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Old 03-08-2013, 12:09 PM   #1
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[Preview] Divinity: Dragon Commander

Larian Studios has been in the Divinity business for quite a long time. The Belgium-based company has a very real dedication to the roots of PC gaming, and theyíve got some things in the works that are sure to make old-school fans happy.

Their first offering is Divinity: Dragon Commander, a combination turn-based strategy game and action-RTS. You play as the bastard child the recently deceased Emperor. Your fatherís Dragon Mage selects you as the most pure of heart of all of your fatherís offspring, and encourages you to take control of your fatherís Empire to rid the world of a mounting evil. This may sound like standard RPG fare, but donít worry- it gets better.

Dragon Commander is played in several phases. The first phase is the strategy phase: from your headquarters (an elegant airship powered by dubious means) you plan your turn. Thereís a world map divided into different territories and continents, and by tactically moving your armies you can begin to carve yourself an empire. There are several rooms on the airship, each allowing different interactions with companions or members of your staff. But how to decide what you want to do each turn?



Your first duty, obviously, is to your subjects. The best way to keep them safe is to keep everyone around your Empire happy, right? Well that will prove a little more difficult than it may seem. The five main races that have ambassadors to your Empire each represent a common political or social faction here in our real world: the Undead (religious fundamentalists), Imps (technocrats), Dwarves (unbridled capitalists), Elves (unabashed liberals), and Lizards (pragmatic libertarians). Each or so youíre presented with an issue that your subjects want you to make a decision on- for the turn I was shown in the demo, the question was about gay marriage.

Yes, you read that right. If you play this game your avatar will be asked about social issues like gay marriage, and you will have to answer them. When I was initially presented with this political aspect of the game, I was a little worried about the implications. After seeing it in action and speaking with the designers, however, Iím significantly less worried. Itís clear that each of the races represent some stereotype of a political faction, but one doesnít come off as Ďworseí than the other. Youíll find yourself rolling your eyes at the foolishness of the Elves just as often as at the draconian tendancies of the Undead. Also, a running theme in this game is the slippery slope: sure, you may agree with a female general that women should earn the same pay as men, but what happens when she asks you to abolish an ancient Dwarven tradition because she finds it sexist?

When you make decisions like these, it will affect your standings with the various races. Youíll be able to speak to their representatives on your council, so youíll be well prepared for any backlash that may be forthcoming. But outcomes arenít all negative- you can get bonuses from races who you please over time. Some of these bonuses come in the forms of different cards that are used in battle.

Speaking of, the depth of the strategy and empire-building in this game may bring you to believe that itís all the game has to offer. After all, a fantasy Europa Universalis III would more than find its niche in todayís broad PC gaming base. Dragon Commander brings far more to the table. Once you set your turn in motion, all allied and enemy units move simultaneously. If after the movement two opposing armies find themselves in the same territory, youíve got yourself a battle.

Before the battle you get to select from the cards that youíre ďholdingĒ- cards can give your avatar on the battlefield special abilities, give you extra units, weaken your enemies, and all sorts of other bonuses. You can choose up to five, with three being visible to other players and two being hidden from prying eyes. Then the battle begins and youíre thrown into the role of the Dragon Commander himself.



The battle is fought on a map representative of the size of the territory on a 3D landscape. You have a base from which to start, and neutral command points dot the land. All of the units you bring to the battle are grouped around your base, and itís best to send them off to start capturing command points right away.

The interesting thing about Dragon Commanderís battle mechanic is that each territory has a set Ďpopulationí limit. If you capture command points you begin draining that population, and so does your opponent. Since the population is shared, the battle is a balance between getting as many recruits as fast as you can and using them tactically to defeat your opponentís. In the 2 vs. 2 multiplayer game I played it seemed like one of our battles was lost, as the enemy decimated our units wave by wave. Due to my enterprising (some would say Ďgreedyí) hoarding of command points however, once the population of the territory ticked to 0 my ally and I still had more recruits to use and struck back without mercy.

Again, thereís more than enough depth in the RTS portion of the game with unit upgrades, card strategies, and army makeup to be sufficient for a game release. And yet we still havenít reached Dragon Commanderís core game mechanic: the fact that you, the young Emperor, get to change into a dragon every battle and bring destruction to your foes.


The RTS portion of the game is played as a disconnected observer, maneuvering the camera and clicking and dragging in the usual manner. But when you get your observation point close enough to your deployed units, simply tap the enter key to transform into a dragon. As a dragon you can fly around the battlefield, leading your troops and crushing the enemyís army. But be careful: if your dragon is defeated youíll need to wait a set time before you can respawn him again...unless you want to spend some of your limited supply of recruits.

The dragon is easy to control and makes it fun to swoop down on enemy lines, robbing them of their soldiers. Your dragon gains abilities as the game goes on, hotkeyed and ready to do extra damage to your opponents, heal your allies, or charm enemy units onto your side. Oh, yeah: and the dragon has a jetpack. Just another key tap sends your dragon zooming across the battlefield at super-speed; itís never too difficult to find where the action is. Donít spend too much time in dragon mode, though; you canít create or guide your units and the tide of the battle may slip against you when you arenít paying attention.

Dragon Commander is a game that is trying to straddle an incredible amount of genres. Larian has done a great job unifying all of them artistically, thematically, and (most important) logically. The branching choices and the consequences theyíll have for the player were hardly even scratched in the section of the game that I saw. The RTS portion will undoubtedly attract the attention of those interested in competitive gaming, but is still approachable enough for folks like me who havenít touched the genre in years. Divinity: Dragon Commander has something for everyone, and I definitely recommend keeping your eye on it.

Check out Dragon Commander this summer for PC!
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Old 03-08-2013, 01:12 PM   #2
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Well Dragons with jetpacks. It's hard to dislike that concept. Great write up supes. Looking forward to checking the game out.
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Old 03-08-2013, 01:41 PM   #3
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Dragons with jetpacks, societal issues, angry sexist dwarves and elves?

... Sign me up now.
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Old 03-08-2013, 01:57 PM   #4
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Sounds interesting (even if I dislike card game mechanics). The idea of jumping in and helping the troops has a very Dynasty Warriors/Kingdoms Under Fire type draw for me.
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Old 03-09-2013, 01:10 AM   #5
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It's important to note that the dragon is by no means an "instant win" kinda thing. They can't capture command points and they're not very good at destroying buildings, so you always need to be directing your troops around the battlefield.

I have to say, I was very impressed by the layers of the RTS system. I understood all of it pretty quickly, but I also knew that it would take me a while to really master. I think e-sports are gonna have a lot of fun with this one. It draws from so many different skills.
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Old 03-10-2013, 08:55 AM   #6
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This is certainly a huge departure for the series. It will be interesting to see how well it's received.
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Old 03-10-2013, 10:14 AM   #7
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Sounds like it could be a really fun game. Thanks for the preview, I hope you send out a reminder or do a full review when it is closer to release.
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Old 03-10-2013, 10:40 AM   #8
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This is certainly a huge departure for the series. It will be interesting to see how well it's received.
There's something else cooking that you'll get a real kick out of as soon as they lift the press embargo...

You just got TAPATALKED
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Old 03-10-2013, 10:42 AM   #9
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Oh, now I'm very intrigued!
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