A real-time strategy game that’s part RPG, aerial shooter, and deck builder—sounds a bit like a Frankenstein experiment doesn’t it? Divinity: Dragon Commander may sound monstrous when you think of all the genres it encompasses, but play it for a few hours and you’ll be surprised at how well all of its features work together. With choices to be made on both the battlefield and in the throne room, Dragon Commander is a robust experience that’s as impressive as it is challenging. Oh, and did we mention you can play as a badass jetpack-toting dragon, too?
Dragon Commander follows the story of the half-dragon, half-human son of a fallen king who must bring peace back to his late father’s kingdom and stop his greedy siblings from destroying his empire. You’re aided by a powerful wizard and an assortment of generals, diplomats, and advisors that make their home on your command ship and HUD. While the campaign’s plot isn’t particularly original, the conversations you’ll have with your crewmembers are an engaging way to get to know your diverse kingdom, its customs, and its people. Voiced by talented actors, characters have unique personalities and mindsets that bring life and humor to the game’s story and introduce you to its fascinating world.
Conversations aren’t just for show as they will also lead to decisions you’ll need to make that ultimately affect how you fare in battle. By pleasing an elven diplomat and siding with him on same-sex marriage laws, for example, you not only gain additional troops when battling on his people’s lands, but you also gain passive bonuses and extra gold from them as well. Each controversial decision you make feels important and shapes your kingdom to your liking. It also complements the game’s RTS side by letting you build your army around the orders you enact. Despite Dragon Commander's focus on battle and conquest, these more thoughtful (and political) RPG elements provide a nice break from the action without completely taking the emphasis away from waging war.
When you do need to fight, however, Dragon Commander presents you with a board game’s approach to conquest. Before any fighting can take place, you’ll need to plan out your moves during a strategy phase that resembles a game of Risk, ultimately requiring you to dominate surrounding lands. Each turn, you can move your pieces to different countries, purchase additional troops, or play cards that give you buffs in battle or hurt your foes. While this phase of combat may not be the most entertaining, it's still crucial as you’ll have several choices to make that ultimately affect the flow of battle. This mode doesn’t hold your hand or advise you on what you should or shouldn’t do, so there’s definitely a sharp learning curve here, as one wrong move can lead to the enemy dominating your capital and costing you the game.
The battles in Dragon Commander function like those in a typical RTS game and emphasize quick decision making. The main goal is to overcome your enemy’s forces and capture his base, and you’ll need to build recruitment facilities to have enough resources ready to build units and keep your defenses in check. With the emphasis being on speed, you’ll always need to be on your toes checking in on how your troops are faring against an enemy and on how many resources you have left to spend. You can also customize what units you have at your disposal and grant them buffs to mold your army into how you want to play it. From your ship, you can purchase skills to increase the accuracy of your grenadiers, for instance, or the strength of your cannons. Decisions are at the core of Dragon Commander, and it’s cool that you can play battles the way you want or choose to skip them altogether and leave the results up to probability.
Another awesome thing about the battle phase is that you can transform into a dragon and provide additional backup to your units from the skies. This gives the game an aerial shooter-like feel as you target enemies with your mouse and bombard them with fireballs, spells, or any other attacks you decide to purchase and level-up. Being a dragon does come with some disadvantages because you can’t build anything or create new units while flying. You can still direct your units on the field, but the game’s aerial controls make doing almost anything that’s not shooting difficult and disorienting. Of course, you don’t have to transform at all if you don’t want to, but this extra layer of combat really does spice up the otherwise just-competent RTS component of the game.
Online mode provides the same strategic and battle phases for you to choose from and lets you join up to three other players at once. In addition to simply boosting the game’s replay value, online skirmishes require more strategy as you’ll not only be playing with multiple human players, but you’ll also need to watch out for their enemy dragons. Engaging in aerial dogfights certainly boosts the game’s action levels, but you still need to be a skilled strategist to win.
Dragon Commander is fun, challenging, and filled with decisions to make. You’ll experience a little bit of everything from choosing a wife to deciding whether your army could benefit from having zeppelin bombers. Every individual component works so well that you might even wish the game would have focused more on a specific area or genre. This doesn’t hurt the game, but like its aerial controls, it leaves you wanting more. Still, Dragon Commander manages to combine all of its different gameplay elements and delivers one cohesive experience that's highly worth playing.
This game was reviewed on PC.