Diviner Divinity: Dragon Commander Preview

By Alec Meer on August 24th, 2011 at 12:11 pm.

Yeah, they've heard of Dino Riders. It's an influence, apparently.

If I hadn’t spent an hour playing Saint’s Row: The Third, Larian Studios’ Dragon Commander would comfortably be the oddest game I saw at Gamescom. It’s not odd through and through, however – in fact it’s a focused, ambitious and visually gorgeous brew of roleplaying, strategy and aerial combat, with all manner of batshit silliness peppered about its surface.

It’s already found some notoriety due to the decision to feature a dragon fitted with a jetpack. Smiles Farhang Namdar, lead game designer, “that caused a lot of comments on your site!” It is, however, a decision I am 100% behind. It looks great, it justifies the roaring speed that dragon is capable of, and it makes Dragon Commander instantly distinctive, not rote fantasy. There’s so much more going on than improbable dragon mobility aids, however.

A tinge of similarly good-natured weirdness can be found throughout. While the whizzbang element of Dragon Commander is the sky-battles, pitching you as the titular character, transformed into a giant, black, jetpack-adorned dragon, battling steampunky floating turrets and vast flying armies, the metagame is the gradual conquest of the land’s kingdoms. For that, you’ll need alliances as well as well as onslaught.

Namdar’s commander has recently arranged one such alliance, by marrying a rival kingdom’s princess. We stride to the royal bedchamber, where a shapely figure awaits. The shapely figure turns around. We try not to stare at the lipstick smeared across its fleshless face, the two large apples shoved unconvincingly into a corset worn straight over a bare ribcage. The skeleton princess is delighted to see us. She asks if we’re ready to consummate the marriage. Um. Issues of arousal aside, purely on a practical level, how would that work? No, best not to imagine or… Oh God, the mental image. Out, out, out!

So: business before pleasure, m’dear. There’s a realm to be conquered. The princess duly switches to politics, and a taste of the kind of metagame dilemmas Dragon Commander will offer. The undead, currently your allies due to this marriage, are a strong military force but currently lacking their own home city. They’ve got their eye on one, however, primarily because there are some necromancers in the area who could help restore them to a higher standard of unlife. Unfortunately, the city of Deepspire already belongs to the dwarves. Turfing those fellows out wouldn’t be a good move politically, but it would mean the undead will fight by your side in the next battle… What to do, what to do?

This is, Namdar claims, the kind of decision you’ll be making regularly – long-term versus short-term gains, deciding who the most ultimately useful ally is, bearing in mind the roleplaying consequences (such as marriages) and, well, just how much of a dick you want to be. “You’re always choosing between what you want, what the princess wants, what’s good for your nation, what’s simply wise…” Oh, and there’ll be multiple princesses in the game – you’ll marry the one you think is most politically useful. If another one becomes more politically useful later… Well, it’s amazing how easy it is for people to trip over and plunge to their doom when they’re living on a floating fortress. Henry VIII doesn’t have a monopoly on multi-matrimony, y’know.

A raft of advisors are available on said lavishly-rendered floating fortress, within which this RPG-esque element of the game is based. Civ-style, they can offer some pros and cons for which decisions to take next, what to focus your resources on. In this case, it’s looking like the dwarves are about to become homeless. Bad luck, dwarves. Your reward, however, is a new Card – Undead Allies. This, essentially, translates to a bonus squadron of sky-bound death dealing in your next big fight.

So where shall that next fight be? Time to peer at the second major game-style, the world map. This plays out like a boardgame – in fact, Namdar physically built a boardgame version of it and “made sure everyone really loved it before we put it into the game.” Think along the lines of Small World – territories occupied by assorted fantasy races, each offering different bonuses or resources. It’s more elaborate than that, however , as you’re not simply trying to grab everything, but to prioritise which zones are most useful. Territories with factories in will enable you to purchase additional units, but perhaps you need somewhere that’s more gold-rich to be able to afford said units. And, of course, some areas will be harder to nab than others.

Time for a fight, then. From your hand of cards and roster of generals, you’ll need to pick what you think is going to be most useful for this particular engagement. Those Undead Allies are definitely along for the ride, and it’s probably worth throwing in some Imp Busters – fireball spells that pack an equivalent punch to a small nuke. Your various generals, each heading up their own squadron, have different combat styles and abilities – for instance, one might attack head-on, full-force, another might be better suited to spells or flanking.

For the fight, the game switches from the turn-based strategy of the world map to real-time aerial combat, like Crimson Skies with dragons and vast floating castles. It looks incredible, the skies filled with units and structures (one flying building looks like one of the Tron’s Recognizers as designed by Khorne) and fire, yet Namdar reckons this is only a very rough, nuts and bolts version of the game. The finished product will feature tons of stuff on the ground and even more units – plus rival dragons. You’re in control of your own dragon from a third-person perspective, that blessed jetpack allowing you to quickly traverse vast tracts of the 20x20km map.

Everything you played as cards is visible in the fight – there’s your undead allies now. You can dole out orders, tell your squadrons what to attack or when to flee, but you’re only in direct control of yourself. It’s spectacular stuff to behold, and apparently highly-tactical too. You can try to play it as an all-out, third-person action affair if you like, but alternatively you could concentrate on giving orders, focusing on flanking, supporting and reinforcing, playing it as a sort of fantasy Homeworld.

It’s a long, long way away from – and I’d say above – Divine Divinity, despite being based in a chronologically earlier version of the same universe. It’s trying to pull off an awful lot, but in a Gamescom characterised by shooters seeing something with such a core vein of strategy in there but not scrimping on the presentation makes it stand out a mile. I liked Dragon Commander here an awful lot, and not purely because of rocket-boosted dragons and icky skeletal romance. Can’t wait to see more of this one.

__________________

« | »

, , , .

59 Comments »

  1. Shark says:

    “If I hadn’t spent an hour playing Saint’s Row: The Third”
    Looks like Alec is using his job here just to brag about the games he plays that we can’t

  2. Theoban says:

    Looks interesting, but it’s no DRAGON RALLY

  3. Zakkeh says:

    TAKE MY MONEY. Pleaaaaaaase

  4. Moni says:

    Jet packs make everything better, even dragons.

  5. jellydonut says:

    This looks frakking awesome.

  6. Icarus says:

    I’m throwing money at the screen but nothing is happening :(

    • FakeAssName says:

      lol, I would too but all I have got is a coins in my pocket … I have a feeling that I might get a more tangible result than you, but I doubt it will be the desired result.

  7. Acosta says:

    Take my money!

  8. BobsLawnService says:

    I am so stoked about this from what I have read so far. For me this is probably the most exciting game I’ve heard about in the last year or two. I really hope they pull it off.

  9. KauhuK says:

    Divinity 2 The Dragon Knight Saga is great game imo. It’s silly and also quite different experience. I’ve been on egde of getting Divine Divinity from GoG. This Dragon Commander is giving me vibes from Crimson Skies and Temeraire (book) and thats in a good way. Can’t wait for this.

    • studenteternal says:

      I bought divine divinity from GoG intending to play it before jumping into Divinity 2 Dragon Knight Saga, but nearly did not play Divinty 2 becuase I just could not get into Divine Divinity. I found it stilited, punishingly difficult, and curiously lifeless, even for an older title. YMMV of course, but don’t let the older title put you off the newer ones, the studio has without doubt evolved their game design philosphy betwxit titles.

  10. Pharos says:

    Divinity Dragons have two legs, not four. Divinity series is RUINED FOREVER.

    • Artamentix says:

      If you look carefully, the dragons here have 4 legs and a pair of wings. woop!

    • Wulf says:

      Normally I’m against the flying squirrel look, it’s not my sort of dragon, and it is a slight disappointment. But to be honest, of dragons (or wyrms, more correctly, for that body configuration) of that type, it was about the best I’ve seen and it was beautifully animated, so the combination of four limbs into two was something that I could forgive. It was quite good.

      That said… I am still glad that the dragons in Dragon Commander have six limbs (the four legs and the two wings). That’s the sort of dragon I prefer. And gearing a dragon up with armour and a jetpack just makes it all the better. Visually this looks stunning, especially the dragons.

  11. MikoSquiz says:

    I need to change my trousers now.

  12. Dominic White says:

    Hahahaa. The skeleton princess sounds like a fantastic character, and perfectly in keeping with the oddball humor of Divinity 2. Adding jetpack-dragons to the mix only makes things better. Really looking forward to this one. I just hope that Larian don’t go nearly bankrupt again midway through development and have to launch it half-finished, like they did with the original 2009 release of Divinity 2.

    I’ve said it a few times before, but I’ll say it again – The re-released, expanded version, Dragon Knight Saga, was probably my favourite RPG of last year. There’s a big demo of it out, too.

    • studenteternal says:

      +1 I bought Ego Draconis on a whim some long period of time ago, probably during steam sale, and then let it sit on myself for an age, ostensiably while I was going to play through the older divine divinity titles from GOG, now I am kicking myself because it is wonderful.

    • Wulf says:

      Plus, DKS drove me to do some insane things. Like taking on a certain tower at level six, the one that the undead lord is in and where all the skeletons are. Yes, level six (or possibly even lower, I forget). Just because I had this “MUST. GET. DRAGON.” thing going on. That drove me through impossible, insane odds. They really made becoming the dragon a thing, such a thing. I was far, far too low of a level for all the content I was taking on, but by damn I did it anyway.

      And then when I became the dragon I sort of did this mad thing where I went straight for the nearest floating island battle zone and went up 15 levels because at that point nothing could stop me. I was still too low of a level, but I handled it. It’s funny because after that the rest of the game was cake. Nothing really stood up to the difficulty of the first half, but that difficulty was self-imposed, and once I’d had some time to screw around with the dragon I took things much more slowly.

      I’ve no complaints about Dragon Knight Saga. It’s a hell of a game. And it’ll have a creeping emotional impact, too. It managed to depress me so much right up until the ending of the expansion pack that followed Ego Draconis. It toyed with my emotions so much. It’s really not fun being the last of anything, of any race or peoples, but in Dragon Knight Saga you truly are. Without spoiling the ending of DKS, I can say that it does bring hope, and clearly from what we can see in Dragon Commander the skies are now filled with dragons again. This pleases me.

      The emotional low provided by DKS lead to the emotional high on seeing that my suspicions were correct. This is what lead me to so much flipping out and joy-overload in the original announcement thread. I don’t know if DKS will do for any of you what it did for me, but if you really get into it and you let it take hold, it just might.

    • Ravenholme says:

      I think, Wulf, that it’s mentioned in the article that Dragon Commander is a prequel of sorts, from when Dragons were more common. Possibly the reason why they ended up being hunted to extinction was because they were sleeping with undead princesses and destroying dwarven cities.

  13. Level85nerd says:

    This is like the best that coudl happen. I’m really excited about this game.

  14. Spliter says:

    This game sounds so goddamn awesome I’m having serious difficulty keeping my pants up.
    Gamescom had some really REALLY good games this year that I’m super eager to play.
    I’m not worried about the state of the industry anymore.

  15. Kieron Gillen says:

    If you are not pro dragon with jetpack, you are everything that’s wrong with humanity and should be jettisoned into orbit.

    KG

  16. ArcaneSaint says:

    Jetpack Dragons? Royal Necrophilia? Disposable Princesses? Why didn’t I hear of this game before? Any hint of a release date?

  17. Post-Internet Syndrome says:

    This looks incredible.

  18. Eclipse says:

    Reminds me of an ancient game called Dragons Breath or Dragon Lord. It was an unique blend of turn based strategy, castle\dragon management and shoot’em up. It was absolutely fantastic: http://www.mobygames.com/game/dragon-lord

  19. Jim Rossignol says:

    Splendid, splendid. Carry on!

  20. Out Reach says:

    But will there be… Infinite Dragons?

  21. Zanchito says:

    Does it feautre INFINITE DRAGONS???

  22. alexheretic says:

    Larian are mighty!

  23. Coins says:

    2011 is a good year for computer video entertainments.

  24. moarage says:

    I played the previous games, they weren’t bad but a bit too clunky for my taste not too mention it was on the gamebryo engine

  25. jack4cc says:

    So this is crimson skies mixed with drakan ? Ah, rynn…

  26. Wulf says:

    Well, they had my money based on the concept alone and the pedigree of Dragon Knight Saga, so that it sounds this good is just a bonus, and it seems like it’s going to be yet another one of those rare games that I will remember. There are so many nondescript games these days, and so few that do something weird, something that truly stands out.

    This’ll likely end up on that small list of games of mine that I will never, ever forget.

  27. Limey says:

    I played a mediocre game that featured dinosaurs with jetpacks about 10 years ago. It was called Nanosaur, does anyone remember it?

  28. TsunamiWombat says:

    I has heavy Panzer Dragoon vibes

  29. vecordae says:

    This fills me with an unpleasant feeling. My heart’s beating slightly faster and the sides of my mouth keep trying to twist up. I think it’s this “joy” thing all the kiddies are talkin’ ’bout these days.

  30. BathroomCitizen says:

    Wonderful! So the fights will be kind of like Sacrifice?

  31. Jake says:

    What’s the tone of this game closer to – something like Discworld or more like China Mieville? I can’t tell if it is a comedy or just weird fantasy.

    • Dominic White says:

      A little from column A, a little from column B. It’s a fairly detailed high fantasy world, but it actually has some fun with its concepts.

    • Wulf says:

      In Dragon Knight Saga it was also appreciably pantomime in some ways, too, especially with how the main character was approached by the bad guy and certain other characters, and there’s this one mad mage person who was very silly. So Dominic is right on the money. But I’d say that it actually leans closer to Discworld because as the later books of Discworld show, Discworld can be very serious when Mr. Pratchett wants it to be.

      So it sort of is like that. Just not usually outrageously or over-the-top so. It’s… Discworld takes standard fantasy tropes and plays with them in amusing ways. This tries to create its own fantasy tropes. But it does have a similar feel.

  32. mickygor says:

    …wow. I want. Someone invent time travel so I can go forward to release date.

  33. Prime says:

    This looks bloody brilliant. REELEES NOAW!!!

  34. Marcin says:

    “Icky skeletal romance” is the name of my next band.

    Now I want to throw some money at Dragon Knight Saga, even though I have the original Ego Draconis … and will definitely be picking this up. They’ve earned a LOT of goodwill with Ego Draconis.

  35. Hyperion says:

    looking at the ship in the 4th picture just makes me want to DESTROY THE CORE

  36. JohnnyMaverik says:

    Well I love dragons and crimson skies, so a combination of the two should be epic…

  37. elnalter says:

    i liked dragon knight saga

Comment on this story

XHTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>