Divinity: Dragon Commander preview
Larian Studios' Dragon Commander is much more than meets the eye. The core of the game revolves around turn-based strategy and management of the fantasy world of Rivellon. You play as the Dragon Commander--the rightful heir to the Kingdom's throne--and it's up to you unite the nation and make all the tough decisions that can bring peace to the world, or plunge it into chaos and corruption. Sounds fairly straightforward, right? Well, it's not. The game's story branches based on your decisions, the battle strategy is intricate, and taking part in the fast-paced RTS combat definitely keeps you on your toes.
The game has two major components to the gameplay: the RTS gameplay, and the political balancing act. The overall flow of the combat plays much like a standard RTS, minus the centralized base management. You'll have to produce units, but you won't be building bases and arranging structures and defenses. Certain buildings are spread across the map that can be captured by your troops to which you can use to grow your army by building barracks or factories at those locations. Land, sea, and air units are available to produce, and once you destroy all of the enemy's units and claimed structures, you win the match. But this is all standard strategy gaming stuff. Where Dragon Commander really stands out is in allowing players to take direct control of their very own personalized dragon.
At the press of a button, players can change take control of their Dragon Commander from a third-person perspective, who consequently changes into the form of a dragon during conflicts--a dragon with a jetpack strapped to his back, no less. Thanks to the jetpack, you can travel from one side of the map to the other rapidly, letting you lay waste to enemy units with fire and magic attacks. As you progress through the story, you'll earn skills your dragon can use during battle giving you the ability to quickly change the momentum of any fight. In our playthrough, we had access to a powerful homing fireball and a healing spell that replenished health for all friendly troops within range. Though it may seem the case, the dragon form isn't overpowered. You'll have to actively switch between managing your army and burning your enemies to a crisp as the dragon if you want to gain a victory in battle.
In the campaign, a large portion of the game involves playing nice with your political colleagues. These NPCs help you command your empire and act as representatives of factions living throughout the land, which include the fleshless Undead, hippie-like elves, conservative dwarves, tech-savvy Imps, and the self-righteous Lizard race. Random situations present themselves after each turn of the strategy portion of the game, which range from legalizing gay marriage to implementing robbery and self-defense laws. You have to decide how to handle each situation through a series of dialogue options and discussion with other characters. Often, your decision will strengthen your relationship with certain parties while causing others to dislike you, giving every choice considerable weight.
How you handle the game's politics determines which race's bonus abilities you'll have access to. For instance, making the Imps happy will eventually earn the ability to research nuclear missiles and launch them during combat (clearly, this is not your typical fantasy setting). Other races like the Dwarves will help you maintain a steady flow of finances to fund your conquests. Between the politicians, military generals, and your chosen wife, there are a lot of interests to keep in mind with each decision. Also, depending on which races you aim to please for their respective resources, you may be forced to go against your personal convictions, which feels disturbingly thrilling.
On the other side of the political arena is the tactical military planning and real-time strategy combat. This part of the game plays the same whether you're warring with the AI in the single-player campaign or four-player multiplayer (except your opponents are actual humans in multiplayer, of course). You'll have to conquer and control as much of the map as possible, through a turn-based strategy match. Every region under your influence gives you access to that area's respective resources and population. From there, you can build up your army to capture unclaimed zones, or challenge the enemy to a battle over control.
All of the effort you put into the political game comes into play when you choose to enter a battle. Players earn battle bonuses in the form of cards, which can grant you bonuses, like a boost to unit production speeds or additional units, among many other goodies. Once you equip the five cards you'll bring into battle, you're ready to jump into the fray.
Divinity: Dragon Commander combines many elements within multiple gaming genres, and seems to strike a good balance between all of them. Be sure to check out more coverage on the upcoming title as we get closer to the game's release on the PC later this year.