Saturday, December 26, 2015

Divinity: Dragon Commander

I picked up Divinity: Dragon Commander (D:DC) in a recent Steam sale with fairly low expectations. The game got mostly middle-of-the-road reviews, and what I'd seen posted on gaming forums wasn't greatly encouraging. But I bought it anyway for two reasons: 1) you get to play as a dragon that shoots fireballs at things, and 2) most of the complaints seemed to be about lack of depth. Everyone likes #1, and I'm OK with #2 since I have enough ridiculously complex games already.
You play as the half-dragon son of a recently deceased emperor, who is supported by some of your father's ex-advisers in a quest to conquer various enemies and restore the empire. The campaign moves from conquering outlying lands to taking the heart of the empire to fighting a world-spanning evil demon. Along the way, you gain followers, upgrade your technology, and improve your dragon skills.

D:DC is a mashup of three genres: role-playing, real-time strategy, and turn-based strategy. Each aspect affects the others as you play. A decision you make in the role-playing portion might affect what resources you have during your next strategy turn. The forces you decide to use on the turn-based map affect what you start with in the real-time battles. I didn't find these effects to be significant, but they added some flavor to how the game moved alone.

The role-playing aspect was my favorite of the three. As you move along in the campaign, your various followers bring matters to your attention. There are followers from five races (undead, elf, dwarf, lizard, and imp) and each has different priorities. Your decisions range from political (should women have the vote, will the empire be reformed to a republic) to social (is gay marriage allowed) to matters of law (does the murdering noble get punished despite being technically innocent). Every decision makes some of your followers happy and upsets others. If a race becomes particularly happy or unhappy, it affects how territories of that race behave in the strategy game. I didn't worry much about that, though, and just made each decision as it came up without paying attention to who liked me. By the end of the game, the undead religious conservatives (amusing, that combination) and dwarven wealth-mongers hated me, the lawful lizards and nature-loving elves loved me, and the technological imps were mostly happy but didn't like that I'd turned down their request to lobotomize workers (for higher efficiency) and develop nukes. Whether that says something about my political and moral decision-making is an exercise I'll leave to the reader.

Progress in the game is driven by the turn-based strategy portion. You're basically moving armies around a map, in a manner familiar to anyone that's ever played Risk. Take territories with your units, build resource-producing buildings, construct armies, invade more territories. You can either fight the battles yourself via the real-time strategy portion (more on that later) or allow the battle to auto-resolve, which is basically a series of behind-the-scenes die rolls weighted by what units each side has in play. You can tilt the odds in your favor by having the bigger army, of course, but also by sending one of your generals to take command or by playing battle cards. These cards come from certain buildings on the map, and some can also be used outside of battle to gain strategic advantages. I found this aspect of the game to be adequate: no significant issues, but nothing really exciting either.

Then there is the real-time strategy aspect. Once per turn on the strategic map, you can choose one battle to fight in as your dragon self. This puts you in command of your forces on a real-time strategy map. The goal is to capture various resource points, use them to build units, and wipe out your enemies' units. Usually there's just one opponent, but occasionally multiple players will invade the same territory and you can end up with multiple parties all battling it out. You've got all the usual types of fantasy-RTS units (infantry, armor, ships, airborne, healers aka shamans, mages aka warlocks), and the usual tactics of either zerg-rushing or turtling up with protected resources. I had a really rough time with this part until I found the setting to turn the game speed down to its lowest setting, and even with that done things still moved fast enough that I couldn't actively make use of some of the cooler abilities on my units. Turning into a dragon is pretty neat, and can certainly have a big effect on the battle, but there are some pretty strict limitations (presumably for balance reasons) so it wasn't quite as fun as I'd expected. This was definitely my least favorite phase of the game. It was fun the first few times, but by the end I actively avoided it, using auto-resolution on the battles whenever doing so had a decent chance to win.

So in the end, playing as a dragon wasn't quite as enjoyable as I'd expected. But the various decision points in the role-playing side were fun, and the strategy portion wasn't too onerous, so I enjoyed it anyhow. I ended up spending about 16 hours with the game. I can't see myself ever coming back for more, but for one play-though, D:DC was worth the time.

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