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Tim Stone

Aug 17, 2013

Divinity: Dragon Commander

need to know

Expect to pay: £30 / $40
Release: Out now
Developer: Larian Studios
Publisher: Steam
Multiplayer: Up to 4
Link: Official site

Seeing you sitting there in that anti-fracking T-shirt and German pickelhaube, with that iguana on your shoulder, mischievous twinkle in your eye, and bookcase stacked with strategy curios like Hostile Waters, Rise of Legends, and King's Bounty, I'm 98% certain you're going to enjoy Dragon Commander.

You're just the kind of noveltyhungry, socially-savvy, lizardcuddling connoisseur to appreciate Larian's splendidly eccentric mix of RTS, RPG, TBS and shmup. You're going to love the fact that you can abandon battle orchestration at any point and go racing around maps in the guise of a giant fireball-gobbing dragon. You're going to nod approvingly on learning that those battles are the spontaneous results of army collisions on a Total Warreminiscent strat map.

Faced by your first popularityimpacting policy decision, steampunk R&D choice, or conversation with a mercurial mercenary general, I picture you grinning like a split tennis ball. On realising that you can wed a lipstick-daubed skeleton princess, I'd be surprised if you didn't emit at least one involuntary cackle.

But I think I also know you well enough to predict disappointment with the RTS basics. Beneath DDC's magnificently misshapen scales is a mediocre SupCom supplicant. With no fog-of-war, negligible terrain significance, a single resource, and units that scuttle, soar, sail and slaughter in much the same way units have been doing for decades, skirmishes feel deeply conventional until you dab the R key and morph into a mythological A-10.

On the battlefield, blob tactics usually get the job done. Pump out a motley mob of gambolling Grenadiers, trundling Hunters and gaseous Warlocks, direct them towards the nearest resource or base site (buildings can only be placed in prescribed plots) and, assuming your timing is right, your aggro-amoeba is big enough, and the impressive AI hasn't outproduced you, you should make progress. A spot of hands-on dragonplay can turn a tight battle, but may lead to potentially disastrous production lulls too. While simple 'go there' unit orders can be issued when aloft, sky-lizards can't commission cannon fodder or erect new factories or recruitment centres.

What jets Dragon Commander into the realm of games-you'll-remember- ten-years-from-now isn't the nitty gritty of battles, it's the plethora of characters and choices that swirl around them. The lulls between bloodbaths teem with decisions, few of which are trivial or dull. That conscription policy you nodded through a couple of turns ago? It wasn't popular with the elves so, during the coming engagement in the elven province of Romentell, your pop cap will be far from ideal. You built a tavern in Thornburg on Turn 3 rather than a goldmine? That means you've now got a hand full of useful mercenary cards, but can't afford to employ Edmund or Scarlett to lead your hirelings in the unanticipated Bhargandium battle.

Larian understand that playing an RTS doesn't have to mean spending days as That Incorporeal Dude Who Choreographs Combat And Clicks Through Cutscenes. Jawing with generals, ambassadors and aides in the handsome interior of your mothership, the Raven, instils a palpable sense of self. You're a bastard prince with dragon blood singing in his veins. Surrounded by quirk and colour, and free to campaign in whatever fashion you choose, it's bally easy to overlook DDC's lack of tactical temerity.

Divinity: Dragon Commander

An RTS designed for entertainment rather than e-sport. Colourful, fun and memorable, its elements mesh surprisingly well.

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