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Divinity: Dragon Commander [2013 -- Larian]

Started by Starfox, Mar 24, 2023, 12:41 AM

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originally Published on August 20, 2013

Here is the fourth game in the Divinity series by the Belgians from Larian Studios but behold, this is not what those used to the series might expect.

The story: the events depicted in Dragon Commander occurred eons even before the First Divine Divinity. The main "nameless" character's father, the Emperor, was murdered by his two half-brothers and his half-sister (half because he is a bastard) who decided to wage a total war for the control of Rivellon. The mage Maxos (the story of whom you may be familiar with if you played Divinity 2: Ego Draconis) come knocking at his door telling him that he is the last hope for peace. But to obtain peace, he will have to wage war against his siblings until they surrender or, more likely, until they expire. Maxos didn't choose him on a whim. The fact is, he is a pure Dragon Knight (another concept those who played Divinity 2 are very familiar with); his father the late Emperor was a human but his mother despite its human guise was a true "Ancient One" a dragon.

Of course the hero won't be waging war all alone (hence the "Commander" part). He will have two Generals somewhat at his order to beginning with (a bit later four of them if the first battle goes well), an army that it will be his responsibility to develop, and imp engineer who creates a lot of weird devices -- the most useful for the dragon character being the Jetpack that allows him to quickly go from one place to another on the battle field and so hopefully to quickly respond to tactical situations whenever and wherever they develop. he also possess a command ship, the Raven, which as surprising as it may seems comes with a living component and have some importance in the story. The intermissions will all be aboard the Raven, it's where the Dragon Commander rules, coordinate war efforts and talk with his Generals and the diplomats representing the different races of Rivellon (Elves, Dwarves, Lizards, Imps and Undead). It's also where the Queen will reside once she has been chosen.

Generals are the most important of the individuals surrounding the "Dragon". After the first battle is won, there are four of them in total (Henry a warrior through and through, Edmund an aristocratic lizard who thinks he is better than anybody else in Rivellon, Catherine an ex-queen who thinks women are so much better than men and would do certainly better than you and finally Scarlett, a wild girl that does not relent when things are getting bloody). Often for each combat turn, you'll have several battles to fight. One of them may be managed by you as the Dragon Commander -- if you choose so -- and one other you may leave to one of your Generals. There is the matter of picking the right General for the job though. Catherine excels at everything at sea. Scarlett beautifully manages light units and so will be best employed in situations were the bulk of your forces are light ones. Henry will do the same but with heavy units and Edmund will be best employed where your forces are a mix of everything and require tactical thinking. The use of a General for a battle will boost the chances of success. If a General likes you (ie you treat them well) they will be more effective.

Diplomats are another matter. They will determine how difficult a battle will be depending on how much they like you (which is determined by your ruling on the political and social issues they present you). A territory belonging to a race with which you are in good standing will always be easier to conquer (you'll have more recruits to spend and your building ability will receive a boost) than a territory belonging to a race that doesn't like you (less recruits and adverse building conditions). 

From what I have told you so far you can easily deduce that although the game is set in the same universe than the other Divinity opuses, Dragon Commander is mainly a Real-Time Strategy game with very few Role-Play Game elements. The three other Divinity games were pure RPG but here you'll spend more time managing your troops and organizing them for the next battle than you'll spend talking to people, let alone do any quest of any sort. The closer you'll come to a quest in fact is when you'll choose your queen or when you'll have to decide on some particular issue with your Generals and... well, that's about it. The diplomacy management side is quite common in RTS, much less in RPG. The game also features strategy cards (that one can use before a battle to sabotage the enemy assets or to give oneself an advantage) which is not common in RTS but not totally unheard of either.

Still, as a RTS game, Dragon Commander does the job nicely and features one thing pretty unique (for a RTS game, that is): when your troops are engaged in battle and if you're present (ie you decided to directly assume command for the said battle), you can decide to transform into a dragon and help them when the need arise... or just for fun. During the game Maxos will allow you to research a great number of dragon powers which are roughly divided in two categories, those allowing you to finish the enemy quicker and those allowing you to heal or strengthen your units so that they may stand a chance against your opponents. Grumio, the impish engineer, researches on his side technologies that can be applied to your combat units.

Flying as a dragon over the battlefield is not devoid of danger however because your avatar is far to be invulnerable and will be shot at by any enemy AAA unit in range. But, the dragon is the most powerful element of the imperial army and -- especially once properly upgraded -- can easily dispatch hordes of enemy units in a breeze and that compensates for its relative weakness to enemy fire. It is an element that can reverse the tide of a battle when used at the right moment and equipped with the right powers (you can only have 8 at any time that you choose just before the battle). However there are things one cannot do when in dragon form. One has limited selection abilities but one can order the army to advance and to attack specific enemy units or buildings. One cannot build or manage independent units or buildings for tactical purposes. That means the player has to switch back from dragon form every time that the need for fine tuning the resources arise. There is a cooldown of 5 seconds between each transformation into a dragon but each transformation cost 20 recruits and recruits though expendable are not infinite and also serve to build your units and buildings.

The game could be good and total fun if it wasn't for the flaws inherent to each RTS I have played since the first Warcraft. First thing, the battles tend to become repetitive after a while, especially in single player where one has to take into account the enemy AI -- no matter what people will say, a computer will always prevail over a human when it comes to quickly managing resources and build units and buildings; the time you decide what kind of armor you want to build, the computer already has a whole platoon attacking you. Typically RTS are better suited to multiplayer because all players are humans and so the speed of thought is not a real factor and is replaced by strategy. Against a computer you too often resort to quickly build all the units you can without really thinking just to counteract the speed at which the computer will overpower you. Sometime you'll have the good surprise to see the computer try its hand at some strategy, for example trying to draw you out of the front door then landing troops in your back when you're not looking, but those moments are sparse. Most of the time the only strategy of the computer is to drown you under waves after waves of units.

The second bad point of all the RTS I have played since the first Warcraft is the story. More often than not, in a RTS the story is considered as a background to support the gameplay while in a RPG the gameplay tends to support the story. Story wise, Dragon Commander is certainly the poorest and shortest of all the Divinity games. Characters are well defined in general and they come with interesting and sometime funny lines but the background story in itself is very cheap even though the whole game represent an interesting take on Maxos and a Great War that according to Divinity 2 DLC Flames Of Vengeance was later erased from History.

Unforgivable computer speed and skeletal story are the reasons why I abandoned RTS games some times after the release of the game Ground Control 2 (2004). However, don't let my disliking repel you because as far as RTS games go, Dragon Commander is a very fun one -- especially due to its dragon feature -- and probably a blast to play in MP. The blue smiley I give it reflect that fact, putting my own dislike aside.

Short version: if you're a fan of RTS, this is a game you may jump on. If you're not a fan of RTS, it's probably best to stay away unless you're really a fan of the Divinity universe and want to learn another part of the lore.

Now imagine, Skyrim in RTS...  OK, I'll have nightmares  ::) The Elder Scrolls in MMORPG is enough, thank you...

Guess what it means!