We recently took an updated look at Dragonshard, Liquid Entertainment's upcoming real-time strategy game based on the new Eberron universe of Dungeons & Dragons. According to producer Ed Kaminski, the team has been working on "lots of balancing and bug-fixing since E3," as well as finalizing the single-player campaign and multiplayer with these tweaks. For instance, the team seems to have finally settled on how to create a unit-upgrade system without forcing players to memorize long technology trees. Any unit-producing buildings that have other structures built next to them will produce higher-level units. The team has also been finalizing the game's huge list of items (which will include healing potions, magic swords, and powerful suits of armor), which can then be placed on any champion or captain unit to further customize them and make them more powerful in battle. There will even be a potion-making machine in several levels that you can use to combine various reagents you've discovered into different types of magic potions.
The studio has been tuning multiplayer to cater to real-time strategy experts looking for something different. For instance, multiplayer will actually give you the option to turn off the game's companies of lowest-level units (the soldiers), and focus only on stronger captain and champion characters. You'll also be able to set many different kinds of different win conditions. So instead of only being able to win by destroying your enemy completely, you'll also be able, for instance, to set a victory condition on controlling the game's places of power (special points on the map that grant bonuses to the player that controls them). With this kind of victory condition in place, players will be forced to come out of hiding and explore the map or risk losing without fighting a single battle. All players will start out a new multiplayer game with a basic fortress that has a defensive wall around it. So, a highly skilled offense-oriented player could still successfully put on an early-game rush against another player that didn't bother to fortify, but you can just as easily choose to make building a better wall your first priority as well.
However, Kaminski was quick to point out that none of the game's three factions (which will all be playable in multiplayer) favors any particular strategy; there's no faction that favors early-game rush attacks or "turtling" (building up a huge fortress and hiding inside for most of the match). Much of the game's strategy will revolve around choosing specific units and developing those abilities over time, since your champion units will gain experience points and new powers, along with new items you equip them with. Even so, the game will try to emphasize micromanagement as little as possible. You'd expect spectacular magic spells from a game based on Dungeons & Dragons, and Dragonshard will have all the flame strikes, fireballs, and lightning bolts you can handle. However, most of these spells and abilities (other than a select few, like magic missile spells) will be area-effect abilities that will target all enemies or friendlies in a certain area (rather than force you to constantly zero in on one specific target each time).
This de-emphasis of micromanagement is part of what Liquid hopes will open up the game for beginners. For instance, players won't even be required to remember the names of specific buildings in their bases--in typical strategy games, players often find it best to memorize a "build order" of certain buildings in sequence (barracks, then blacksmith, then stables, etc.). Dragonshard will instead have an iconic interface that quickly indicates what units are produced by each building, so rather than hunt and peck through your technology tree, you can just look for the unit you want to add to your army next and choose that building to build. You'll also be able to manage nearly every aspect of your fortress without so much as looking at it, thanks to the King's Screen interface, which lets you manage your resources and queue up your armies no matter where you are on the map.
In the meantime, Dragonshard still has a colorful look to it that seems to serve the Dungeons & Dragons universe well. The game's aboveground and underground portions (which focus on real-time strategy in the former, and role-playing-style dungeon hacking in the latter) both seem to be coming along quite well and should offer plenty of variety to players looking for something a little different. If everything falls into place, Dragonshard will offer lots of variety, fast-paced strategy, and hack-and-slash role-playing that will do the Dungeons & Dragons license proud. The game is scheduled for release later this year.