I of the Dragon is an action RPG with a couple of things in its favor. Instead of letting you play as the typical barbarian or mage, this fantasy game lets you take to the skies as a dragon. It also requires you to do some tactical thinking instead of relying solely on brute force. Beyond that, it's generic fare marred by numbing missions and repetitive combat, not to mention a wholly forgettable gameworld. I of the Dragon isn't actually a bad game, just a strikingly unimaginative one. In short bursts it can be fun, but over the long haul it becomes a real snoozer.
The game serves up a disposable story. Once upon a time, a generic fantasy world was beset by evil monsters. Humans and their dragon allies managed to destroy the wicked monsters infesting the land and banish their Sauron-style leader. After their victory, some shortsighted humans suspiciously turned on the dragons and drove them away, too. Naturally, the great evil of former times returns, and suddenly a dragon--that would be you--is needed to fight the forces of darkness.
Cutscenes fill you in on this limp tale. If you're expecting cinematic drama akin to the astounding cutscenes in Diablo II--or even something half as good--you'll be sorely disappointed. Instead you get lame in-engine scenes in which some little low-polygon guy appears (sometimes with his head cropped out of the picture) and tells you to go kill a bunch of monsters.
In fact, bare-bones monster killing is the core of I of the Dragon--kill all the monsters here, then kill all the monsters there, defend this town from monsters, then defend that town from monsters. Not exactly inspiring or imaginative. When the missions do differ, it might entail building a town, but that basically means flying to a preset site on a map and pressing a particular key. The missions that don't involve merely killing everything on a map can be unclear, since they often give you no idea where to look for the specific monster or building you need to find.
A few woefully ill-conceived missions have you playing as a human. These stink, not only because they're just plain boring, but also because the movement interface and camera were designed for airborne dragons and prove frustratingly inadequate when used for a creature stuck on the ground. You can hardly see where you're going, and evading enemies can be nearly impossible, as your character gets stuck on scenery.
Thank goodness you mostly fight as one of three different types of dragons, each of which has a different combat emphasis and a different selection of potential spells. The basics of movement and combat apply to all three. To move, you just click a spot on the landscape, and away your dragon flies. With the keyboard, you can vary its altitude and speed. However, even with the game-speed slider cranked up to the maximum 200 percent and your dragon's speed stat boosted through leveling up, your character's movement still feels slow and ponderous. Forget any dreams of soaring on the winds and performing stunning feats of aerial acrobatics. These dragons have all the grace and agility of a school bus.
As far as combat goes, you just right-click your target to attack it. The trick is in coordinating your attacks and flight pattern. You can avoid attacks more easily by soaring high above your enemies, but the farther you are from a target, the more likely it is that your ranged attacks will miss. Swooping down low makes it easier to blast your prey, but it also increases the likelihood that you'll get caught in a hail of projectiles. You can use terrain to your advantage, letting an intervening stand of trees absorb attacks from land-based monsters while you destroy the lair that generates them. Some of the terrain is destructible, though, so those trees won't hold out for long.
Your core dragon attacks include close-range breath weapons (fire, frost, and so on) that you can charge up for a lengthy, full-power blast or let loose more quickly but with less power. There are also single-shot breath-weapon attacks and a special attack that lets you dive down, snatch a monster with your talons, and then eat the squealing beast to sate your hunger. You'll need to stop and hover when you feed, so getting to safe ground first is vital.
While these physical attacks are important, it's the spells that often form your most powerful arsenal. I of the Dragon offers good diversity in the spell department, encouraging you to try the campaign as each of the three dragon types. The spells let you create geysers in the landscape to injure nearby foes, launch lightning blasts, raise zombie allies, heal yourself, and a lot more. Overall, the game's combat often has a numbingly repetitive and formulaic feel, but the way you choose to sequence your magic attacks adds some much-needed spice. For instance, blinding nearby foes for a moment might give you the time needed to destroy their lair without suffering too much damage yourself. In the heat of the moment, you might need to decide whether to lash out with a particularly brutal spell that takes a long time to cast or hurriedly cast a weaker spell.
You can purchase new spells as you level up, which is done by defeating monsters and the lairs that spawn them. You gain extra spell slots by collecting little glowing balls that sometimes appear when you demolish a lair. Spells run on mana--what else?--which recharges over time. Each time you level up, you're granted some stat points that can you use for boosting your mana influx or otherwise expanding and improving your dragon's abilities. You'll have to prioritize carefully, since some stats--like health regeneration--require more points to boost than others.
While these sorts of decisions add a little bit of strategy to the game, I of the Dragon's character building is pretty sparse, and combat mostly boils down to a series of monotonous, simplistic tasks. Once you figure out a few basic tactics, it all comes down to point, click, repeat. That's admittedly a major part of the action RPG formula, but here you don't feel like you're getting anywhere or accomplishing anything. The game lacks the hidden depth and "just 10 more minutes" addictiveness of the genre at its best. There are no weapons or enchanted items to find, buy, or create, so there's no tempting promise of nabbing that elusive item you've been hankering for. There are no random maps to keep things fresh, but instead 12 fixed, relatively small battlegrounds. There are no multiplayer options, either. Co-op play could have made things much more interesting.
The bland and boring gameworld is no fun to explore. Landscapes vary a bit across the different game areas, but they all feel generic and similar in the end. A fantasy setting should induce a sense of awe and wonder, but those things are totally lacking here. The creatures, saddled with dumb names like "Tumba-Umba," never frighten, amuse, or otherwise captivate. Plus, you're usually flying well above any foes, with the camera situated even higher for a top-down view. That means nearly every monster appears as a tiny speck. You can play I of the Dragon for many hours and barely remember what a single creature looks like.
Bland, dated graphics don't help in that regard. The spell effects are flashy enough, but in a gratuitous and unimaginative way. A bunch of random brilliant lights doesn't really cut it. The dragons are detailed, down to the veins in their translucent wings, but not really imposing or inspiring. Overall, I of the Dragon lacks any distinctive look or feel. Actually, the interface is distinctive, but only because it's ugly and cluttered. Unlike the graphics, the audio has almost nothing in its favor. It's bland and sparse, with wimpy monster sounds, phoned-in voice-overs, and a mishmash of pedestrian new age music that doesn't create any unified or even relevant mood.
I of the Dragon doesn't make much use of its interesting premise. In this game, being a dragon turns out to be a pretty prosaic job. The game does offer some mildly interesting tactical options, thanks in part to the wide spell selection, but those strengths nearly collapse under the weight of the pitifully bland campaign. I of the Dragon has some short-term appeal, but over time it makes you feel like a glorified exterminator, tediously eliminating an endless stream of generic monsters for no real reason.