Divinity: Dragon Commander Review
Here is the premise of Divinity: Dragon Commander, in one sentence: you are a half-dragon trying to conquer back lands which are yours by right, fighting alongside your troops in the battlefield as a jet-pack wearing dragon and taking care of strategies and politics off the battlefield as your charming, human self. If this isn’t original, I don’t know what is.
When away from battle, players will be spending their time looking at menus, visiting people in the steampunk ship and observing the world map à la Total War while planning the next move. This is Dragon Commander’s strongest part; the characters you interact with are fun and unique and living in a steampunk world as a dragon lord definitely has its perks. There are engineers and scientists constantly working on developing new tech to help the Commander with the Conquest, a whole team of political assistants advising the Commander on how to improve as a leader and even a number of occult and magical characters which can grant supernatural assistance.
You will have to think very carefully about which laws you choose, which lovely mythological creature you choose to marry and who you give favors to as there is rarely a right and wrong choice. One choice will make one party happy whereas the other one will be furious at you. World domination is much more fun when you are interacting with the world built in Dragon Commander as it is beautifully realized and silly enough to keep you interested, but not too much to the point where everything looks like a joke. It’s an entertaining world which will keep you interested until you finally achieve your goal; this is the best part of the game and it’s unsurprising, since the developer’s pedigree is rooted in roleplaying games.
Where the game really starts losing its charm is definitely in the combat. Dragon Commander features large scale battles but only the basics of an actual RTS. There is no resource management, scouting and building to be done as the only real resource is population, the map has no fog of war and buildings can only be built in specific locations. The one strategy you have to master is keeping up with the AI in terms of production, then build the three or four types of units which work best for you and send them all to the point you want to contest.
During the battle, however, you can unleash your dragon self and roam the battlefield as a jet-pack wielding dragon with several powerful abilities. The transformation is seamless, and in no time you can follow your troops around the battlefield and provide support by breathing dragon on your foes or shielding your troops from enemy attacks. The downside to being a dragon, though, is that you have limited control over your troops and no control over your production. It’s essential, in order to win your fights, to balance efficiently the time you spend in dragon form and the time you spend as an armchair general. Even if you are a veteran RTS player you will need to assume direct control and turn the tides of battle as a dragon and vice-versa. You really need to get comfortable with both play-styles.
After the initial thrill of being able to switch at will between a non-entity to a devastating dragon, battles become boring and repetitive and, the more the game progressed, the more I tried to avoid battles. The only thing which would keep me going is knowing that, after the battle was done, I could go back to interacting with the characters and world of Divinity.
Divinity: Dragon Commander tries to be too many games at once; it tries to be an RTS but falls short in the mechanics department, it tries to be an turn-based strategy game and an RPG but the game relies so much on the battles that these elements don’t have that big of an impact. It’s a real shame to see that, more often than not, the funnest part of the game – the mingling abut with the characters and playing a politician – aren’t developed enough to have a large impact.
On the up side, the foundations for a sequel are all here. The ideas in Dragon Commander are all interesting, but none really manages to stand out. I would be happy to see where the series goes in the future, maybe featuring more robust RTS mechanics and more impactful decisions out of the battlefield.
With all the different game genres Divinity is trying to balance, I struggle to see who could fully enjoy the game. I loved the grand-strategy side of the game but didn’t like the combat, others may like the simple RTS mechanics and being a dragon in the battlefield but will be bored out of their minds by the rest. Divinity needed to make compromises somewhere and choose which audience to appeal. Just like in the political system of Dragon Commander, you can’t make everyone happy, and the best way to solve this dilemma is choosing a side and sticking with it.
The biggest letdown could be that the majority of the players will only enjoy part of what Divinity has to offer.