|Release Date:||08/06/13 (PC)|
Divinity has been around for over a decade. What started off as Diablo-esque top-down hack and slash and eventually turned into a third-person RPG has been reborn once more. Having played Divinity II: Ego Draconis, I was a bit wary stepping into game as I mostly remember it being a watery experience, but I soon put away all my worries. Divinity: Dragon Commander seems a title from a much more mature studio, a product of care and a game certainly well worth playing.
STORY: Divinity puts you in the role of the Dragon Prince, the bastard son of a dead King. The king, it seems, got pretty frisky. You’re actually a half-dragon with the capability to turn into the flying behemoth at will. Too bad your father didn’t leave you much: his lands are torn and his children are fighting over the wreckage. Without much preamble, you set about unifying the empire.
The story in Divinity: Dragon Commander commits one of the biggest faults a story can: it has no motivation. From the outset, you are already the son of the former King and looking to reunite his lands. But you don’t really have any reason for doing so other than that a white haired old wizard, Maxos, told you to. You step right into battle with not much more than a few tutorial screens.
The story is the game is told mainly between battle missions via exposition from characters and with hand drawn cut scenes between each of the game’s chapters. The main story isn’t very in depth. You’re on a campaign to reclaim your father’s empire. It’s quite straight forward. Where the story begins to shine is in between the turns when you head back to your ship, The Raven, and you begin to meet with your allies.
There are two major types of inter-turn conversations that you can participate in. The first deals with your Generals and the second with Politicians. The Generals conversations involve speaking to your four generals (most of whom can’t stand one another), and diffusing situations with kingly speak. The other scenarios involve speaking to your political advisors for each of the races in Rivellon (Undead, Lizard, Elves, Dwarves, and Imps) and making decisions about how you want your empire to be run. Most of the rulings are corollaries of modern political decisions, like whether or not to raise taxes or if you’ll allow gay marriage in your empire. These choices will invariably win you the respect of some factions while losing the respect of another. It’s a tricky ball to keep balanced and it can be quite enthralling.
Overall, the story for Divinity: Dragon Commander is pretty weak. It’s sort of just a way to mash the multiplayer experience into single player form. But that’s okay because-
GAMEPLAY: Dragon Commander has some of the best gameplay ever, period. Summed up as easily as possible, it’s Starcraft meets Risk meets Ace Combat. Oh, and you control a jetpack wearing dragon. A JETPACK WEARING DRAGON.
Let’s break down a sample match. First, you start out in a board game. Full on, Risk style, with tiny pieces that you move across a map. There are turns, and in each one you can move pieces (most move either one or two tiles), buy new units, or build a building on a tile that increases your gold or research or pump out cards that change the gameplay. When your pieces and enemy pieces meet on a tile, a battle begins. Were it not for the battles, you’d be looking at a very straightforward board game.
The battles, however, completely alter the game and make it quite unlike most things you’ve ever played. When your units clash, you are given the chance to play up to five cards (three seen by the opponent, two hidden) that can do things like give you more units or slow down the enemy. Then, you load into a full on RTS match, Starcraft II style. You can build buildings to make new units, build citadels to recruit people to let you buy more units, make turrets, and generally try to control the map. The matches are a bit quicker than a standard RTS, but that doesn’t mean they don’t often end up 15-25 minutes long.
And while the RTS would be plenty fun on its own, there’s still another level to the cake that is Dragon Commander, and that’s the fact that you can summon yourself to battle at any time for 20 population points. Once you fly in as Jetpack Dragon, they game turns into a third person shooter. You can fly around at warp speed, rain fire down upon your enemies, heal and inspire your allies, nuke your opponents, lay traps, do barrel rolls – it’s really a game unto itself. There were many times I’d eschew the RTS aspects just to lay waste as the dragon.
Once you win (or lose) the battle, you go back to the map. If there are no more battles, the turn ends and you go off to solve political matters before beginning your next turn. You win once you’ve taken over the entire island. While you start off against only one opponent, the later chapters have you fighting multiple siblings at a time in a war on all fronts. It can get blisteringly difficult, even on normal, but the challenge is really part of the fun. And believe me, the game is fun.
GRAPHICS: Dragon Commander looks how I imagine World of Warcraft would if they actually modernized the game. There’s a vibrant color palate and wacky characters. When on your ship, talking to people is a pleasure. Tons of attention to detail was put in and you can often see neat things in the background like awesome doors, a skeleton barmaid with a pumpkin and an apple filling her corset, gnomes working on steampunk technology, or just plain attractive looking environments. The character models that fill the place are impressive and appealing, each filled with, well, character. The only real mar here is that the lip movement is sometimes a little weak, with much less impact that what the characters are saying.
On the board game screen, everything looks like hand drawn parchment and cut wood. I would not be surprised if you see this as a real board game somewhere down the line since everything is already set up for it. It looks great for what it is and it’s easy to lose yourself in the world of the game.
By far the least attractive aspect of the game is the RTS aspect. It still looks great, but many of the units look very samey. Also, there are no factions in the game, so you’re seeing the same units for each battle on every side, just with palate swaps. This is somewhat alleviated by the fact that being a dragon looks so cool, but it can be a bit tiring later on in the single player when the fatigue starts to set in.
SOUND: The music in Dragon Commander is a riot. Almost every one of the orchestrations is a wild, explosive version of what would otherwise be a normal song. You know that moment you have when you’re playing a game and you suddenly stop because you realize the song you’re listening to in strange or bizarre? That happened to me every few minutes in this game. There are times when the music feels extremely out of place, such as when a heartfelt speech from a lovely skeleton happened in front of a soundtrack that could be described as a fiddle having a heart attack. The music can be jarring, but I will admit that it is always, always an adventure.
As for the voice acting, it’s some of the best in recent games. A lot of the roles are relatively played out caricatures (xenophobic rich folk, church worshipping war monger, etc), so the fact that nearly every single voice actor comes in and sells the heck out of their performances is beyond commendable. A few of the scenes from Denise Gough in particular are chilling. Really, the great VO is what makes most of the political ruminations in the game, which don’t really amount to much more than people standing around talking, utterly magnetizing to play though.
REPLAY: Given the choice between single player and multiplayer, I will always pick single player first. When you ask me what I remember about a game, what stuck with me, it’s moments from the single player. So I think it says loads for the game about how unbelievably great this game’s multiplayer aspect is.
A lot of this stems out of the fact that the single player campaign is basically multiplayer matches with some story in between, but getting online to play against 3 other people is insane. You can play every man for himself, 2v2, 3v1, 2v1, and 1v1. Each of the modes offers their own batch of decisions and gameplay changes, but every one of them remains intense and fun. It’s a game to play with close friends and watch as those friendship wither over the course of a 3-6 hour match (yes, the games are very long).
Like the best board games, the replay for Divinity is endless. It’s a game that changes with the people who play it rather than with the maps or weapons you have. You’ll want to keep this game installed on your harddrive for those rainy days when everyone is looking for a game to play.
I could harp on Divinity’s little problems – a lack luster story, lip syncing issues – all day, but none of those are anywhere near large enough to take away from the fact that at its core, Dragon Commander is an insanely unique and fun game to play. Pick it up for the multiplayer alone, everything else is just frosting. Oh, and did I mention? JETPACK DRAGONS.
Written By: D.R. Maddock