Divinity: Dragon Commander Review

Political role playing, eccentric humor, and a dragon in a jetpack make this strange hybrid soar.

by

Divinity: Dragon Commander is an unexpected delight. This prequel to Larian Studio's Divinity series of role-playing games skillfully merges real-time and turn-based strategy with RPGs, arcade action, and the cutthroat world of politics (both modern and medieval). Somehow this mixture works--and it probably has something to do with the ability to play as a jetpack-wearing Dragon.

Wartime may not be the best time to purge the officer corps and institute gender quotas.

While blazing around as dragon is certainly fun, the intriguing part of the game is the campaign's role-playing aspect. The story follows the exploits of an unnamed half-human, half-dragon prince who must defeat his depraved siblings to seize control of his late father's war-ravaged empire. In between turns on the strategic map, you traverse your ship and converse with the characters on board in a manner similar to Starcraft II, except that in Dragon Commander, these interactions are fleshed out with options and consequences. Early on, you receive a retinue of generals, each of whom has personal issues. How you handle these can benefit the empire, improve a general's stats, or, conversely, cause major problems for the war effort.

Emperors-to-be must also delve into the cutthroat world of politics. The various non-human races of the empire send emissaries to the royal court, and their support can impact the war. The undead are religious zealots; the dwarves are plutocratic capitalists; the lizard folk tend to be liberals who promote individual freedom; imps are simple technocrats; and elves are radical egalitarians and staunch environmentalists. Every few turns, there is a council meeting where legislation is brought up for the emperor's consideration. These issues tend to mirror contemporary political concerns like gay marriage, euthanasia, medicinal marijuana, gun control, and genetically modified foods. Each ambassador gives their take on the legislation, and you must choose between your own personal positions, the seemingly greater good, or the most popular position amongst the council members.

Turbo mode is sort of like being Chuck Yeager, if he could spit fire.

While decisions often merely affect relations with different races, some have tangible strategic effects, like a conscription law that reduces the cost of purchasing units. These laws can lead to humorous situations beyond the always-amusing impotent rage of displeased ambassadors. For example, you could follow the elf line and agree to allow trade unions, increase the pay of workers, and give them state funded holiday--and then go along with the imps' plan to lobotomize workers for greater productivity.

Another noteworthy aspect of the story is the royal marriage that you must take part in. At first, the choice of a bride influences race relations, but eventually, there are story segments in which you can sway your chosen bride. For example, as per elven customs, the elf princess is a strict vegetarian and environmentalist, refrains from the consumption of alcohol, and opposes personality cults due to her egalitarian ideals. Through conversations, she can be turned into a meat-eating alcoholic who poses nude for statues of herself and supports genetically modified foods. Then, her corruption complete, you can sacrifice her for personal gain and move on to the next wife.

The tabloids keep track of your decisions between turns.

Outside of these political aspects, Dragon Commander's campaign is similar to campaigns from the Total War series. There is a turn-based strategic mode where you build armies and buildings, conquer provinces, earn cards that affect battle, buy unit and dragon upgrades, and make combat moves. Rivals are defeated once their capitals are conquered and all of their remaining land, gold, research points, and units fall under the player's control. Once all enemy capitals have fallen, the game enters the next chapter and a new map. Unfortunately, this is an often disappointing transition, as the player unceremoniously drops into a new campaign map without a hard-won territory's cash, research, and card flow. This frustration can be avoided by banking gold, points, and cards before crushing the last capital. Incidentally, banking is also a good way to get more opportunities to boost (or destroy) race relations.

Unoccupied provinces fall without a fight, and capturing neutral territories bequeaths you with free units. However, most turns involve at least one battle. You can either resolve combat automatically or fight in RTS mode, but you must make this decision carefully, because the dragon commander can only fight in one battle per turn. Likewise, the generals may only lead troops in one auto-resolved battle per turn, which leaves most battles in the imperial army's hands. Before combat begins, the game displays your chance of winning the engagement. This can be altered by selecting a general to lead the combat and playing various cards that grant advantages like mercenary troops, buffs for particular types of units, or the use of dragon powers that have not been researched.

The outstanding feature of real-time combat is the ability to dive into the fray as a dragon, giving the RTS battles elements of an action game. The titular dragon commander can fly around the map, spew fire at enemies, and activate his jetpack's turbocharger to zoom away when things get too dangerous. While zipping along at intense speeds and burning down bases, you still have the ability to control units and factories; commands can be issued to every unit on the map, troops in the dragon's vicinity, or to player-designated control groups. Unit special abilities can even be used while flying around, so it's possible to order juggernaut battleships to launch tactical nukes at an enemy base while you belch acid at pesky enemy bomber units. You can take to the skies as a dragon at will, and pay to respawn the dragon if it dies.

Without dragons, you are left with this.

When divorced from the dragon part, Divinity: Dragon Commander's battles are relatively simple. Population is the only resource, and it increases based on the number of recruitment citadels controlled by each side. Once a side loses all of its citadels, the match is over. Citadels, various unit production buildings, and point defenses are built on specific foundations that may be captured by ground forces. The AI is competent and will rush, fight a protracted battle for control for foundations, or take the defensive based on how powerful its army is in comparison to yours. Dragon Commander's camera can be zoomed out far from the battlefield, turning units into icons in a manner similar to Supreme Commander. This is fortunate, because when the dragon is absent, the game can devolve into a tedious meat grinder where whoever builds the most units triumphs.

As with any respectable RTS, Dragon Commander sports the usual skirmish multiplayer mode. More interesting, however, are the multiplayer campaigns that support up to four players. These work much like the single-player campaign, minus the RPG aspect. What makes these campaigns interesting is that every player can jump into any battle regardless of whether they are allies with a combatant or even have an army near the contested province. This is an excellent feature, as it is far more entertaining to join a match in progress than to sit around waiting for other players to finish their battles. Additionally, this ability to meddle in the affairs of other players has strategic consequences. For example, if an interloper wins a battle, then nobody conquers the territory, and the armies that were brought into the battle are destroyed.

Control of the seas is a key to victory in the campaign.

Dragon Commander can be stunningly attractive. The RPG segments are filled with all manner of background details, like the skeleton barmaid wearing a blond braided wig. Character models are emotive, and it is amusing watching an ambassador barely contain his impotent rage after legislation passes that is ruinous for his people. (For instance, passing a one-child-per-family law that only applies to his race.) The RTS battles, by contrast, aren't visually inspired. Most units are too small to reveal fine details, and large units like naval transports and ironclads don't have any outstanding qualities, nor do they convey the fantasy-meets-steampunk aesthetic that permeates most of the game. The voice acting is great, as is the score. However, given how many hours you could spend barrel-rolling your dragon about, the game could use more musical tracks.

A patch released a few days after launch appears to have resolved multiplayer connection issues along with other noticeable glitches, like stuttering dialogue. Some annoyances remain, however, such as the tendency for units to continually repeat "That's impossible, commander," which occurs after giving a move order for all units while in dragon mode. Maybe the navy is just protesting that their ships cannot walk on land? Overall stability is also a problem, with many players continuing to report game-killing crashes.

Why won't those pesky elves let the imps build atomic bombs in peace?

Divinity: Dragon Commander is a gem. The flaws are overshadowed by the role playing, the politics, the humor, and of course, the dragon in a jetpack. You may not have ever dreamed of a grand strategy game in which the generals are steampunk dragons, and you can marry a skeleton. Thankfully, someone at Larian did, and the end result is a lot of fun.

The Good
Delightful merger of role-playing, strategy, and action
Dialogue lets you mold the lives of your associates
In-depth politics allow for customized utopias or dystopias
You play as a dragon with a jetpack
The Bad
The core real-time strategy mechanics are unsatisfying
Bugs and stability issues
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

/ Staff

Daniel Shannon still remembers the day when his family got a 486 with a CD-ROM drive. He used that PC to play an immense amount of Tie Fighter, Civilization 2, and Doom. Since he grew up without a console he insists that they are a "fad" and refers to them collectively as "Nintendos." Too this day he is skeptical about anything that doesn't use either a flightstick or a keyboard and mouse.

Discussion

34 comments
Fistan87
Fistan87

I dont get how this game'd get 8. Gameplay is rather crap, Jetpack dragon my ass it dies too quickly to feel like a dragon. Only good thing about it is its humor and dialogs. (those are great though)

TigusVidiks
TigusVidiks

I have a hard time to understand how before the death of the Divine, jetpacks and tech existed, and after (Divinity and Dragon Knoght Saga) there were not and it was all sword and magic.  Crazy time line and crazier fiction and lore.

hitomo
hitomo

the simple fact you cant pause the battles like in total war for instance makes this game a total fail ... I really locked Forward to it but if I wanted to Play starcraft.2 I would just do that ...

Evilnator
Evilnator

I'll be honest, I was super skeptical about this game when they announced it, simply because It was so different to what the Divinity series has been and I kinda kicked it off my radar, now closer to it's launch i picked it up and I am now loving every second of it.

koospetoors
koospetoors

Dragon with a jetpack

Most posh lizard ever conceived in gaming ever

A mix of genres that actually works

FREAKING LAN SUPPORT

I love this game so much right now

demen87
demen87

will there anymore dragons for u to ride,or just 3

kozzy1234
kozzy1234

Nice review! Really looking forward to this one!

McGuirex3
McGuirex3

What, no (Video)-Review for an 8.0 game?

Although I must say I'm not much, if at all, a strategy gamer myself! I am however looking forward to Larian Studios other game i.e. 'Original Sin' an  (turn-based isometric RPG, as their calling it)! Should be (I hope) coming out this very year!!

Happy gaming all!   

ComplexConf
ComplexConf

It looks like a great game, not really something for me but I do hope they made a buck on this. It looks solid...

Wensea10
Wensea10

God this role playing game looks so varied. Definitely a worthwhile game to possibly play forever...

mariocerame
mariocerame

I felt this was an accurate review of the game.  The writing is awesome.  There seems to be mainly two voice actors, and they do an exceptional job.  The game has very high production values, especially for a self-published title.  It feels really grand.

hadlee73
hadlee73

Looks like a great game. Its a shame that its probably doomed to be a "niche" title as it looks like quite a bit of work was put into it.

scowny97
scowny97

Positive: You play as a dragon with a jetpack... Already installing on steam

leikeylosh
leikeylosh

Great game! That lizard with a monocle is a great character, very funny!

LordCrash88
LordCrash88

Nice review. The character writing and voice acting is outstanding. I really like this game, even played the closed beta. :)

Hurvl
Hurvl

Snakes on a plane ain't got nothing on a dragon in a jetpack.

JimmyJumpy
JimmyJumpy

Pre-ordered it and am off to get the game as we speak... :)

travisstaggs
travisstaggs

I really wanna give this a try, it looks great.

Garod_T
Garod_T

@TigusVidiks Not sure if you played the other games, also if you play Dragon Commander it tells you the full story also of why this game had technology and later games don't. Trust me it all makes sense 

TheGreatPhoenix
TheGreatPhoenix

@TigusVidiks seeing the amount of fantasy settings that use the "lost technology" state of development, I'd say its rather easy to imagine. Also considering that the technology was created by a demon and instigated 2 world wars, they might be getting rid of it

TheGreatmars
TheGreatmars

@hitomo and if i wanted to play total war i would play that, and if i wanted to play dragon commander i would play that..... your point??

Evilnator
Evilnator

@demen87 Spoiler: You ARE the dragon! (nah it's not really a spoiler)

leikeylosh
leikeylosh

@McGuirex3 I don't like strategy games too and I was actually sad when I saw that huge map with all the territories, long turns, diplomatic issues, etc. But the game simplified most of these mechanics, the turns are fast and combat is fun. They focused on dialogues with characters around you and decisions regarding issues in the kingdom.

kkxtrouble
kkxtrouble

@McGuirex3 they don't put the games on the front page based on their score, they put them on the number of clicks they think it will get. They are going though a route that benefits them, do of it what you will.

aovannor
aovannor

@McGuirex3 It's also not even in the editors picks so most people won't even see the review. How can they score so high and not show it off?

koospetoors
koospetoors

@leikeylosh Freaking love Edmund, he'd make the ultimate disgruntled butler

koospetoors
koospetoors

@leikeylosh @koospetoors It is!! I sometimes just try to fly through turns so I can see what tripe they come up with next.

A healing unit also made an arrow in the knee joke once, didn't expect that, haha.


Divinity: Dragon Commander More Info

First Release on Aug 06, 2013
  • Macintosh
  • PC
Divinity: Dragon Commander is a role-playing game set in the time when both magic and technology were at their peak in the Divinity universe.
6.9
Average User RatingOut of 98 User Ratings
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Developed by:
Larian Studios
Published by:
Larian Studios, Ikaron
Genres:
Action, Role-Playing
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