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Divinity: Dragon Commander

By Mokman07-08-2013
Bis18marck70 (editor)
MrJenssen (editor)
Divinity: Dragon Commander

The Defence

Larian Studios
Larian Studios
Strategy, Adventure, Role Playing
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Core 2 Duo 2.6 GHz
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce 8800
AMD Radeon HD 4850
2 GB
15 GB

The Case


A quick note to all fans of the series - if the jetpack toting dragon on the cover has not warned you yet, this game is an absolute departure from the previous titles. Divinity II: Ego Draconis was pretty much a traditional, fun and quite well-done action RPG. This is a bastardized amalgamation of real-time strategy, role-playing, turn-based empire building - not to mention a bit of card gameplay mixed into the pot. Is this is an improvement, or a recipe for disaster? Read on to find out.

The Trial


Don't you find that, as you reach a certain point with RTS games, you kind of wish you had a slightly more intimate effect on the battlefield? I mean, you can build tanks and call in bombardments, sure, but there's an urge to do something visceral. What about physically flying above the battlefield, commanding troops? While you're at it, how about zooming about on a jetpack, hurling fireballs and spraying acid? Now, in addition to that, what if you were a dragon? Also, the emperor of a fantasy realm? Oh, and your sky-ship full of multi-race councillors, including a creepily religious undead ponce called Yorick, who keeps bugging you with issues about legalizing gay marriage? No? That's crazy? Well, Larian Studios doesn't seem to think so. In fact, that's the basis behind their latest game in the Divinity series.

Oh look, it's Gandalf.

Oh look, it's Gandalf.

One way in which Dragon Commander drastically tears away from its predecessors is its theme. It is set in the same world, but gone is the serious high-fantasy fluff involving grim men in historically semi-accurate plate armour. Instead, it reaches into the highly entertaining and sadly underused subgenre of Funtasy. Yeah, you heard me right - Funtasy is basically a satirical version of Fantasy, think Terry Pratchett's Discworld but in videogame form. When done right, it is a brilliant setting in which to place your game, as seen in the masterful Overlord games. But then again, when done wrong, it can be jarring and inappropriate, such as Impire. The line between parody and satire is a fine one, with the former providing too crass an atmosphere for any games of serious length.

Dragon Commander avoids this through a very interesting tactic. Instead of merely stopping at Funtasy, it dials the geek meter up to eleven and proceeds to fuse it with the subgenre possessed by the most fanatical following - Steampunk. Yes, so not only do we have talking undead skeletons and trigger-happy imps, they now all seem to be decked out in top hats with superfluous machinery, travelling about on air ships and firing rayguns. Over-the-top? Definitely. It doesn't simply tread that fine line, it instead forges its own path, with its own very adult, but very interesting world. I dare say that it’s masterfully done, with the right mix of each ingredient providing just the right amount of grimness and eccentricity - resulting in a madcap setting that somehow works whether you're blasting zeppelins apart as a jetpack-toting dragon, or sitting in on a council meeting deciding whether you wish to legalize euthanasia.

Most games end in some varying form of overkill.

Most games end in some varying form of overkill.

The story is unfortunately your normal fare, with an empire being torn apart by greedy children, you being the bastard son that is prophesied to become the re-uniting force through your birthright - and perhaps with some liberal application of dragon-spawned fireballs. It's not particularly engaging, but what truly makes the dialogue and text worth listening to are the characters - and this is where the game really shines. Each character that bums around your sky-ship, known as the Raven, is an interesting person, with their own attitude, personality, and design. Sure, your generals may have in-game statistics, but you begin to form opinions on them, set them within archetypal roles and laugh as you watch them interact with each other. The relationship mechanics are not for show however, as instead of individual relationships, you will be managing relations with entire races, which will ultimately determine the difficulty of your in-game campaign as you garner support and lose it thanks to the council decisions you make. The Council works in such a manner that you cannot make any choice without angering at least a few other races, while improving the favour of the rest - and each race has a certain archetype.

The undead are religiously conservative, to the point of annoyance, strutting about in their rickety bones blaring on about the Seven Gods. The elves are well-dressed hippies, hardcore environmentalists that are liberal to the extremes. The dwarves are crass commercialists and sensationalists in charge of the newspaper that reports your escapades - something that causes me personally to attach more attention to them than is required. The lizard-folk are clearly designed to be the arrogant aristocracy, functioning purely on reason and logic. And last but not least (I think), are the imps, who love to invent things and then subsequently blow other things up. The RPG mechanics are somewhat similar to those in Starcraft 2's campaign, namely walking about the ship talking to various characters, upgrading the units you use in the game. However, it takes it a step further by adding upgrades to your dragons, as well as the council support mechanics and mini-quests, all of which result in a significant impact on the gameplay.

A jet-packed dragon dive-bombing a steampunk power plant. What's not to like.

A jet-packed dragon dive-bombing a steampunk power plant. What's not to like.

The gameplay is decidedly unique, a strange RTS that is infused with an action dragon-controlling element when in actual battles, and a turn-based empire building game the rest of the time. To be honest, it is only a decent real-time and turn-based strategy game at best, when you look at each part separately, but with the strange new mechanics such as card playing (which allows you to play cards you receive periodically from the structures you build for certain bonuses or mercenaries) and of course, blowing troops apart as a dragon, the game suddenly transforms from a slightly bland one to something genuinely interesting. However, it would be remiss of me to let that blind this review from the shortcomings of the gameplay, of which there are many.

Firstly, it is incredibly difficult to control units and this is not helped by the fact that the tutorial is practically non-existent, resulting in haphazard controlling at best. Micro-managing your units is a nightmare, especially when you are busy flying around as a dragon, which you can do by pressing the "R" button mid-battle, transforming from an omniscient commander into a proper dragon. This is exacerbated by the fact that you do have to micro-manage your troops, as many of the upgrades you acquire add specific abilities that you have to activate on the troops. It is brilliant idea, yes, but it is also one that could have been executed far more elegantly. Instead, what you have now is a madcap mix that doesn't allow you to fully appreciate the intricacies of each of the systems. The game would have been far better served by simplifying the RTS aspects in favour of the dragon controlling, or have made troop control an easier prospect. The turn-based strategy game is pretty decent, but nothing really special. It is at times exhilarating, such as when grabbing land for yourself while fending off your rivals, and yet at times frustrating, like when you have to create troops in eight different provinces with the bad UI.

Sadly, naval combat is far less interesting than ground combat. Leave that to autoresolve.

Sadly, naval combat is far less interesting than ground combat. Leave that to autoresolve.

This segways into my point about the UI. It’s horrendous. Misclicking and command confusion is a common occurrence, and the strategy map in which the events take place is confusing and annoying to deal with. The graphics are dated, visually dull, despite the exciting art design. Still, that can be forgiven, because the art design is truly out of this world with its fun and unique machines dominating the battlefield. Despite the grainy pixelated units not providing as much detail as I would have liked, they were still chock full of character.

The individual characters are even better, exuding their personalities not only through the surprisingly good audio tracks, but also through distinct character designs that amplify their traits. Yes, it is a bit heavy-handed at times, and it betrays a fanatical love for Steampunk within the design team, but in this game, with these conditions, I dare say it finds the right place to root itself in.

The Verdict


In conclusion, I shouldn't like this game. I shouldn't encourage such shoddy game mechanics, nor should I approve of style over substance to such a degree. Yet I cannot help but have so much damn fun playing Dragon Commander. Allowing you not only to play as a dragon, but also role-play as a dragon results in an enormous amount of chaotic immersion, a strange mix between incredulous excitement and story-driven urges. The various choices you make throughout the game are sometimes silly, sometimes serious, but as you play more, you begin to become thoroughly invested in them, creating an image of the emperor you wish to be - whether or not you succeed in your goal. Ultimately, it is a question of personal taste, as with all games but even more so in this case. Are you able to stomach slightly dated graphics and unpolished gameplay for an interesting premise and exciting setting? Are you a fan of Funtasy and Steampunk? Ask yourself these questions, and if the answer is affirmative to both - then your choice will be a no-brainer. This is an excellently fun romp, an entertaining adventure that will keep a smile on your face as you vomit fire onto airship-flying imps.

Case Review

  • Innovative: It must be said that I can think of no other dragon-based RTS/Action-RPG/Turn-Based Empire Builder hybrid.
  • Fun Setting: Definitely an entertaining world to play in, with religious undead skeletons and crazy imps.
  • Visceral: Few things feel better than raging through enemy armies as a crazed bloodthirsty dragon.
  • Warped Humour: May appeal to some, but may also turn others off. Your mileage may vary.
  • Horrible UI: When will games learn that having a bad UI can negate hours of excellent work?!
  • Unpolished: Ambitious as the game is, one can’t help but feel that more work needed to be put into it for something truly amazing.
Score: 4/5
I shouldn't encourage such an example of style over substance, yet I cannot help but have so damn much fun.


At first glance, you may be wondering “what in the world is all this crap?” On closer inspection, you'll be wondering “what in the world is all this crap?!”, especially if you’re coming from previous titles in the Divinity series. Dragon Commander is an interesting blend of real time strategy and conversation-lead role-playing. With multiple, seemingly incompatible, elements all thrown together in a blender to create a surprisingly smooth and refreshing protein shake.

The inclusion of auto resolve options, adjusted by unit strength, cards and even the generals at your disposal. For a small fee, you can hire one of them to lead the attack for you, thus bringing to bear any and all of their various attributes. The cards play an interesting role too. Covering various effects that can affect play both in and out of battle. Such as subverting an enemy province to produce less gold or making enemy units less effective. The former being a metagame, the latter being within the battle screen.

Balancing the needs of the various factions is both impossibly complex - you will invariably always piss off somebody no matter which choice you make - but deceptively easy, because you'll also make someone else happy by a larger amount. The battles are frenetic and much faster than most RTS veterans will be used to. There’s also the ability to turn into a dragon with a freaking jetpack! Probably the most badass thing I've ever seen. It also looks a hell of a lot prettier than I expected, too. It isn't superb, but the videos and screenshots really don’t do it justice.

Score: 4.5/5


Well this game was certainly a delight to play. It has a great mix of different genres all within one package, and it executes them surprisingly well. You have a bunch of RPG elements that involve talking to different character aboard the Raven airship that you’re on. Diplomacy options are also there to gain or lose favour from certain citizens and races as well as your commanders on the Raven. You’ll also be able to buy upgrades and new units from your engineer aboard the ship in the engineering bay, as well as upgrades for yourself in dragon form, from an allied wizard.

When you have finished with the RPG segments, you can head to the Bridge and begin your conquest for domination. The strategy map is a turn based global conquest type of system where you have the option to play cards to work in your favour, build units and set them to take over different regions, construct different buildings to benefit your nation in each region, etc. Again, this is turn based and you’ll need to end your turn while the enemies make their moves, you can watch them do this or skip it to take another turn yourself. Eventually you’ll attempt to invade one of your enemies or they’ll attempt to invade you. This will start a battle stage which gives you many options on how to approach the situation. Choose one of your loyal commanders to handle it, which can be a gamble, or choose to handle it yourself, but before deploying to battle you can draw some cards and equip certain dragon skills to benefit you in combat along with your army.

This will then drop you into an RTS battle where the aim is to take over as much of the map as possible and fight off enemy units and take over their bases that they hold while you defend yours. You’ll need to do this in order to increase the recruitment/ population cap to be able to build more defences, buildings and units for you to move about with. The interesting bit is that you can also spawn in your dragon form in the middle of the battle and fly around the battlefield in 3rd person to fight the enemy yourself. You’ll be able to attack enemy buildings and units while your own units are attacking and defending, which introduces many interesting opportunities to deal with things on the map, and gives you the choice of doing it whenever, as long as you are near friendly units. If you die, however, you can respawn back, but at the cost of resources. If this already sounds appealing to you, I highly recommend giving it a try, as there is a lot of content that is very well executed and opens up interesting options.

Score: 4/5
Comments (2)
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Posts: 3290

Funny you should say that. I try and auto resolve as many battles as possible, just take the losses, specifically so I can maximise my time on the Raven :D

Posts: 1548

I quite liked it. Especially enjoyed the RPG part of the game.