Some game developers are comfortable with making more of what has been fruitful for them, thus leading to an iterative series of video games with similar gameplay but incremental changes.
Some other developers insist on major differences for the next game, so that it can be differentiated from its predecessor.
Sometimes, the differences would be so significant that the game is probably better off not being of the same series. Yet, the developer would just declare the next game to be part of the same series, anyway. Ego Draconis is such an example.
This review is done using the version of Ego Draconis in Divinity 2: Developer’s Cut, by the way.
Ego Draconis is set in the same world as the first game, which is the repetitively titled Divine Divinity. It is also set after the events of the second game in the series, Beyond Divinity. In the second game, the protagonist of the first game has been canonized as a man turned demigod, and officially goes by the name of Lucian. This might not have pleased people who have played the first game and would have preferred a more ambiguous identity for the Divine, but it would appear that Larian stuck to its metaphorical pouring of narrative concrete.
Anyway, as in the ending of the first game, Lucian spared the infant that is the vessel of an evil ancient being. (Larian Studios was likely making a reference to Diablo with its first game.)
As terribly unwise as this ending would be, it would appear that the infant – who would grow to be another demigod by the name of Damian – would not be the doom of Lucian. Rather, Lucian appears to have been slain by an assassin of the Dragon Knight order, once an ally of the Divine. This happened near the end of the previous war by Damian against his adoptive father.
This seeming betrayal sparked the wars of annihilation against the Dragon Knights and their patrons, the true dragons. (The reasons and truth behind the assassination would later be revealed.)
The player character is introduced as an inductee into the order of Dragon Slayers, those who have sworn deadly vengeance against the Dragon Knights and dragon-kind in general. The player character is just in the first few lessons of his/her induction, when things, of course, turned for the worse; this is often the case with fantastical stories that involve rookies as protagonists. A complicated incident would soon mark a divergence in the destiny of the player character.
Also, no thanks to the events in Beyond Divinity, Damian would return, waging war against the realm that his adoptive father protected. He is apparently still angry with his seemingly deceased father’s decision to execute his teacher/lover, which sparked the aforementioned previous war.
Larian Studios’ writers were certainly at their most ambitious with this game back in the early 2010s.
MUST HAVE NVIDIA PHYSX INSTALLED:
In addition to NET Frameworks of early 2010s, Ego Draconis’s computer version also requires NVIDIA’s PhysX installed. This does not come with the installer package of the game. It is unfortunate that Larian Studios could not package the game such that it has self-contained assets.
The game is presented through a third-person perspective, not unlike what would be done later in other fantastical RPGs during the early 2010s, such as Witcher II and Dragon Age II. Indeed, for better or worse, the original version of Ego Draconis would be an example of what to do or not do for third-person cameras.
Anyway, the third-person camera is not entirely within the control of the player, but it is quite far out such that the player character would not be obscuring the player’s view of what is ahead. It also tries to show where the player character’s feet are; this will be important for transforming into the dragon form, which will be described later.
There is also an on-screen cursor that shows what the player is currently looking or aiming at. This will be important for looting and fighting.
MOVING ABOUT AS A HUMAN:
As a human, the player character can move onto just about any place that an athletic human could reasonably reach. Initially, the player character can do the basics of jogging about (in full armor) without running out of stamina and jumping forward a few meters (in full armor). There is also less frequent but no less mundane ways of movement, like climbing up and down ladders.
Despite the seeming ability to move the player character anywhere that he/she could possibly reach, the player should still be mindful of where the player character gets to. This is because the collision hitboxes of objects in the environs are not as robust or easily exploitable as those in the 3D Elder Scrolls games. The humanoid form of the player character can indeed get stuck in level geometry somewhere, thus requiring the use of esoteric means to extricate oneself.
Talking with other characters have always been a part of Larian’s games since Divine Divinity, even if those looked like Diablo clones. There is even more talking in this one, especially considering that just about all conversation lines are voiced. There is even a narrator that voices lines in dialogue-like interactions with inanimate objects.
There is a gamut of personalities among NPCs, which are much welcome because the player character can indeed talk to just about any sentient being that he/she can reach.
That said, most conversations are triggered by the player’s volition. Some others automatically trigger when the player character arrives someplace or some situation has been resolved. Usually, the latter kind are for quest- or story-related scenes.
Not unlike what has been done in decently-written Western RPGs, the dialogue options usually involve several discrete things. They can be about what the player character needs to do. They can be about what the NPC is doing. They can be about the NPC’s motivations or backstory. In longer conversations, at least one of the dialogue options would hurry things along. In shorter ones, typically those that the player initiates with NPCs that are not critical to the current situation, the last option is always saying goodbye.
There are moments when the player could have the player character expressing certain personality traits. However, this game was made during a time when the personal slants of the protagonist is not that important in the gameplay designs. Thus, the player should not expect many differences from selecting options that express different moods.
Furthermore, this game was made during a time when RPG programmers had not thought much about showing the gameplay-affecting consequences of the player’s choices, prior to taking them. Therefore, if the player is antsy about maximizing rewards and gains, the player will have to resort to wikis and guides to know what would come from a decision.
MINDREADING - FOREWORD:
Ego Draconis is one of Larian’s attempts to implement an innovation in the designs of dialogues in its RPGs. In the case of this game, this innovation is the ability of the player character to read the minds of characters.
This might sound cool on paper, but the actual implementation of the mindreading feature is actually underwhelming. This would especially seem so to people who happen to have experience in programming case-based decision-making software. The elaboration for this is as follows.
INCONSEQUENTIAL FAILURE IN MINDREADING:
Mindreading is practically another dialogue option, albeit one that can be triggered at any time during a conversation with a sentient character. The dialogue will be shortly interrupted by the character’s response to the mindreading, and then continues from where it left off as if the mindreading did not occur at all.
This is understandable if the other character is not aware that the player character has been using mental spying. However, this is not understandable when the other character is actually aware, i.e. he/she/it is too strong-willed for the player character to mind-read. One would think that the other character might be very unhappy with this intrusion and would respond poorly to any further attempt by the player character to interact with them.
Yet, this does not appear to be the case; the failure is briefly noted and then entirely forgotten. Thus, a failure at mindreading is not going to scupper the player’s attempts to pry further into a character’s personal life, much less break quests.
There are a few characters that can inflict injuries on the player character for failing to read their minds. However, since the conversation would have started during calmer moments, the loss of health is not likely to be of consequence because the player character restores health quickly outside of combat – even during conversations.
The other design that gives the impression that mindreading is not really a new innovation in RPG dialogues is the practical cost of mindreading.
Whenever the player wants to use mindreading, the player is informed about the XP cost of the attempt, and then given the option to either continue anyway or cancel it. Whether the mindreading is successful or not, the player is slapped with a “debt” of XP. Any XP gains go towards paying off this debt first before it is actually accumulated as earned XP.
Interestingly, the amount of XP debt is proportional to the difference between the level of the player character and the level of the NPC. However, the level of the NPC is not immediately visible, because that info is only available if the NPC has become an enemy character.
This means that going around mindreading willy-nilly can potentially put a damper on the player character’s power progression. However, if the player knows who to read (something that can be achieved through guides and wikis, of course), mindreading can pay off in dividends.
This might seem like a cool new balancing design. Yet, in hindsight, this works a lot like options to spend gold to solve or work around problems, like bribery or otherwise spending money in whatever way to loosen tongues. XP comes by just as frequently as gold does, anyway.
(Moreover, there is not much reason to accumulate as much XP as possible. The player character can eventually become powerful and well-equipped enough to handle any comers, unless the player is terribly inept at handling the progression.)
The main benefit of mindreading is knowing what NPCs thought that only they know themselves.
Granted, the player could loosen the tongues of characters or gain their trust through other means, or otherwise sleuth around. The player can gain information through the usual means instead of mindreading, especially in the case of the story-critical quests.
Yet, there are some side quests that can only be uncovered by reading the minds of furtive or otherwise uncooperative people. Usually, there are signs that the player could do this, like the fidgeting or stammering of a jumpy NPC. Some NPCs do not show any signs of secrets, even after they are mind-read. However, there may be other supplementary evidence, like a cellar door that just cannot be unlocked through lock-picking in the homes of NPCs.
Certain objects only appear in the game world after the player has read the minds of specific persons. These can be hidden stashes of gold (which is a habit of rather many people, actually), or keys that they have lost somewhere. Sometimes, even something like a cellar door will not appear until the player character has read a specific mind.
SKILL POINT GRANTS:
Perhaps the rarest rewards from mindreading certain people in very specific circumstances are grants of skill or stat points; these points are usually granted through level-ups. It might be more economical to forfeit XP to gain such grants instead of accumulating XP for the next level-up.
Unfortunately, these rewards also frequently highlight shortfalls in the writing, because they use generic statements. There will be more elaboration on this later.
Legend of Zelda started the silly trend of player characters that go around ransacking people’s homes without other people seemingly aware of what is happening.
The player character can do exactly the same in this game. This is odd, considering that the first game has scripts about stealing things. Western RPGs like the Fallout and Elder Scrolls titles have had theft scripting for years too. Ego Draconis does not have such scripting.
Still, this could have been deliberate. Considering the number of gameplay elements that the game would throw the player’s way as the playthrough progresses, not implementing theft scripting could have been a blessing. This is because the player character is going to need a lot of things – often taken from other places or other characters. (Of course, another explanation is that Larian’s programmers would just be overwhelmed if they have to implement scripting for theft.)
That said, there are many things that can be looted. Obvious containers are examples of these. Loose items can also be looted. However, the game does not go to the extent of the Elder Scrolls titles, in which anything that is not as big as a piece of furniture can be outright looted. For example, the player will not be stealing cutlery or regular everyday clothes.
NO LOOT HIGHLIGHT FEATURE:
Yet, this is also means that knowing what can be looted and what cannot be looted is not so easy. For example, a crate that is the size of a chair can be looted, but crates that are as tall as adult humans cannot be looted.
Unfortunately, there are no means of highlighting loot. This also reveals another problem with looting. Considering that the previous games in the series has this, this omission is very noticeable.
Since there is no convenience of highlighting loot, the player will be pixel-hunting for loot. For example, there are a lot of meal tables with foods on them; the player will want the foods in the early-game segments. Cutlery on the tables is not likely to get in the way, but other things like mugs, glasses, jugs and pitchers would, because they can obscure the foods.
MUST HAVE FOOTING WHEN LOOTING:
Unlike the Elder Scrolls or Bethesda Fallout games, Ego Draconis does not allow the player character to loot things while the player character is hopping around or even airborne. This can be a problem, because there are quite a number of loot objects that are situated above the player character’s head. The player character can only loot things at the same level of elevation, and only when his/her feet are on the ground.
(That said, bunny-hopping is not so readily doable in this game.)
When enemies die, they leave behind floating loot containers with silly particle effects and lighting. These are very easy to spot. Peculiarly, they also have huge interaction hitboxes.
Some loot containers like barrels and pots can be deliberately destroyed. Usually, the player has to do this in order to get them out of the way, e.g. removing urns that are in front of a treasure chest. If they do happen to have loot, the loot is freed and spawns as floating loot.
Indeed, it might be easier to retrieve loot from these containers by destroying them and looting the released floating loot. Besides, destroying containers does not damage their contents, if any.
Locked loot containers or doors do not require a silly mini-game to be opened. There is also no need for specialized consumables that have no other purpose, e.g. lock-picks. The player character only needs to have points invested into the lockpicking skill, which happens to be part of the training for Dragon Slayer inductees.
Unfortunately, for all this convenience, locks are not labelled according to the levels of lockpicking skill that is required to open them. The most that the player has are the looks of the containers or doors, e.g. ornate chests tend to require high lockpicking skill. However, this is not always reliable, and doors do not always have such aesthetic differences.
Thus, whenever the player puts a point into lockpicking, the player might want to go back to places with locked containers or doors that the player has passed over to see if they could now be opened. This can be tedious, at least until the player character has maxed out lockpicking, in which case this is no longer an issue.
The player should not expect higher-level locks to hold more lucrative loot though. The loot is always better with them, but only marginally. For example, a generic chest may have a low-grade potion, while a more ornate chest has a potion of just one grade higher.
There are some locks that can only ever be opened with the right keys and could never be picked, for whatever reason. (This has always been a perennial problem of believability concerning lock-picking in video games; Ego Draconis will not solve this.)
Anyway, keys almost always appear in-game as loose items, and are rarely found in containers. This can seem to be a problem, because keys are often small objects. However, they happen to be highlighted with silly golden sparkles, which make them quite easy to spot when there is enough contrast. (The first key that can be found is next to a campfire, which it almost blends into.)
That said, the keys do not have any description that mentions which lock they would go into. In fact, they are merely named “keys” and described as such.
Most other Western RPGs at least names the keys so that they can give some clues as to which locks they go into. Indeed, considering that other items in the game may have quite a lot of text in their tooltip descriptions, that keys do not is a noticeable omission in Ego Draconis. The most that the player could do is to recall any information that previously led the player to the discovery of the key, e.g. info gleaned from mindreading.
There was a time when fantastical RPGs could never ever be one without having merchants peddling wares. Ego Draconis was made during that time, and it is not any different.
The merchant NPCs usually mention what they sell, or are close to props that imply what their wares are. There are, of course, the typical “browse my wares!” types, in which case the player has to indeed do so to check what they are selling.
Of course, being a typical fantastical RPG, the player has to remember what each merchant is selling. (The player could take screenshots of their inventories of course.)
The game actually keeps track of the player character’s relationship with each merchant. The game does remind the player of this whenever the player character interacts with the merchant.
Anyway, the relationship determines the prices that they would offer to the player character in the sales of their goods. Cosying up to the merchants, of course, lower prices. Upsetting them does the converse, and angering them too much makes them refuse to ever do business with the player character.
Strangely, some merchants lower their prices after the player character has read their minds. The reason for this is not immediately clear. However, a certain dialogue option with a merchant that appears early in the playthrough would suggest that the player character gains an idea about the true prices of the merchant’s goods. The player character is presumed to do the same on most other merchants, thus gaining an advantage in haggling for prices.
Regardless, changes to the relationships with merchants appear to be one-time only occasions. Therefore, the player will want to be careful about enacting these changes, because the player might need access to merchants when certain later gameplay elements are revealed.
LIMITED MERCHANT GOLD RESERVES:
Merchants start with a considerable amount of gold, which determines how many things that they can buy from the player character before they could buy no more. Therefore, the player will eventually have to switch to other merchants to sell vendor trash.
NO THIRD CHANCES:
Any non-quest item that the player sells to a merchant goes into that merchant’s “buy-back” tab. Practically, this is there for the sake of letting the player reverse a selling decision. However, this tab is only there for that instance alone; if the player leaves, the sold things are lost permanently.
OPENING GATES AND DOORS:
The player character will be traipsing through places within the same map that are sectioned off from each other with gates and doors. The latter are often hinged things, meaning that they can be closed again after opening them.
Most gates slide upwards when opened. Closing these requires the player to look up from underneath them to get the prompt to close them. Incidentally, these tend to appear in dungeons that the player character would be romping through. Some of the gates happen to give the player a view of what is beyond, including any enemies; the enemies remain unaware of the player character as long as the gates are closed.
TRANSITIONING BETWEEN MAPS:
Maps are usually cordoned off from each other through the convenient placement of doors, gates, and sometimes even cave openings. The player should not expect contiguous connections between maps, including those that are outdoors and adjacent to each other. Ego Draconis is not an open-world game, after all.
Interestingly, NPCs will default to using these transition points to de-spawn, if they have been scripted to do so and they do not have the magic to simply teleport away.
There are magical edifices out in the wilderness that can still be used, despite their seeming dilapidation. These include portal shrines, which let users travel in between them.
This is, of course, a convenient feature that had been around since Diablo II. Just like those in Diablo II, they are not worked well into the narrative. Suffice to say, they are really just there for the player’s convenience; any attempts by the writers to somehow explain their presence simply falls through like sand on a sieve.
For example, survivors of shipwrecks and magical abductions inhabit a supposedly isolated island. Yet, there are a few portal shrines on the island, all of which are in plain sight. Yet, the characters do not seem to acknowledge their presence. (Incidentally, one late-game scenario has NPCs acknowledging the presence of the shrines.)
Anyway, the player needs to find these shrines first before they are included in the list of shrines that the player character can travel to.
During the early 2010s, it is a tradition of Western RPGs to riddle dungeons with doles of traps. A fantastical setting also allows for traps that do more than just the mundane (as mundane as stabbing fools with extended spikes would be, for example).
Most of the traps in this game are not likely to hinder the player character much, he/she being practically post-human. However, the game does have some amusing and sometimes unpleasant ways to trip up the player.
Some traps are implemented as obvious things, like pressure plates on the ground. However, some may yield goodies too, such as treasure chests. On the other hand, some others just give the player character a nasty shock, or teleport him/her elsewhere.
Some traps are applied as ambush scripts. These are often attached to particularly ornate chests in hidden hoards; opening these chests trigger the locking of the exit and the spawning of enemies.
The player character does not have any innate means of disabling traps. If there are any solutions to traps, they are usually part of the scripting of the current scenario.
Most environments do not pose health risks to the player character. However, some do, no thanks to the fantastical setting that makes these hazards possible.
However, firstly, there does not appear to be any risk to falling. The player character can fall from considerable heights, and merely land with a flourish. Of course, the player might have spent time trying to get the player character to high places, so that would still be wasted time.
Then, there is dangerous terrain. Usually, the game visually indicates this with nasty-looking textures. For example, hot rocks have glowing red streaks; in some scenarios, having the player character stand on them sets the player character on fire. Sometimes, the game does this through more sinister means, like having corpses lying around to indicate to the player any locations that are safe (or not).
However, for most of the playthrough, environmental hazards that are not part of the out-of-bounds restrictions are rare.
COMBAT ON FOOT:
Initially, the player character moves about like a human and would fight like a human (albeit a human in a fantastical RPG and one that is powered with “Dragon Memories”). Combat occurs in real-time.
If combat occurs at range, hits are a matter of “what you see is what you get”. To elaborate, if projectiles appear to miss the intended target, they will miss and will be wasted. Indeed, it is possible for the player to have the player character zig-zag towards enemies that are using ranged attacks; most of these enemies do not seem to lead their shots.
If combat occurs in melee, the hitboxes for melee attacks are a lot trickier. They are not as generous as those in certain other Western RPGs, in which the weapons do not seem to connect but they hit anyway. In Ego Draconis, characters have to be very close to each other, e.g. within arm’s reach, for melee hits to connect. This can be observed if the player character is trying to hit loot containers.
The apparent reach of the melee weapon does not appear to matter.
The player character’s attacks at least have wide arcs. This is just as well, because the player character is often alone and outnumbered. There is no setback to hitting multiple opponents instead of just one. Therefore, the player might want to consider making attacks at directions where multiple enemies would be hit.
If the player does not enter a directional input together with the attack input, the player character appears to automatically attack any enemies within proximity. There are no clear criteria as to which enemy that the player character would hit first, however.
The player character can do a forward-jump to hit anything in front of him/her, though the hitbox for the attack is narrow. Likewise, the player character can make a vertical jump and then make an attack when he/she lands. This attack is not more powerful and it has a small hitbox, but it does allow the player character to avoid attacks from small enemies and then attack right after.
When on foot, ranged attacks require the player to have the crosshair go over enemies to target them. For this purpose, the game highlights any enemy that is being targeted with a 3D arrowhead above their heads. If the enemy is within range, the player character automatically directs any ranged attack in the direction of the enemy. He/She continues to do so until another enemy comes under the crosshair, or the crosshair is too far from the intended target.
The projectiles from the player character do not always chase after targeted enemies, so there is a chance of them missing (more on this later) or the enemy moves out of the way. Most enemies would not do the latter because they are idiotic.
RNG ROLLS FOR EVASIONS & MISSES:
Unfortunately, there are RNG rolls for whether an attack that landed would score a hit or not. In the case of melee attacks, the target (which includes the player character) may evade the attack entirely. In the case of ranged attacks, they have a chance of missing if the crosshair is too far away from the target, despite the lock-on.
It is not clear what factors go into these RNG rolls, especially for melee attacks. As for the RNG rolls for ranged attacks, how much of the target that the attacker can see appears to be a factor. For example, targets that are obscured by low objects or targets at the crests of hills are more likely to avoid hits, even if the player is aiming at exposed regions of their models.
Fortunately, these RNG rolls only happen for default attacks. Combat skills always land.
This game has the usual gameplay element of levelling up. In its case, it is the sort that gives points for the player to invest into statistics and unlock skills for use.
Its level-ups are also the kind that completely replenishes the player character’s health and mana. Therefore, level-ups in the middle of a battle is a glorious second wind.
The player can bring up the stat and skill screens to use whatever points that have been granted while in-game time is paused.
Most gear pieces have level requirements to them; this is apparently put in place to prevent players from simply acquiring relatively powerful gear too early in the playthrough. After all, with some mindreading and favours, merchants can sell these at very affordable prices.
On the other hand, the player character would be getting gear pieces that he/she cannot use yet. Until then, the gear pieces take up inventory space (more on this later).
Skills also have level requirements; the reason for this is the same as the one for gear levels. It is in the player’s interest to save some skill points, if only to invest them later in skills that the player wants to use instead of spreading them around. (The game gives this tip to the player during loading screens too.)
The player character was already a well-trained combatant prior to the beginning of the game; he/she had years of practise and instruction in preparation for the ritual that would turn him/her into a “Dragon Slayer”.
However, the ritual also wipes out any conscious memory of the skills that he/she has gained, due to the mental strain from the absorption of “Dragon Memories”. Yet, things like muscle memory and subconscious familiarity with those skills are still there, so it is only a matter of time before the player character regains those skills.
This is the narrative excuse for how the player character is seemingly able to learn a myriad of skills in a short time from the player’s investment of skill points.
After the player has unlocked combat skills for use, the player can set them to one of the hotkeys (more on these later). Combat skills work on cooldowns, so the player might want to consider these when estimating damage output.
COMBAT SKILL ANIMATIONS:
Many of the combat skills seem great; there are even in-game videos showing how they are used. (These videos are also why the game needs a non-N version of Windows, by the way.)
Astute players would notice immediately that many combat skills require the player character to undergo animations, some of which can be one second too long. These animations remove control from the player, yet the player character is still vulnerable to attacks. Indeed, some enemy attacks can stagger, knock down or stun the player character, which cancel the animations (though the mana for the skill is not spent, fortunately).
Thus, the player might want to consider the animation lengths of the skills when choosing which to use – something that the game fails to advise the player on. This also means that player characters that use multiple skills are going to have a hard time staying out of harm’s way.
Indeed, in some cases, it might be better not to use skills at all. For example, healing with potions immediately happens, without the need for any tedious potion-drinking animation. Hence, the Heal spell is impractical compared to potions, even though its effects would stack with those of the potions; the spell’s animation is just too long for reliable use in battle.
Some active combat skills have secondary effects, such as the Fireball setting enemies on fire. However, these secondary effects have a very low chance of occurring. Still, in these cases, the occurrence of the secondary effects can be considered as a bonus.
However, some passive skills are only about RNG-dependent effects, such as Reflect. These are terrible choices for the investment of skill points, especially in the eyes of players who prefer deterministic mechanisms in RPGs with real-time combat.
There are four personal statistics that the player character has. There is vitality, which determines how tough the player character is. There is strength, which determines how much damage that the player character can inflict and how much melee damage that he/she would be getting from enemy attacks. There is dexterity, which determines how much damage can be with ranged weaponry. Finally, there is Intelligence, which determines how much the player character’s spells, and how much bonus damage can be eked out of weapons with magical damage. The statistics also determine how much damage that the offensive combat skills can inflict.
Every level-up gives the player some points to invest in these statistics; the points can be applied at any time by bringing up the relevant screen.
HEALTH AND MANA:
Like a typical fantastical RPG, the player character has health, which determines how close he/she is to death. If the meter is not enough as a visual aid, there is the reddening edges of the screen as the player character takes damage. Obviously, losing all health is a game-over, but until then, the player character functions at full performance.
As to be expected of video game mana, mana is used to power spells and certain other skills. Running out of mana of course makes this no longer possible. However, the regeneration of mana is fast enough such that it can support the use of several skills before replenishment is needed.
REPLENISHMENT OF HEALTH & MANA:
Health and mana replenish on their own, even during battle. Outside of battle, it replenishes faster, or to be more precise, at a percentage basis.
As for consumables that can be used to replenish health and mana, the player finds food and beverages early on, which replenish health and mana respectively. (That the player character is gobbling things during battle is ludicrous, as had always been the case with video game food.) The replenishment rate of these consumables eventually becomes uncompetitive, so the player character will need potions.
As mentioned earlier, the consumption of potions (and any other consumables) do not require animations. Indeed, the player could even bring up the inventory screen and use the consumables from there.
BUFF & DE-BUFF LIMITATIONS:
Only one instance of a buff or de-buff of any type can be active on the player character. For example, the player character may only be poisoned by one type of poison at any time; any attempts to apply another poison de-buff on the player character simply fails.
This does apply to buffs too. For example, if the player character is receiving any healing from food, the player character cannot use any healing potion; the game simply prevents the player from doing so.
In addition to being found as loot or bought from merchants, potions can be obtained through “alchemy”. In the case of this game’s take on alchemy, it is not of the sort where the player character would be personally making potions at a chemistry lab or with portable equipment. Rather, the player character hands over ingredients to an alchemist who makes potions out of them. Ingredients cannot be used in other ways.
Essentially, ingredients are an alternative currency to buy potions from specific vendors (who are of course said alchemists). The catch here is that the player needs to hand over recipes before he/she can purchase the potions. That said, the need for recipes can seem counter-intuitive to the narrative about the alchemists already being experts in their fields.
GEAR – OVERVIEW:
No fantastical RPG would be amiss if it does not have stuff that the player can put on his/her player character to improve their performance. Ego Draconis has a significant amount of gear for the player to pick from.
There is a lack of complexity in the gear pieces. It has been mentioned earlier that all one-handed weapons have the same reach. All armor pieces having the same practical functionality, with the gameplay differences between them being merely different numbers for their properties. There are only bows for ranged weapons, and all bows function the same, e.g. same nocking animations.
This leaves the wielding of melee weapons as the main source of complexity in the gear pieces. The player character can use just a single one-handed weapon, duel-wield one-handed weapons, use a one-handed weapon together with a shield, or heft around a two-handed sword. Interestingly, each configuration has different animations and attack rates. For example, a single one-handed weapon has the highest attack rate, something that might be useful if the player can find a weapon with considerable damage output or secondary effects that are applied upon hitting enemies.
The player character can also make attacks with his/her fists and feet, if he/she is not equipped with any weapon. However, unarmed attacks become uncompetitive quickly.
DAMAGE & RESISTANCE TYPES:
There are only ever three types of damage: melee, ranged and magic. Likewise, there is a type of resistance for each type of damage.
Melee and ranged damage are obviously only ever inflicted by their associated types of weapons, hence they are called “primary” damage for convenience.
Some weapons may inflict their primary damage type and magic damage as well; the game conveniently calls these “magic” weapons. The ratio of primary to magic damage can vary wildly. For example, warhammers have the highest ratio of magic to melee damage. (Apparently, these are somehow the weapons of choice for combat magicians.)
As mentioned earlier, the damage output of a weapon is affected by the stats of the player character. For example, Intelligence gives a bonus to the magical damage that magical weapons can inflict.
Generally, if the player has been investing points into strength or dexterity, the player will want to avoid using magical weapons because their magical damage will not benefit from the player character’s stats.
Likewise, if the player has been investing points into Intelligence (likely for a magical build), magical weapons are a must-have, more so than it would seem. This is because spells are implemented as abilities with cool-downs, meaning that the player will not be benefiting much from a player character with an Intelligence-oriented build if he/she does not have magical weapons. Incidentally, magical damage is common to both melee and ranged weapons. Furthermore, any gear piece that grants buffs to the output of magical damage will apply their benefits to any magical weapon.
Resistances are implemented as damage reductions on a percentage basis. The percentages are in turn determined by the ratings of the armour worn, and the relevant ability statistics. A higher cumulative rating means higher percentages, albeit with diminishing returns for the sake of gameplay balance.
The player will want to at least use ranged weapons in addition to melee weapons in order to have versatility in combat. For this purpose, the game allows the player to equip more than one weapon on the player character through the gameplay element of weapon sets. This has been around in Western RPGs for a while, especially hack-slash-loot titles.
These weapon sets have slots of their own; any weapon set that is not being used is not returned to the inventory.
“Charms” are this game’s take on the “gems” that Diablo II has made so popular. The player permanently inserts charms into gear pieces that have slots for them. The number of slots in a gear piece can vary from no slots at all to three slots.
Of course, the inserted charms bolster the capabilities of the gear pieces. Charms have several grades, with the higher ones being more expensive and rarer – so far, so familiar.
If there is any innovation in this matter, it is that charms usually have simple, singular benefits, so making decisions on which charm to insert into a gear piece should be simple. To elaborate, any charm can be inserted into any gear piece and will impart its benefits. For example, putting a charm that increases melee damage into an amulet will increase the player character’s melee damage anyway, regardless of any melee weapon that is being used.
If there is any problem in the system of charms, it is in the tooltip display of items that have charms. The charms’ names already include clear descriptions of their benefits, but the text is also duplicated in the properties of the items.
For more complex modifications of weapons, there is the system of enchantments.
Enchantments work much like “gems” too. Any gear piece has at least one slot for enchantment, and up to three slots for rare pieces of gear. However, there are some conveniences and some complications.
The main complication is the need for materials, gold and the formulae for the enchantments – especially formulae, which are uncommon loot. More powerful enchantments generally require rarer materials, among which gems are a certainty. (Incidentally, malachites are the most precious gems in this fantastical universe, mainly because of their rarity and their ability to store a lot more magic than other gems.)
As for the conveniences, the most significant one is that the player can remove enchantments from a piece of gear. Indeed, the player can remove enchantments from gear pieces that already have them after they are found as loot, if the enchantments are terrible. (Terrible enchantments include copies of the passive skills that are RNG-dependent.) However, the materials that went into the enchantments are not recovered.
On the other hand, some items may already have powerful enchantments that are not available to the player. In such cases, the convenience of being able to pick which enchantment to remove is very much welcome.
Unlike charms though, enchantments can only be done at a facility instead of anywhere. Furthermore, the player is shown a list of all gear pieces in the inventory during the use of the facility. There are no filter options to adjust the display of the list.
To use skills and consumables, the player needs to assign these to the hotkeys. The methods of assigning things to hotkeys are rather clunky, unfortunately.
The first method is to click on the hotkeys. Doing so brings up a list of things that can be assigned to the hotkeys. The list is arranged according to types of things. There are separate tabs for consumables and skills.
However, as the player’s options of consumables expand (from having many consumables), the list will become long. Scrolling through it to find the correct thing can be tedious. The player can remedy this by clearing the inventory of any obsolete consumables, but there will always be loot that include these consumables anyway.
The computer versions of most other Western RPGs allow the player to drag and drop things into hotkey slots. Ego Draconis does allow this, but the player needs to drag objects over the numbers of the hotkeys on the hotkey bar, and not the circular slots.
Some other games on the computer platform allow the player to use keyboard shortcuts to assign hotkeys to objects. Unfortunately, the computer version of Ego Draconis does not allow this – not even in the Director’s Cut version.
DRAWING AND STOWING AWAY WEAPON SETS:
The game uses the same sets of humanoid models and animations for human and humanoid characters, including the player character. The animations can be broadly sorted into two categories: one is for situations outside of combat, whereas one is for use during combat.
There are animations for the drawing of weapons; these animations mark the transition from the non-combat postures to the combat stances.
This would not have been remarkable or notable, if not for the need to transition. Human characters can only use their weapons after they have transitioned into the combat stances.
Interestingly, the non-combat animations can still be used during combat, if all the character is doing is use spells. Incidentally, the non-combat postures include animations for casting spells with the raise of a hand, which is what is used when opening a fight with spells.
Games that impose inventory management usually implement them in one of few ways. There is encumbrance, which is the limit on the total weight of the stuff that the player character can carry. Another example is some kind of grid system that the player has to squeeze and fit items into.
For better or worse, Ego Draconis’ developers have implemented a limit on the number of item stacks and standalone items that the player character can have. For ease of reference, the limit on number of items would be expressed in terms of “squares”.
Multiples of the same item can stack up to 50 units, and each stack is considered as having occupied one square. This is the case for consumables, alchemical ingredients and other expendable materials. The player character can hoover up plenty of such items without much of a problem.
Items with properties that can vary considerable from other items of the same type will not stack. This is the case for gear pieces, quest items, charms, books and scrolls. This means that finding a lot of these items will fill up the player’s inventory slots quickly.
Eventually, the player will have to get rid of unwanted things in order to free up inventory space. Books are likely to be the target of this chore.
GENERALLY NO RESPAWNING ENEMIES:
Generally, enemies that have been defeated will not respawn. This means that the player has to be thorough at clearing out maps, if only to maximize XP gains.
There are some locations with scripted respawns, however. One of Damian’s flying fortresses has a built-in trap that tosses undead and armoured constructs at the player character whenever the player character trips its main trap. There is also a certain very late-game scenario that can be best described as a boss rush.
The XP that is yielded by enemies vary according to the differences between the level of the player character and the levels of enemies. Incidentally, the levels of enemies are shown as a number next to their health bar. For example, easy enemies only provide 1 XP, which is obviously meagre but is otherwise the minimum that the player gets.
ENEMY BEHAVIOURS - OVERVIEW:
For better or worse, most enemies can be categorized according to their behaviours in combat, instead of according to other factors. Most enemies can be defeated by using the environment to exploit their behaviours. This is especially so for mook-status enemies.
MOOKS ON FOOT GOING ON CHASES:
After discovering the player character, mooks on foot generally chase after the player character until the player character is within the reach of their attacks. There is no limit to the range of pursuit by melee enemies, but ranged enemies might stop the pursuit after the player character has put considerable distance between them.
Opaque and solid objects break the reach and line of sight of enemies, so wily players would hide behind these and wait for pursuing enemies to come around them. These enemies happen to impede the arriving ones too, which consequently cause them to bunch up. This makes them vulnerable to attacks with wide arcs or area of effect.
Enemies that can teleport will chase the player character too. However, since they can teleport, they are not impeded by obstacles because they always re-spawn near the player character if the latter gets too far. Enemies that can teleport include most ghostly enemies and other similarly incorporeal entities. Fortunately, these enemies are incredibly rare.
ENEMIES DRAWING GEAR:
Human enemies like the members of the Black Ring use the same animation sets as any other characters with generic human models. This also means that magic-oriented members, like the sorcerers, will begin battle with their non-combat postures. They will not draw their weapons until the player character has come into the range that would trigger their weapon drawing. This can give the player some advantage, like attacking them while they are drawing their weapons.
Generally, enemies mill about, waiting for the player character to come by. Their detection range is about twenty to thirty in-game paces, regardless of terrain. However, opaque and solid obstacles do break line of sight. This is not always to the player’s advantage; unless the player intends to have the player character retrace his/her path, stepping out of cover will certainly have the player character detected.
Anyway, the player can pull a few enemies from a group via this mechanism; the alerted enemies will not alert their buddies. This will be important, if the player intends to whittle down a gaggle of enemies that are of higher character level.
Inflicting ranged attacks on an enemy that belongs to a group from afar will alert the entire group. Therefore, it is not in the player’s interest to snipe away at groups of enemies, unless the player intends to use area-of-effect attacks on them.
ALMOST EVERY ENEMY AFTER LEVEL 5 HAS A RANGED ATTACK:
At the start of the playthrough, it would appear that the player could get an advantage over melee-only enemies by getting onto a perch that they could not reach. Most of these enemies would just stare at the player character while they are plinked at with arrows or hit with spells.
Most of the melee-oriented enemies that appear later have ranged attacks. These enemies will still try to close the distance if the player character is within reach. However, if the player character is not within reach, they use their low-level attack spells. Learning about this the first time can be an amusing (albeit slightly unpleasant) experience.
There are still a few enemies that can be defeated by perching on a platform or going into a nook that they cannot reach; one of the screenshots in this article shows this. However, these enemies usually respond to this cheesy tactic by running away out of lock-on range.
ENEMIES FOCUS ON PLAYER CHARACTER:
Generally, if a battle breaks out with the player character and allies involved, enemies focus their aggression on the player character first. This can be unpleasant. The most that the player could do to work around this issue is to put some distance in between the player character and enemies, so that their aggro scripts target allies instead.
NO XP FROM SUMMONED ENEMIES:
Some enemies can summon additional help, just like the player could with some combat skills or spells. These enemies do not grant any XP when slain. Furthermore, when their summoners are slain, they do not disappear; they continue going after the player character. This can be unpleasant to learn the hard way, especially for players that are used to RPG tropes of summoned help going away when their summoners go away or get dead.
The only balancing design is that enemies do not get to summon additional help willy-nilly. They appear to require long cool-downs. However, this also means that the player would eventually be swamped if the player does not eliminate the summoners first.
Usually, the game names summoned enemies in a manner that obviously indicates their summoned origin, e.g. their names have the word “summoned” in them. However, some of the summoned enemies that appear later do not have these names.
CANNOT COMMAND ALLIES:
This RPG is one of those that have the player character doing things alone. This is perhaps understandable, because the player character is very much post-human, especially after attaining dragon powers (especially the high jumps – more on these later).
There are times when the player character would be fighting alongside allies, however, more so after the player has obtained the undead “creature” (more on these later). Yet, these times would reveal to the observant player that the player has next to no control over their priorities in combat. They fight whomever they want.
There are a few exceptions, such as a scenario when a recently resurrected person would ask the player character about what tactics that she should use in an upcoming fight, but that is it.
CAN SHOOT PAST ALLIES BUT CANNOT MOVE PAST THEM:
Characters on the same side can have their projectiles or spells pass through each other without a problem. (They will hit the first enemy that they come across, regardless of whether it is in the intended target or not.) This benefits enemies more than the player, however, for the reason that the player character is outnumbered almost all the time.
However, characters on the same side cannot move past each other. This works against enemies more; as mentioned earlier, the player can use corners and their attack behaviour to get them to bunch up. On the other hand, in tight places, the player might want to be mindful of where his/her allies are, because they can easily get in the way.
The player character eventually finds a Crystal Skull, which allows him/her to (somewhat) control an undead abomination. This abomination is a patchwork of multiple body parts from different creatures that can still function as a whole, thanks to the powers of necromancy.
The main appeal of the creature is the convenience of mixing and matching its parts to get a decent fighting machine. Parts can be obtained by killing certain types of enemies, like goblins or dragon-elves (which are sort of hybrids of dragons and elves). There is a noticeably narrow scope of possible crimes against nature here, but expanding this feature to include all known humanoid species would have been a steep design challenge.
Unfortunately, the appeal of the creature stops at the collection and usage of the body parts; the creature is not really a very effective combatant, not unlike other CPU-controlled characters. This is mainly due to the scripting of its behaviour.
After it has been summoned onto the player character’s current location with the Crystal Skull, it goes after the closest enemy. The player has no control over whoever it attacks first – not that it would matter much because as mentioned already, it is not very effective at fighting. At best, it can distract some enemies or block them from moving down a narrow path.
Summoning the creature immediately consumes half of the player’s total mana. This alone is the worst setback of this gameplay element. There is also a long cool-down to the summoning of the creature.
Outside of combat, the creature scampers around, scraping things off the ground to eat or smelling things; these idle animations are just there for aesthetics. There is no practical reason to keep it around, because it does nothing outside of combat and NPCs do not even acknowledge the presence of this horrible being. It also gets in the way, because the player character cannot move past it.
Perhaps the faintest reason to have it around is that it may have enough health to last the next fight. However, that would require it to follow the player character around – which it is terrible at doing so. The player has to move a few dozen paces away before it tries to follow the player character. It could have been better if the player has the convenience of a control input to call it over, but there is not any, other than re-summoning the Creature.
One of the best designs of Ego Draconis (and its expansion) is that the player is given choices on what to get for quest rewards.
Two of these rewards are guaranteed to be a pile of money and a pile of XP; these will be given regardless of the details of the quest and any NPCs involved. This can seem unbelievable, but these rewards are needed in the long run.
The player can also pick at least one more reward, out of around four options. Quests that are related to the overarching plot grant two additional rewards, out of around seven options.
Two options are guaranteed to be another pile of XP and another pile of gold, albeit at smaller amounts. The other options are always items, which can be just about anything, even junk like plates and mugs. Plot-related quests usually offer much better items, such as high-level formulae or high-grade charms. The later quests will yield better things than the earlier ones.
The options are generated as soon as the player completes a quest. It is possible for the player to make a game-save just before turning quests in and save-scum in order to get desirable goodies. Of course, as with all luck-dependent gameplay designs, this can be tedious and frustrating if luck is just not on the player’s side.
UNUSED QUEST ITEMS:
Some quests require the player character to get items; these items would understandably be coded as “quest items”. Quest items cannot be removed from inventory and will take up squares. Some gear pieces, like swords and helmets, can be marked as quest items too; they are not saleable.
Usually, the completion of quests would remove these items. However, there are some quests that are not tightly designed, and will cause some quest items to be left over, thus taking up squares permanently.
For example, there is an unmarked quest about putting plant buds into a magical hydroponic pot; the plant buds are coded as quest items. However, the player can only two of four buds. The other two buds remain unused and will forever take up space in the inventory.
Where games like the Bethesda Fallout titles have implemented work-arounds like quest items having no weight, Ego Draconis does not have them. The most that the player can do is clear inventory space by removing other item, either by selling unwanted stuff or moving stuff into the “dragon chest” (this will be described later).
DRAGON POWERS - OVERVIEW:
Eventually, the player character gets into a situation that grants even more power to him/her. Of course, in modern-day RPGs, this comes with a price, namely that the Dragon Slayer is now a Dragon Knight – the very same thing that his/her order was supposed to hunt to extinction.
However, the dragon powers are not completely and immediately available to the player character. The first one that the player gets would be required to get into circumstances that would yield the other powers.
The player should not expect Castlevania elements of gameplay though. Prior to the introduction of these powers, there are few obstacles that are seemingly out of reach or could not be interacted with. This is not that kind of game.
The first power is higher and further jumps. Indeed, this would be used for getting to places that would have been out of reach. There are even some mandatory platforming sequences, something that can seem incredulous in a Western RPG (perhaps except to people who have played the Elder Scrolls titles). However, the jumps are mostly reliably controllable for these sequences. For one, there is adequate mid-air control.
(Incidentally, Divinity II has been made with the Gamebryo engine, so its jumping physics might seem familiar to people that have played Bethesda’s games.)
Soon, the player character gains the ability to change into his/her dragon form. This can only be done in places with enough space, usually the open outdoors. Programming-wise, the game world has been segmented into regions where the player character can change forms and those where he/she cannot.
The player must have the “Dragon Morph Stone” to enable the transformation. This quest item, together with the “Dragon Stone”, will be permanently in the player’s inventory, thus taking up two item slots forevermore.
In the computer version of Ego Draconis, flight is mainly handled with the mouse and the WSAD keys. Interestingly, the control input for jumping does nothing.
Anyway, if the player wants to go up or down, the player must have the dragon look upwards or downwards, and then fly forward or backwards in order to move in the desired direction. The dragon can also swerve from side to side easily, which is just as well because this is the main means of dodging income enemy attacks while maintaining control.
The dragon form will never run out of stamina, but it is also a large target. However, in most dragon flight sequences, there is enough space for the dragon to fly about, avoiding incoming attacks quite reliably.
The control input for interacting with characters and objects is not used in the dragon-flight sequences; there will be nothing that the dragon form can interact with. Instead, its code is swapped for that of a quick, almost-teleporting dodge. This can be used to dodge heavy incoming fire entirely, but it can only be used with the control inputs for moving side to side.
INVISIBLE WALLS AND CEILINGS:
Ultimately, there has to be a limit to the game world’s boundaries; this is an understandable technical limitation. What is less understandable and acceptable are the clumsy attempts at implementing this limitation. The worst examples are invisible walls and ceilings. Unfortunately, Ego Draconis has these.
The player will discover these when the player attempts to have the dragon fly over into the horizons that the player can see. The dragon simply stops moving forward. Trying to fly into the clouds above also results in the same stop.
The scenario designers do have some means of implementing boundary limits, as can be seen in what happens in the first region of the game world in a later act of the playthrough. (This will be described later.) However, due to narrative reasons, they could not implement these everywhere.
MASSIVE COLLISION HITBOX:
The dragon form has an understandable hitbox size for the purpose of determining whether hits landed. Indeed, the player might see that some projectiles narrowly miss the dragon form’s wings or other body part.
The game is a lot less generous in the matter of the hitbox size for collisions with the environment. If the player is thinking about squeezing the dragon form in between trees or trying to land it to a building as close as possible, the player would be disappointed.
SIMPLIFIED DRAGON STATISTICS:
The player character’s dragon form has statistics that are completely different from those that his/her human form has. There are far fewer of these: there are two, which are “Offense” and “Defense”. As their names suggest, they determine the dragon form’s combat capabilities. The human form’s gear does not appear to be a factor (which is perhaps understandable).
As to be expected, when the player character switches to a draconic form from a human one, his/her combat capabilities change entirely. The default attack is replaced with fire-breathing, which understandably roasts anything in front of the dragon rather quickly.
The human form’s combat skills are replaced with dragon-related ones. For example, there is a skill that fires homing missiles, which is effective against most enemies that the player would come across in these sequences. For another example, there is a spell that heals the dragon – something that most players are likely to go for.
Points for investment into dragon skills are not obtained through level-ups. Rather, the player needs to find “Dragon Skill Books”, which are as simplistic as they sound. Of course, these books are not easy to find, but the challenge that they pose is not different from that of finding regular skill books or stat books.
DRAGON SKILLS REQUIRE MANA:
Almost all of the dragon’s combat abilities requires mana. This notably includes its default fire-breath. Having to juggle mana use between fire-breathing and draconic combat skills can be a challenge, because these are the only ways of eliminating enemies during the dragon-flight sequences.
Fortunately, the player character can (somehow) use potions and eat food while in dragon form too. To implement this convenience, the dragon form has its own hotkeys, which the game will remember whenever the player character changes forms.
NO HEALTH REGEN & ACCELERATED MANA REGEN:
Indeed, the player will want to set potions in the hotkeys – especially healing potions. Other than a dragon skill with a long cool-down time, the only other way to reliably heal is to consume healing potions. The dragon form does not regenerate any hit points at all (which can seem to go against the usual tropes about dragons being robustly tough).
However, curiously, the dragon form has accelerated mana regeneration. This is likely implemented for the aforementioned need to use mana for any of the dragon’s attacks.
Just like how the player character’s human form can have gear, the dragon form can have gear too, albeit dragon-sized ones. Amusingly, these items take up only one slot in the inventory system.
Anyway, these gear pieces have simple benefits: they may increase Offense or Defense, or they bolster one of the dragon skills. The player should not expect a lot of variety from these items, however. In fact, many of them appear to have the same benefits for the player character, despite being different items.
Airborne enemies serve as the mooks of the dragon flight sequences. These will chase after the dragon, nipping away at its health with fly-by attacks. Very few of them want to get too close to the dragon, for obvious, very fiery reasons.
These enemies may fly about in patrols, waiting for something to get close. Incidentally, if the player character is on foot and they are nearby, there is a risk that they will attack the player character; there is nothing that the player character can do about this, other than to assume dragon form. (This is not always doable either; there will be more elaboration on this later.)
Part of Damian’s war plans is to have floating islands with armed towers built on them; they are the hard counters to Rivellon’s airships. Anywhere his forces invade, there are these towers. These towers also happen to be the main defence against dragons.
The most pervasive of these towers are the ballistae-equipped ones. These can launch magically powered ballista bolts that can fly perfectly straight, albeit slowly enough that the player character can dodge them. However, since there are so many of them, the player character risks being caught in a nasty crossfire. Incidentally, the bolts hit very hard.
The other kind of tower is the nest. Upon detecting the player character in the vicinity, it starts producing airborne assets. Like summoned enemies, these do not grant rewards when slain. Thus, nest towers should be the player’s priority target.
There does not appear to be any limit to the number of spawns that it can make, but it does seem that having more in the air appears to slow down its rate of spawning. Still, the player is doomed to being overwhelmed if the player does not prioritize the nest for destruction.
CANNOT TARGET ANYTHING THAT IS ON FOOT:
For better or worse, the dragon-flight segments only allow the player to fight airborne enemies or towers. The game does not render the models of on-foot enemies if they are too far away (which is most of the time).
Even if the player could see on-foot enemies, attacking them does not next to nothing. Even the fire-breath does only one point of damage per tick, if it lands hits at all. This limitation is presumably intended to require the player to fight on-foot enemies while on-foot, i.e. “fairly”. Yet, this is still incredibly disappointing to learn first-hand; not being able to roast puny fools as a dragon is a let-down.
Furthermore, the mini-map will only show airborne enemies while in dragon form. When in human form, airborne enemies do not show up in the mini-map.
The invisible walls for the dragon-flight segments would have been disappointing enough. Then, there are “anti-dragon zones”.
These are the most dangerous of enemy assets. If the player character flies into these while in dragon form, instant death occurs after lingering around for more than two seconds. There is a distortion visual effect that indicates their presence, thought they are also translucent and sometimes fail to appear. Unless the player is mindful of where the player character is doing aerial battles, it is easy to fly into these.
Careful players would maintain a considerable distance, but that would mean using long-range attacks on anything within or close to the zones. This in turn means fewer tactical options during situations involving anti-dragon zones. Furthermore, the player character cannot change into his/her dragon form while in the zone, even if there is enough space.
Some of them can be disabled, but some others remain active throughout the playthrough.
These restrictions give the impression that they were implemented in-game to force the player to go on-foot. Perhaps the implementation came rather late in the development of the game.
CHANGES IN GAMEPLAY MIDWAY THROUGH:
The first region in a playthrough has all of the gameplay elements that have been mentioned before the sections on the dragon form in this article. When the act that introduces the dragon form begins, almost all of the gameplay content in the first region gets tossed out violently. Furthermore, there are new concerns for the gameplay elements that have been introduced thus far.
That aforementioned first region is quite screwed, due to the introduction of a pervasive environmental hazard. This is the poison fog, which actually has been shown earlier in a side quest, if the player has attempted it.
Getting into the fog immediately inflicts a severe poison de-buff on the player character, even in the dragon form. Of course, the fog has been implemented as an out-of-bounds limitation. (With cheats, the player could try to explore what is beneath the fog; but there really is not anything.)
The fog also surrounds the lands beneath the Battle Tower, which will be described shortly.
BATTLE TOWER – OVERVIEW:
The “Battle Tower” is introduced to the player after the protagonist has gained his/her dragon form. Conveniently, doing so has also established the protagonist as the lord of a sophisticated edifice that has been designed by the most famous post-human champion of the dragons.
Anyway, the Battle Tower is the game’s take on the “stronghold” feature that has been around since the second Baldur’s Gate game. In the eyes of the cynical, the “stronghold” is reductively a place where functionary NPCs would gather, together with typical amenities like a place to rest (if the player characters need rest).
The “stronghold” tends to be only there for the player character’s convenience, with an also-convenient narrative excuse like the protagonist having been made a lord, but having little other consequence to the progression of the narrative. This is of course very much the case with Ego Draconis.
Still, there is considerable consequence to gameplay from the introduction of the Battle Tower: it is the only place where there are amenities for enchantments, alchemy and Creature-making after it is introduced.
The player will also not find many other merchants immediately after, because most of them were in that first region and would have been screwed over together with it.
The presence of the “Dragon Stone” (which is implemented as an item that is different from the “Dragon Morph Stone”) allows the player character to warp back to the Battle Tower at any time – except in a scenario that disables it, of course. The player can also use the stone to move from one section of the tower to another, which is convenient.
If the player uses the stone to leave the tower, the player character returns to the location where the player used the stone earlier. This can include any place that is in an anti-dragon zone.
For some murky narrative reason, the island on which the tower is located has a sentient spirit. It has abducted people with specific skills, so that they can serve the player character – assuming that the player picks them.
To give the player some semblance of choice and variable options for the current playthrough, there is a pair of (unwilling) candidates for each of the tower’s job openings. Whichever candidate that is not chosen dies, for some reason that is not immediately clear.
Whoever survives has the honour of working for the last Dragon Knight, perhaps forevermore. This might seem like a bad deal, but the tower happens to have amenities and arcane technology far beyond any of these experts have ever used. Elation quickly overcomes trepidation, and they would soon be happily toiling away for the player character’s benefit.
Three of these employees serve the roles of resident enchanter, alchemist and necromancer. The fourth is the trainer. The trainer allows the player to expand the caps on the human form’s skill levels. For example, the already potent Fireball can have its level cap raised to 10; at 10, the Fireball inflicts tremendous damage, while still having its relatively low mana requirement.
FORMULAE AND PARTS RETAINED:
Formulae that the player has given to enchanters and alchemists prior to gaining the Battle Tower appear to be retained. This is so despite the persons doing enchantments or alchemy being completely different people. This also applies to body parts that the player has gathered for the Creature-making prior to acquisition of the Battle Tower. This is convenient, gameplay-wise.
When the player character inherited the Battle Tower, he/she also gained the existing employees of its former owner. These include three runners, whose job is to go out and find materials and ingredients for enchantment and alchemy.
The runners start out poorly equipped; their former employer cared little for their welfare. The player character can do better of course. The enchanter and the trainer can equip them with better gear, if the player is willing to fund the upgrades.
The grade of the weapons that the runners have determine how early they would return to the tower; there will be more on this shortly. The grade of their armour determines how likely they are to succeed.
After they have returned, the player would be informed of the outcome of their errand. If it is a success, they turn over their stuff. Until the player sends them on another errand, they do nothing else but stay in the tower, so there is no reason not to send them out again. This can be tedious; having them continuously search for the same thing until told otherwise could have been a more convenient design.
The amounts of items found appear to depend on the type of item that they are. Plants and ores usually come in batches of more than one; gems usually come at just one apiece.
If they fail in their errands, that is because they have been injured. These lackeys lack any ability to heal on their own (not even healing spells), so they need help from the resident alchemist. The player has to spend some gold to restore them. Until then, they cannot be sent out on missions.
There is no limit to these errands. Theoretically, the player could send them out repeatedly to do jobs, and then sell the items. However, only a few of these items are “big-ticket” ones that are economically worthwhile for the grind, which is essentially what these repeats are.
The duration of the runners’ errands depends on how often the player character returns to the tower; every return is considered as one ‘tick’ in the progress of their mission. Thus, presumably, the player could repeatedly use the dragon stone to grind for materials. Doing this risks instability in the game, of course, even with the Director’s Cut version.
Each of the tower’s employees would ask the player character for some favour. Incidentally, these favours would yield benefits that are useful to the facilities that they work in, so it is in the player’s interest to carry out these favours anyway. (The favours are, of course, implemented as quests.)
The upgrades for the enchantment and alchemy facilities reduce the amount of materials needed for an option. In the case of the alchemy facilities, the upgrades may make the skill about the efficiency of ingredient usage quite useless.
The upgrades for the necromantic facility grant boosts to the benefits imparted by the body parts that the player uses in the Creature. This makes the Creature statistically more powerful, but its combat efficacy remains dismal because it is not made any smarter or more directly controllable.
The upgrades for the training facility enables more skill cap increases. Some skills, especially the early-game ones like Fireball, can have their caps increased to level 15.
One set of content in the game is notable, and not necessarily for the better. These are the assaults on the strongholds of the Black Ring. These are optional content, of course. Still, the rewards of doing them might not be worth their dreariness.
These assaults can start out as daunting. Meticulous min-maxing players would have developed the player character to possibly level 19 or even 20 by the time this content becomes available. However, most enemies in the strongholds would have higher levels, and the player character is not likely to have the gear to contend with them. Going up against them anyway can be difficult, because the terrain is open enough for the Black Ring’s forces and their allies to gang up on the player character.
This could give the impression that this is a challenge worth overcoming. Indeed, if the player could develop the player character to be more powerful, breezing through them would be like a hack-and-slash title. (Indeed, this may have been the intention of Larian Studios.)
On the other hand, if the player is tired of hack-and-slash games, having such content in an otherwise narrative-driven RPG might be dissatisfying.
The worst problem is how the dragon form is worked into these scenarios. There are few reasons to use it for battle, due to the aforementioned limitations on engaging ground enemies with the dragon form. Indeed, the main reason to use the form is to move from one floating island to another. The most entertainment that the player could have from using the dragon form in these scenarios is to systematically remove the towers and get some XP from them.
As for the rewards, each garrison in a stronghold is guarding a prominently (and comically) displayed chest; the chest may have some great gear. There is also the loot from defeating the general of the stronghold, after experiencing the mostly amusing personalities of the generals. (On the other hand, the generals are so dysfunctional that one wonders whether they have been chosen for their strategic acumen or something else.)
If the player has played the previous games in the Divinity series, the player would find the writing of Ego Draconis to be quite different, and not always for the better.
When the game is delivering narrative exposition, the writing falls back to typical medieval-speak, which an experienced player may have already seen in plenty other medieval fantasy RPGs. Indeed, the writing is mostly serviceable when it sticks to such a convention. Problems arise when it does not.
At many places, the writing tries to be cheeky. The actual results would be all over the place. For a less positive example, there is a side quest involving a person with split personalities that happen to have cringe-inducing names (which are a reference to one of Robert Louis Stevenson’s works). The laziest examples are simple word swaps, such as a tweak of a certain phrase that an avian creature says in one of Edgar Allan Poe’s works. (The avian creature has its species swapped too, for extra cringe-worthiness.)
Other cringe-worthy examples include an attempt to work in a mild social commentary with wordplay; this happens in a side quest involving trolls of the fantastical kind. Of course, the writers wrote lines such that allusions to Internet trolls would be clear to any observant person.
The better examples are the player character’s responses to his/her circumstances; there is always one mischievous or snide option, even in dangerous situations.
There are some instances where the gameplay designers are not always working closely with writers. This can be seen in some of the results of mindreading certain characters in the mid- and late-sections of the game, especially those that yield skill or stat points. The player gets a generic statement about having gained insight.
This game was made during a time when character models in fantastical RPGs are made with models that are not always convincingly contiguous. The player can expect head models that stick out of torso models with no clear transition from collarbone to neck girth, for example. There are even more noticeable mismatches, like skin colours of uncovered thighs not matching the skin colours of hands or faces.
There is also the need to install PhysX, which is apparently used for many animations in the game, including even those for the menus.
At the time of this game, HDR lighting was quite the rave, but had not replaced light bloom techniques. Therefore, the player can expect gaudy highlights of surfaces near brief sources of light, especially those of magic.
This game was made during a time when smooth model transitions from hitbox collisions was (and perhaps still is) a rare inclusion in the repertoire of animators. Thus, for example, the player can expect models that bounce abruptly up and down as their characters move across rough terrain.
As mentioned earlier, the same set of animations is used for all human and humanoid characters. This is most noticeable when human characters fight against each other.
The game resorts to a lot of fade-ins, especially during the transition between on-foot gameplay and dragon-flight and vice versa. This is especially noticeable in the assaults on Black Ring strongholds, in which the player might unwittingly have the player character turn back into a human and land in the middle of enemy groups that the player could not see while he/she was in dragon form.
At least the animations for the dragon form look quite impressive. The other airborne characters are similarly decent too. For example, there are giant bugs that hover and zip around much like real bugs (and despite their size). However, the towers look rather awkward, because they do not have smooth rotation animations.
As mentioned earlier, every sentient character that knows a human-spoken language has voice-overs for his/her/its lines. The number of distinct voice-actors is not easily discernible, which could have been something that is praise-worthy.
Unfortunately, their actual skill at delivering lines is not great. Some characters have noticeable non-English speakers voicing their lines, and their lack of aptitude is evident in their stilted performance. Some can speak English convincingly, but have leaden performance.
At least the characters that matter are voiced by people who have better skill at voice-acting. This does not include the player character of course, because he/she is one of those Western RPG protagonists that could only communicate through text lines.
Most of the sound effects are exactly what one would expect from a typical fantastical game. There are all sorts of unbelievable noises that would accompany the use of magic, and there would be sounds of metal striking things. Also, since the setting has some fusion of technology and magic, the player can expect the rumble and clanking of machinery too.
Then, there are the sounds for the dragon form. Frying things with the fire-breath does sound satisfying; the sizzling of monster flesh is just audible over the other fiery noises. There is also the sound of air being compressed as the dragon flaps its wings.
Some of the sound effects do contribute to gameplay. Chief of these are footsteps, which the player can listen to while traipsing in dungeons; more often than not, these are the footsteps of patrolling enemies that are just around the corner.
Interestingly, there is wide variety in the soundtracks. In addition to the usual ‘epic’ orchestral ones, there are instrument solos and even a few mixed instrument-electronic tracks, to name some examples.
Considering Larian Studios’ earlier games, Ego Draconis follows their erstwhile tradition of not making the same game twice, yet putting the game into the same narrative universe anyway.
There is considerable emergent gameplay in this game, more so than there was in Divine Divinity (and Beyond Divinity). Assuming that the player does not already know where to go (likely for the purpose of a speed-run), the player is gradually eased into these gameplay elements.
Unfortunately, many of the gameplay elements are underwhelming from hindsight, if the player has not realized their shortfalls earlier. The Creature system is held back by lousy scripting for the behaviour of the Creature. Being a dragon requires the player to only fight flying enemies or large structures, with none of the gratuitousness of being able to roast puny fools on foot. The variety of weapons for on-foot combat is limited, with noticeable omissions like the absence of medieval fantasy staples such as staves and crossbows.
The narrative is not tightly designed either. The writers attempt to make references to other works of fiction whenever possible, often to cringe-inducing levels (at least from the perspective of a jaded person).
For better or worse, it would be a while before Larian Studios learned useful lessons from the post-mortem of this game. Many foibles would be repeated in the expansion, Flames of Vengeance.
Still, the player’s first and only playthrough with this game would have been quite entertaining. Having seconds of it would be just too much.