You can breathe fire...
Combine the exploration of vast swaths of land, a medieval-esque setting, being able to breathe fire, and the ability to eat random people alive and you’ve got I of the Dragon. The latest from developer Strategy First is an overall decent RPG but several glaring technical and game play issues prevent it from being great.
In I of the Dragon, you play as a dragon (didn’t see that coming did you?). You can select from three choices: the brute-force dragon that uses sheer firepower over magic, the magic dragon that can’t take much punishment but has a plethora of spells at its disposal, and the dark magic dragon who can raise dead monsters to fight on the side of good. Whichever dragon you choose though, you’re thrown right into the middle of a conflict that you probably won’t even care about.
For an RPG, you would expect the story to be better presented. At the very beginning you are met a carpet-riding man that simply instructs you to start killing things. Through short dialogues with different characters, you can put together the pieces and it appears that the world has been taken over by monsters and humanity is making its last stand in a final village. You are the dragon that was prophesized to save humanity.
Story-wise, it’s a rather weak setup for a main plot. You are given no background on any of the characters so you won’t really know why you’re helping them. The few plot twists thrown in aren’t really effective in establishing credibility for the story either. In the end, it seems that most of the emphasis is on the humans and your dragon character plays a subservient role even though it’s the main character.
I of the Dragon’s gameplay revolves around two things: destroying monsters and building villages. As the dragon you’ll fly around various lands combating evil monsters. The monsters in the game all spawn from lairs, to successfully destroy the monsters you have to destroy the lairs. It’s not all that easy though as enemy lairs can be rebuilt. To cutoff the lairs you need to control special energy wells. There is one energy well per level and to control it simply means to build a town over it. Building is accomplished at the press of a button and the villages serve the simple function of cutting off enemy lair construction and a place to recharge your health. Human towns can be upgraded and the upgrades will add walls, beef up defensive towers, and add more humans like archers and knights to the defense.
It’s too bad that the game doesn’t stray far from the build town, destroy lairs and monsters formula too often. Granted, there are a few missions that will see you take control of human characters but those missions are few and far between. More often than not you’ll be cruising the world as a dragon and using your various fire attacks to destroy enemies. As a strike against I of the Dragon, this does get rather repetitive; fortunately this doesn’t happen quickly. The variety of enemies adds some challenge and enjoyment to the game; there’s nothing more satisfying than swooping down and eating an enemy Shaman alive. Eating is how you keep your hunger bar full, a hungry dragon will have his health regeneration, fly speed, and mana charge negatively effected. In addition, eating also restores some health to your character. It’s a nice touch that adds gives your dragon some badass attitude.
After killing enough baddies you’ll gain experience which you can use to upgrade your dragon. You’ll have the option of choosing from flying speed, life, health regeneration, fire power, fire breath, mana charge, or use your XP to buy spells that unlock at certain levels. The spells show some creativity by the developer and range from boosting your health recharge rate to summoning gigantic volcanoes that will spew fire and brimstone on nearby enemies. Your spells will come in handy against enemy lairs and also in killing the rather simple AI.
Artificial intelligence in I of the Dragon seems relegated to the simple tasks of guarding and attacking villages. Often enemies won’t attack you until you get too close to them or their lairs. This makes hit and run tactics very effective and doesn’t make the game much of a challenge. The game is really only tough when the computer has sheer numbers on its side. The AI just isn’t smart enough to coordinate complex attacks on you or the friendly human villages. Attacks on villages are either scripted or occur when you destroy an enemy lair. The monsters spawned by said lair will attack the human village by default. You can usually pick the enemies off before they reach the village though so you’ll almost never have to worry about losing a town.
From a visual standpoint, I of the Dragon is fairly average. All the characters suffer from having low-poly models and if that wasn’t bad enough the game does have a tendency to freeze up during large firefights. This is probably caused by the impressive visuals of the weapons effects. Fireballs, streams of plasma, and magical spells can all be seen streaking the skies and are reminiscent of the way insect artillery appeared in the film Starship Troopers.
The appearance of these weapons effects does give the game some graphical shine but that’s overshadowed by the rather bland layouts of the different levels. Aside from different types of mountains, I of the Dragon suffers from using the same land palette textures over and over again. The ground will usually be barren except for the odd boulder or tree.
Music in I of the Dragon will change depending on what you’re doing. Cruising the high skies you’ll hear soothing ambient tunes while quickly changing to militaristic beats once you enter battle. The selection isn’t that great but it’s adequate enough. Some of the enemy attacking sounds seem too generic and borrowed from sound clip websites. For instance, when you eat a particular animal alive you’ll hear Flipper-like dolphin sounds—entertaining but bordering on mediocre.
The overall single-player campaign of I of the Dragon will leave you under whelmed. In the 15-20 hours it will take you to finish you’ll end up doing the same tasks over and over again. If the developers added more mission variations then it could have been a lot better than what it is. The premise is interesting and flying around as a dragon is just plain cool but ultimately it lacks the polish to stand out from the crowd.