Divinity: Dragon Commander Review

13 Aug 2013

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Larian Studios
Developer:Larian Studios
Release Date:2013-08-06
Genre:
  • Strategy
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
I admit, I'm a little smitten with Larian Studios. Although their games are often not the best when it comes to the raw mechanics and features available, the Belgian developer offers up such infectious personality and charm in their games that it's hard for me to hide the big, stupid grin on my face while playing their titles.

Although Larian are known for their Divinity franchise, semi-open-world action-RPGs set in their fantasy world of Rivellon, Divinity: Dragon Commander is a somewhat unexpected entry in the series. Instead of an RPG, this game is firmly cemented in the real-time strategy genre, though it does keep several of the series' RPG trappings. Instead of a medieval fantasy world, Rivellon is now a steampunk setting full of both magic and technology. If it weren't for some of the more tenuous links in the game's lore and characters, there wouldn't be too much to mark this as a Divinity game at all.

Despite these departures from the rest of the series, however, I thoroughly enjoyed Divinity: Dragon Commander. Like many of Larian's titles, it's an eclectic mix of ideas that somehow manage to all fit together into something enjoyable and uniquely appealing, even if there are still some pretty notable problems with the raw gameplay itself.

Rivellon in Chaos

The story setup for Divinity: Dragon Commander is pretty simple. Set many decades ahead of the previous Divinity games, you play the bastard descendent of the former king of Rivellon, the union between man and shape-shifting dragon. The king is assassinated by his legitimate heirs shortly after his power begins to weaken with age, throwing the land into the flames of warfare. Yet you, the peculiar half-dragon offspring capable of transforming between human and dragon shapes at will, are instead contacted by the wizard Maxos, given a massive mechanical airship called the Raven, and told to bring peace back to Rivellon, by wiping out your warring siblings.

Although the details of the setup are slightly glossed over in the game's introduction, the game's story grows in depth, if not in scope, as the campaign moves on. Aboard the Raven, which is divided into several rooms, you spend much of your time talking with the characters who inhabit it, including your generals, the representative councilors of the land's races, and a number of others. As the game goes on, many new scripted events and incidents occur which offer brand-new dialogue trees to explore. The story beats take place entirely aboard the Raven, and some of the revelations that occur are quite interesting. Of course, you can ignore almost all of the characters and story if you wish, but you'd be missing out on the excellent prose that is much of the dialogue, and the very competent voice-acting that brings life to it (not to mention the gameplay effects these conversations can have).

While the story and characters aren't exactly full of deep lore and dark secrets, you'll be surprised to see how things can change and branch over time. While not fraught with extremely significant consequences, your decisions during dialogue will provide you both with gameplay rewards or penalties, and there's quite a bit of reactivity from the characters aboard your ship to them. When it comes time to pick a princess later in the campaign (for purely diplomatic reasons, of course), I was genuinely surprised to see how many unique events and dialogue bits this unlocked for the princess herself, and for the rest of the game's characters as well.

So, while the reactivity is, most of the time, cosmetic, Larian spared no expense to create a close-knit set of characters that feel like they are paying attention to the happenings aboard the Raven and in their empire. My only real complaint is that, while entertaining, a few of the characters are a little too on-the-nose in their personalities - for instance, Catherine's man-hating tendencies are just a bit overplayed and can get a little irritating. But, for every one character you may not like, there's likely five who you will.