My impression of the Larian team after our E3 meeting is that they're absolutely in love with what they do. I was so wrapped up in the constant smiles, passionate board game discussion, and Belgian beer that I nearly missed the opportunity to see one of the craziest games at E3: Dragon Commander. Lead Designer Farhang Namdar isn't showing a lot of new stuff (don't worry, we've got a bigger preview coming soon), though he did tell me that they plan to release the game in the first quarter of next year.
Nevertheless, I walked away with too many thoughts to not organize them into something with words. Here are five reasons Dragon Commander is one of the most interesting and strangely compelling games I saw at E3 this year.
This has been one of the most talked-about features since the game was announced, but it deserves reiteration. When you're not setting waypoints and attack orders for your units, you're fighting alongside them as a giant dragon with a three-nozzled jetpack.
The philosophy that putting one improbable thing on another improbable thing makes an infinitely awesome thing can sometimes dull the impact of everything. Sticking a cliché on a cliché isn't usually very funny or crazy. This however, looks right, because the dragons have a good reason to shoot flames out of their backs. They're not being poked at by spears and arrows -- they've got to blow through Roman formations of airships and ravage bases while dodging turret fire.
They're Supermarine Spitfires piloted by Max Payne, and they spit fire. I can't pretend I'm not charmed by that, and it's not even the craziest thing -- hit the next slide in the gallery for more.
He's the Undead Councilor, and he's quite conservative. Before going off to battle, there's some role-playing to do. You can visit rooms in your palace to talk to advisers such as the rude skull man above, your wife, and sometimes foreign diplomats -- like the dwarven fellow who used his daughter as a bargaining chip. The dialog options you choose will change their attitude toward you, and unlock cards to use in battle and for overall strategic boosts.
...which Larian Studios Founder Swen Vincke hopes to release with the special edition and as a stand-alone product. OK, that's not conceptually insane, but it does tell us something about Larian's creative freedom and business sense. If they make something they think is fun, they want it out there.
The board game release isn't solidified quite yet -- Larian still has to decide who's going to produce it -- but Vincke has some options and sounded ecstatic about the idea.
Oh right, the non-board game: this is the tactical map, where troops can be shuttled around and RTS battles initiated. When you claim a new territory for your empire, you've got to keep it in check diplomatically, or by tossing a few occupiers in. These regions produce gold, and some contain factories which can be used to produce new units.
This is what you're dealing with when you're not assuming dragon control. Dragon Commander is a fast-as-hell RTS, which was especially apparent during the brief multiplayer demonstration. Designer Farhang Namdar was on the base defense side, while his opponent (who he described as a "hardcore StarCraft 2 player") attacked.
Namdar's base was built and destroyed in just about three minutes, but it wasn't an easy fight. Both sides had to worry about resources and strategy while also engaging in dragon dogfights, so a high actions-per-minute rate is only part of the required skillset.
Color me daunted (kind of a purplish-gray, I think).
The final insanity is the sum of Dragon Commander's parts. Mashing together genres is as dangerous as putting a jetpack on a dragon and hoping everything goes well. If it works, you'll have the full experience of being a leader in an ancient part of the Divinity universe: diplomacy, economics, political wives, territory control, direct command over individual battles, and participation in those battles. If it doesn't work, the whole tower will fall and the good bits will be lost among the remains of the weakest features. That's an ambitious gamble.
I'd like to see it work. If you would too, we'll have a more in-depth preview in the coming months. In the meantime, check out the official site for official words about it.