the studio has come to be known for. In Divinity: Dragon Commander, the latest title from the Belgian developer, players will indulge in some political decisions while moving icons around a world map before taking to the battlefield for some real-time strategy and dragon-controlling action. There is a lot going on in this game, but can all of the separate parts join together to make an entertaining whole?
The campaign begins with the assassination of Emperor Sigurd I by his children who seek the power of the throne for themselves. As his illegitimate son, who happens to be able to transform into a dragon if required, the player is sought out by the wizard Maxos and convinced that he, rather than all of these treacherous half brothers and sisters, should be ruling the realm. Thus starts a campaign to gain power and control over the various different races and territories of the world, and put a stop to the evil siblings once and for all. All hail the new emperor.
The campaign is turn based, with each turn consisting of three very different phases. The first phase consists of spending time aboard the mighty airship that Maxos has brought to the party, and conversing with the wide variety of different characters that can be found aboard.
The airship is divided into different areas, with each area offering access to different characters or different things to do. Research and development is handled in one of these areas, giving access to different troop types or dragon powers that will be used in other parts of the game. But the majority of time will be spent in simple conversation and making choices with the representatives of the different world races, or your generals. These decisions that the player is faced with can be quite comical at times, yet many seem to have their grounding in serious matters, such as gay marriage or state health care.
Besides making these wide ranging political decisions, which will nearly always involve balancing the pros with the cons, the player will also find themselves trying to keep their generals happy and stop them bickering with each other, and even choosing a wife from a line up of different candidates. Again, they each bring something different to the party, so the prospect of more than one playthrough is heightened by the chance to make different choices.
Larian Studios have done a great job of adding depth to the different characters, each of which have very different personalities and quirks, and even the voice acting is of a high standard. There is a very tongue-in-cheek approach to things, suggesting that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, which stands in contrast with some of the decisions that the player has to make, and the general objective of the game, which is to wipe out your enemies.
The second phase in each turn takes the player to a large global map, upon which it is possible to see controlled territories and those of your opponents. Constructing buildings and moving troops around are the order of the day here. Moving troops onto an enemy held territory will result in the third phase, which is the real-time strategy phase, but there are a few interesting features to mention before we take to the battlefield.
Choices made in the first phase can have an effect on the world map, and strategy cards can be played to tweak things even more. These can not only effect things on a global scale, but also when it comes to the battles, and it is not always obvious how things will be affected, so players would do well to choose carefully. Also, the more aggressive players may find themselves in multiple battles in the same turn. The player himself can only participate in one battle each turn, and a general can only command in one, so after those two, any subsequent battles in that turn will be left up to the army themselves, which may not be the best idea. Again, the player has to think carefully about which battles they want to get involved in.
There is the option in the third phase, the real-time strategy phase, to auto-resolve battles should the player be thus inclined. But it is well worth taking a look simply for the chance to change into a dragon and wreak havoc on a battlefield.
Players will have control of the units they assigned to the battle in phase two, but the battle maps offer the chance to take control of designated building areas which will allow the construction of buildings that can provide more troops. Then it is a matter of taking the troops to the enemy and wiping them off the map. There is a bit more to it than that, but the controls and methods for success will likely be very familiar to anyone who has played an RTS game before.
That is until the player transforms into a jetpack wearing dragon. It is here that things get slightly different. Firstly, the player can then zip around the battlefield at high speed and harass enemy troops or buildings with all manner of dragon attacks. This is actually great fun, although the novelty wears off quite quickly. It then becomes quite apparent that being in dragon form gives the player limited control over their troops. Troop control is possible while in dragon form, but it is clumsy and not at all natural, making it preferable to stay away from the dragon form, or use it only while the troops are waiting or following already given orders.
Divinity: Dragon Commander offers a short tutorial that will guide the player through the basics of the game, but it really doesn’t prepare the player for the complexity of the different tasks ahead. Players familiar with the different genres will find it easier to work things out than those totally new to strategy games, many of which will be fans of Larian Studios’ previous titles. There is a lot going on, and it can be quite difficult to grasp, but the pay off for invested time is good.
Beyond the campaign, which is nice and long, players can take on a more sandbox campaign with their choice of map and enemies, or there are multiplayer options in the form of brief battles to full on campaigns, all of which further extend the length of the game.
Mixing in the narrative-based decisions with real-time and turn-based strategy, and then throwing in some third-person, arcade-style dragon controlling, could well of ended in disaster. Many multi-genre games fail simply due to being a jack-of-all-trades. But Larian Studios have fared better than most with Divinity: Dragon Commander. It is not the prettiest game ever, and neither is it the deepest, but it is certainly entertaining, and at the end of the day, that is all that matters.