Dragon Commander has all the makings of a great game. It’s set in a steampunk fantasy world of Rivellion with elves, undead, imps, lizard men and dwarves, and you get to command armies of clockwork tanks and spell-casting zeppelins. Unfortunately, despite having robust characters and some light-hearted political intrigue in the narrative to hold your attention, Dragon Commander‘s gameplay is more boring and generic than anything else.
In Dragon Commander, you play as the bastard half-dragon son of Emperor Sigurd I, who was recently assassinated by your other siblings in the hopes of claiming the throne for themselves. As civil war breaks out, a powerful wizard seeks your help in using your dragon powers to help bring peace and prosperity back to land. With this noble quest, you set out to defeat your evil siblings, leading the attack from your demon-powered airship. The main story of Dragon Commander is simple and doesn’t really break away from your standard “noble hero saves the day” trope, but what makes its worth the journey is the fully-voiced and highly detailed characters you’ll enage with along the way.
Primarily, Dragon Commander is a turn-based strategy game featuring a few real-time elements. At a strategic level, you’ll command your armies via a Risk-style map, where you’ll be able to build troops, construct buildings, plan your attacks and occasionally use stat-changing cards to influence the flow of the war. The real-time elements of Dragon Commander come in whenever you attack an opponent’s territory, dropping you into a large map with various construction sites you’ll need to capture in order to gather recruits and build units. The RTS parts of the game are fast-paced, with a limited amount of resources available in each map to encourage a more aggressive play style. For the most part, though, you’ll end up following the formula of assembling a massive army of various units and sending them towards the enemy base. As you purchase more advanced units and upgrade your units’ abilities, you’ll find yourself having to think tactically about how you use your forces, but the combat isn’t as fun, and doesn’t feel on par with other games in the genre.
Most notably, you’ll have the ability to directly intervene in any real-time battle you’re overseeing by transforming into a jet-pack wearing dragon. This turns the game into a kind of third-person arcade-style shooter, letting you spit fiery doom upon enemy forces and cast spells to heal your own troops. While flying your dragon self around is easy and it is an amusing experience to strafe hostile forces with your flame breath, the novelty of transforming into a dragon wears off quickly. The controls to order your troops around in dragon form are clunky to use, and until you research more powerful spells and abilities, you’re highly vulnerable to anti-air units. If anything, you’ll often resort to transforming into a dragon just to tip the scales slightly in your favor in a fight before retreating to safety, and even then you’ll probably find it just as easy to send mass waves of units into combat to win the day.
The strategic level of gameplay in Dragon Commander doesn’t fare much better, either. Constructing troops and moving them around is a straightforward process, but when it comes to actually waging war, you’re limited to personally overseeing only one battle every round.Despite having four AI generals at your disposal, you can only deploy one of them per campaign turn. This means you’ll be staring at the auto-resolve screen a lot if you’re the aggressive type of player who likes to get into fights on multiple fronts. On one hand, this does mean that you’ll have to very carefully choose when and where you’ll jump into the fray and you’ll also be able to skip through any fights where you have your opponent outnumbered ten to one. On the other hand, if you want the opportunity to use your dragon powers to even up impossible odds, or are the kind of strategist who would prefer to micromanage each and every engagement, you’re going to feel short changed.
On the empire management side of things, the various ambassadors from the civilized races will approach you with proposals that cover topics like conscription or taxes, but there’s also surprisingly modern issues you’ll need to handle, like copyright law, women serving in the military, fair trade, and even gay marriage. Your decisions can affect your relations with each race or your generals, can grant you bonus cards, or adjust how much gold or how many research points you earn per turn. The whole aspect of having to make decisions on important legislation may sound boring on paper, but it’s actually a very refreshing mechanic to play around with. If anything, having to decide if you accept bribe money from the Elven ambassador, or if you ban the press from saying anything bad about you makes you feel like you’re actually in charge of a budding empire versus just a nameless monarch focused on conquering everything.
One particularly fascinating aspect of Dragon Commander that balances out the middling RTS elements is the interaction you have with your cabinet during the game’s narrative, which by far is the most enjoyable part of the game. There’s a wide variety of characters onboard your airship, each with their own unique personalities and quirks that you’ll have to manage. In between campaign turns, you’ll have to ensure your generals get along with each other, make political decisions that affect your entire empire, and in one case even pick a princess to marry (one of whom is an Undead princess named Ophelia, of all things). Since the story elements of Dragon Commander are much more interesting and quirky than the RTS side of things, you may actually find yourself speeding through campaign turns as quickly as possible just to see what the ambassadors cook up at their next meeting or if that team-building exercise you sent your generals on ended favorably.
Bottom Line: Divinity: Dragon Commander has a unique setting and interesting characters, but its real time and turn based strategy elements don’t hold up to its narrative aspects.
Recommendation: If you’re looking for a strategy title that features a heavy emphasis on character interaction and a more relaxed approach to the gameplay of the genre, Dragon Commander may be a good fit, but for those looking for something more in-depth may want to look elsewhere.[rating=3.0]
Game: Divinity: Dragon Commander
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Developer: Larian Studios
Publisher: Larian Studios