In recent years, we’ve seen the popularity of single genre games decline as the market became flooded with titles that can hardly be classified as one single thing.
For example, a title like Borderlands can’t just be classified as an FPS nor could it be considered just an RPG. It is simultaneously both at the same time which coined the appropriate terminology of FPS-RPG.
To summarize Divinity: Dragon Commander to tidily fit into a genre category would be difficult to say the least, but if I were to take a stab at it, I would describe it as a RTS (real time strategy)-TBS (turn based strategy)-RPG (role playing game)-3PS (3rd person shooter)”.
Quite the mouthful, indeed.
However, the real question remains. “Do the genres come together well to be an interesting experience?”
The story of Dragon Commander is an uncomplicated one. As one born from the king and a dragon, it’s up to the bastard son to bring the realm back together from a state of constant war from his feuding siblings. With the support of a mighty wizard at his side along with a laundry list of characters that call themselves generals, it’s up to the Dragon to conquer all that he surveys and bring peace back to the land.
While there are some storybook-like cut scenes that serve to set the stage for the battles ahead, they are infrequent and somewhat misrepresentative of what’s to come. In fact, during the cut scenes the Dragon’s rival siblings are painted as interesting characters with a distinct look and personality but they were nonexistent in the actual battles themselves. Whether I was fighting a random skirmish or taking over their capital, they never made their presence felt. While the ultimate antagonist does a better job by actually conversing with the Dragon to some degree, even his influence amounted to nothing more than a power buff to the enemy units.
Luckily, most of the plot and intrigue that garners the Dragon’s attention happens on his command ship, the “Raven”(no relation to the legendary thief).
The Raven is host to not only the machines of war but also generals and diplomats, each with their own motive for being on board. Keeping them happy but in line to their job at the same time is a difficult order, as pleasing one oftentimes means being at odds with another.
As the diplomats are representative of each major race, they care about what benefits their own race. For example, the Elven people care about what’s good for nature and its people. The Undead only care about being pious in the eyes of their lord and the Imps, well… they like to see things explode.
When a policy is presented by one of the races, the Dragon is able to consult the other diplomats to see if they are in favor of it or not and then come to a decision that will increase his reputation among some race and lower it in others. The reputation the Dragon holds plays an important part in battle as each piece of land is designated to a particular race, and how well he can fight on that piece of land is directly related to the reputation he holds with its people.
As the policies pop up frequently, it’s good that they are interesting and often times had me weighing what was good for the people compared to immediate benefits on the war front. Topics ranged from allowing compensation for people injured during the war to fetal experiments to creating super soldiers. Even though the politically correct answer was obvious, I often pondered and decided in a way where the end would justify the means.
The generals in the army of the Dragon were quite the characters themselves as well. Henry was a bitter old veteran with a big mouth who had lost an eye and an arm when he was abandoned by his allies. Now he had a hard time trusting anyone and preferred to work alone. Catherine was a queen in her own land where men were subservient to women and sees the inequality between men and women on the ship as nothing less than a travesty. Along with two other equally colorful characters, there wasn’t a single quiet moment on the Raven, in a good way.
Like the Diplomats, the generals will all come to the Dragon and raise an issue. How those problems are handled will often help the generals grow and gain new skills that will aid them in combat and increase the likelihood that they will come out victorious during an auto-battle that the Dragon isn’t attending himself. These issues ranged from vigilante justice to even something rather topical like gay rights.
Given the interesting personalities of the diplomats and generals, I often found myself actively looking forward to the new topics that would pop up in between turns while I was conquering the world. With excellent writing and superb voice acting, these moments outside combat were easily my favorite aspect of Dragon Commander.
The combat in Dragon Commander is a giant mixed bag of genres, as I previously stated, and to properly portray what it’s like, I will describe a typical turn in its entirety.
First, I begin on the bridge where I can go around talking to the diplomats or the generals to see what concerns they might have. I would also visit my trusty mechanic or wizard to spend my research points on upgrading my war machines or gain new skills to use in my dragon form.
Then, I would go into the combat map, which resembles something out of the Civilization series where I have units all across the map that all have movement limits that I can maneuver to try and either claim uninhabited lands, or battle a rival to take over one of his strongholds. I could place buildings in a space that I control that could be used to either build more units or have economic benefits such as increasing my gold revenue from that particular piece of land by 100% per turn.
I could also build wizard towers and academies which generated special cards that have a variety of functions, like the ability to summon mercenaries in combat or decrease the effectiveness of my opponent’s units.
When I meet my enemy on the map, I can choose to fight the battle myself or send a general/imperial army to resolve it themselves, and given the game shows me the percentage win rate, I get an idea of my chances on winning the fight. The units often work in that typical rock, papers, scissors kind of way so it was important that I covered my basis and didn’t build only one type of unit.
If I chose to partake in the battle at hand myself because I can swing the odds in my favor where it would otherwise be incredibly unlikely for my generals, I would be thrown into an RTS style world where resources center points need to captured, units made and the enemy presence on the map, annihilated.
With a bit of resource, I could also shift into my Dragon form, which gives me access to a very quick and powerful flying unit that could rain hellfire down on my foes and support my allied units to become much stronger, but the controls in dragon form to manipulate my army is limited mostly to “go here and attack”, which is quite unfortunate because the ability to micro-manage my army more precisely in that form would’ve made it more useful considering it’s a major hook of the game.
The Dragon could only participate in one skirmish per turn, so if there were battles on multiple fronts I would have to hope that I had the right units set up and luck was on my side. After the enemy makes their move and all the skirmishes have ended, it marks the end of the turn and new events will be present within the Raven.
The multiplayer in Dragon Commander is not unlike what’s present in the single player campaign, but without the trips to the Raven in between turns as upgrades are also done on the world map. Considering four people can duke it out until there is only one left standing, it’s a game that will demand a fair bit of time to see a match to its conclusion.
I was able to finish the single player campaign in about seven hours, which was a bit short compared to what I expected as the game spans a meager three chapters. Luckily, the multiplayer and promise of custom campaign maps add to the longevity of the title.
Divinity: Dragon Commander is a classic example of the sum of the whole being greater than its individual parts. Separating each part to itself, it feels as though it’s been done better elsewhere. The turn based strategy was a lot more compelling in Civ 5 and the real time strategy was a lot more interesting in Starcraft 2. However, put everything together into one single package and I can safely say that there is no other game quite like it out there. It’s the foundation of something that could be a classic. Like the first person to ever put together peanut butter and jelly, now they just gotta put it on some bread.
Fun Tidbit: There’s a part where I was forced to pick a queen. This was one of the toughest choices I’ve made in a game to date!
Review copy of game provided by publisher.