by Derk Bil
previewed on PC
My very last appointment at GamesCom 2012 was with Belgium-based Larian Studios to check out both the state of Divinity: Dragon Commander and the contents of their fridge. After having been handed a beer, I could safely remove the fridge part from my list. Verdict? More than adequate. It was time to get down to business with the game, in which nothing short of a dragon with a jet-pack steals the show.
Doing the strategic element considerable injustice, the game can be described as a large number of fast-paced areal battles joined together through a Starcraft-like campaign. The game is a prequel (of sorts) to the studios Divinity games. You assume the role of a young prince slash Dragon Knight with the ability to shape-shift into a massive dragon. A huge mothership called The Raven acts as a mobile base from which the young prince embarks upon a mission to avenge his father’s murder and to reclaim Rivellon from the evil empress Aurora.
Conquer and be divided
The main strategic game is played out on a big map of Rivellon which has been divided into provinces. You have to conquer the map, claiming each individual province to assume rule over the population to generate income and reinforcements for your armies. But ruling a population as diverse as Rivellon’s is quite the challenge and it’s practically impossible to keep everyone happy at all times. The moral compasses of dwarves and elves are far from similar and when you throw goblins, undead and lizards into the mix, the potential for discord is complete.
Fortunately, all races are represented through a council and assembled in your throne room, so you can pick each of the council members’ brains on the decisions you have to face and go with the lesser of the evils. It’s quite possible that you will make a decision that’s unpopular with one or more of the races, increasing their malcontent. Once their distaste for your brand of ruling has reached a critical point, the provinces representing a certain race will be crippled by strikes and protests.
There’s one wildcard that will aid you in retaining the favor of a race, and that’s political marriage. So if the lizard race has had enough of your antics, you could always marry that cold-blooded lizard princess and get back on their good side, at least for a while.
You don’t send out your prince each and every time there is a problem. You have lieutenants at your disposal, each with very specific traits and their own unique approach in solving difficult situations. You can chisel them into serving your purposes better by talking to them and by sending them on missions. In most cases, your interactions will be helpful but it is entirely possible to make your lieutenants even worse at cooperating with each other than they already are.
Taking it to the skies
Actual battles for dominance over an area can be settled by simply clicking the auto-resolve button and letting the AI calculate the outcome, but it’s more fun to do it yourself. Aerial combat involves swarms of aircraft duking it out in the skies. Aircraft come in three variations: slow but heavy hitting, small but highly maneuverable and something in between the two. Flying at higher altitudes makes your units slower but more lethal, while flying lower will make them faster but do less damage. In concept, that’s very straight forward, but the game does have some surprises up its sleeve.
The first of these involves cards. You start a battle with a stack of cards that can be used to award special skills and attributes to your squadrons to give them an edge in combat. The other is that jet-pack-powered dragon that I mentioned earlier. While the battle is raging and your opponent may think he has you in his sights, you can join the battlefield as the dragon and rain down on his parade with bolts of fire. The dragon is fast and agile and often able to get behind the enemy lines without too much trouble. He is not invulnerable though, and should you be slain you have to wait a while before you can get back in, or rejoin almost instantly at the expense of a lot of gold.
Getting board with the game
Divinity: Dragon Commander is quite enjoyable as a single player game but the real mayhem starts once you play with your friends. The game supports up to four players for cooperative or player-versus-player fun and is expected to be released in March. If you pre-order the special edition of the game, you will receive an exclusive board game so you don’t have to go through withdrawal symptoms on your camping trips either.