Divinity: Dragon Commander is the latest game developed by Larian Studios as part of the Divinity Series. It is a turn-based strategy game that has RPG and action combat elements. The events in Divinity: Dragon Commander occur in the distant past of the previous Divinity Games.
The emperor has perished and war breaks out over which of his children should rule his empire. To get an advantage over each other, the children make a deal with a demon to get new technology this world has never seen to turn the tides of war in their favor. A powerful wizard, Maxos, comes to you, the bastard son, to ask you to fight in the war to reunite the empire and destroy the demonic technology brought forth by your brothers and sisters.
The game is split up into two main phases: a command phase and a battle phase. At the command phase, you control the movements of your army on the board as you attempt to capture your enemy’s base from your magical flying ship. During the command phase you can build more units, build structures, buy cards (more on this later), research upgrades, and resolve political disputes. When a political issue arises, you speak to a council representing the various races under your banner about the issue, they tell you what they think should be done, and your choice affects your favor with each race. Upgrades can be researched for either your army or yourself as a Dragon. Yes, you play as a dragon (well, a half-dragon) but you often forget because you rarely get to spread your wings. Which brings us to the battle phase.
When units from opposing factions are on the same area on the map you can choose to battle after the command phase. In the battle phase you get to fly around as a dragon with a jet-pack, command your units directly on the field, take over structures, and burn the enemy’s army to ashes! Once per battle phase. Every other battle during that battle phase you either have to retreat or resolve by telling the army to fight it out by themselves, or you assign a general to aid them in battle. After, you get a report on who won, how many units survived, and how many units were lost.
To help with either phase the player has cards they can use. Cards are only active for the turn you use them in, and then they are discarded. Cards can have effects like increasing your gold earned for that turn or reduce the health of an enemy unit by 75% for the next battle phase. These cards are fairly strong and can give you great advantages over your enemies, but they can use cards too, so you have to be careful when they are used against you.
In the command phase the game looks quite impressive. The characters are varied and beautiful and there is a lot going on in the background of every room so it feels as if something is always happening in the ship. There were a few instances where the animations looked odd, like when goblins speak. The map is done in a hand-drawn style and is divided into groupings of hexagons. Units and buildings are represented on the map as wooden board pieces that seem a little too tiny. Really, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between pieces because at that size some units look very similar. This is the better looking part of the game, because the battle phase is a bit disappointing. When you enter real-time battle there is noticeable texture pop-in and when the textures have settled, its a bit bland, and none of the units except the dragon look particularly impressive. The dragon itself is gorgeous and has neat effects for every ability. Not to say the units look bad, but they are forgettable.
In single player, there isn’t much reason to replay the game after it has been beaten, its just the same game again, but there is a multiplayer mode which allows you to have a skirmish with friends/bots or play campaign maps cooperatively. The campaign maps are cool because you get to play with a friend, but unless you both have no idea what you are doing, it isn’t going to be challenging. Skirmishes are fun with all human players, but some of the dragon battles can take forever! And since the focus is just on battle and not the RPG elements, skirmishes aren’t as interesting as the single player or co-op maps.
Personal Thoughts and Conclusion
There are a few things that could have been improved to make this game great. First of all, the characters lack depth. They were like avatars of a certain personality type, and they loved to remind you that ‘this is the kind of person that I am’, but they were never particularly interesting or deep. When looking at the map there didn’t seem to be much to do. You move some units, make some units, buy cards if you are at a shop, build a structure, and that’s it. When you entered battle as a dragon, it was pretty cool, a welcome break from selecting dialog options and moving pieces on a board, but there didn’t seem to be many choices strategically to outplay your opponents.
To win an engagement as a dragon you just build a lot of units, go dragon form, and command your units to fire at their units while you blow everything up with dragon breath. The cool part about battle, being a dragon, limits your strategic options. When you are in dragon form, you cannot micromanage your units, and you don’t want to leave dragon form to do that because the dragon is too strong.
That said, the game is very fun, especially playing as a dragon, but the strategy is too shallow. Larian Studios put some great ideas together, but they needed to focus on each individual piece a bit more to make this a must-buy.