Unless the historical Chinese context interests you, you'll find that Fate of the Dragon is just another real-time strategy game with nothing really outstanding to recommend it.
In the early '90s, when turn-based strategy games were more popular, a Japanese developer called Koei was well known for creating complex turn-based strategy games based on the epic Chinese work of literature, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which detailed a key historical period in China, nearly two millennia ago. However, as real-time strategy games became more prominent, the popularity of Koei's Three Kingdoms games waned, and with it, so did interest in games based on the political intrigue and heroic warfare of that particular setting. It's taken a while, but at last a developer has revisited Three Kingdoms' themes and settings to make a real-time strategy game. The result is Eidos and Overmax's Fate of the Dragon, a game that's reminiscent of Microsoft and Ensemble's Age of Empires II but set during Three Kingdoms' historical period.
The Three Kingdoms period in China began around A.D. 220 when the Han Dynasty fell into ruin, giving rise to a short but tumultuous period of warring kingdoms. After much fighting, the dozens of warlords vying for power settled into three kingdoms: Shu, Wei, and Wu, led by the warlords Liu Bei, Cao Cao, and Sun Quan, respectively. Although this time period lasted less than one hundred years, it was so charged with chivalry and epic conflict that it remains the most celebrated era in Chinese history.
Fate of the Dragon lets you play as any of the three warlords. In each of the three campaigns, you control one of the warlord's armies and invariably end up fighting your two rivals, as well as minor warlords and rebels. While the setting itself is rich with history, characters, and intrigue, it only comes across in the scrolling text briefings and the bios of the various heroes you can recruit in the game. There is so much to digest in the briefings that it is easy to become overwhelmed by all the names and events--and thus easy to ignore or miss the historical background. This is a shame because it's the setting that gives this game its distinct appeal. A far better place to inject the history lessons would have been in the game itself, with in-engine cutscenes and voice-overs, but these are rare and even then aren't very well executed. The inconsistent voice acting is also disappointing--at times, it's annoying and too over the top. The missions themselves during the campaigns are very straightforward for the most part. They mostly boil down to attacking a city or killing a warlord. The computer opponent in the single-player game also doesn't appear to be that creative, as it attacks with mostly frontal assaults.
The game supports multiplayer combat for up to eight players, as well as a skirmish mode against the computer, though there is no random map feature. The maps also get monotonous and have little variety because there's only one uniform look to all the maps. The graphics bear a passing resemblance to those of Age of Empires II, with one noticeable difference. The buildings are huge in relation to the units (even bigger than in Age of Empires II), and they convey an even more convincing sense of scale. Otherwise, the 2D graphics are adequate, if a bit familiar, despite the Chinese buildings and units.
Beyond the graphics and the basic game design, Fate of the Dragon makes a few departures from real-time strategy conventions. For one thing, the two gameplay styles of combat and city management are clearly delineated and distinct. The game has two map layers: the city level and the territory level. In the bottom left corner of the screen is the minimap for your city, and in the bottom right corner of the screen is the minimap for the territory level, where your city and opposing warlords' cities lie. You can readily switch back and forth between the two. Inside your city view, you do the same sort of base building as you do in any typical real-time strategy game. After you amass your army, you have to send it out across the territory map to find neutral settlements and enemy cities, which are represented on the territory map as great castles. Battles can take place on the territory map, but invariably, you'll enter your enemy's city level and try to storm his walls and lay waste to his buildings.
Combat itself is incredibly simple and at times dull. There are only three types of troops to build in the game: pikemen, swordsmen, and archers. You can upgrade them and make them stronger, but throughout the game, these are the only troop types you can command. There are more siege engines than troop types, and they include catapults, a ballista, a portable ladder for scaling walls, a kite that can fly troops over walls, and a supply wagon that keeps your troops healthy when they are outside your own city walls. Horses do add a little more complexity to combat. You can create them at stables and mount your troops and generals on them. Those units then gain a speed bonus but are otherwise the same, except that when the mounted unit loses its hit points, its mount dies instead of the mounted unit itself. Horses thus effectively double the unit's hit points. But otherwise, fights in Fate of the Dragon always come down to mobs of troops hacking at each other. There are no formation options in the game to lend any order to the combat.