Moving the long-running Divinity action-RPG series into new territory, Divinity: Dragon Commander promises to fuse many genres together to create something really rather special. Part traditional RPG, where your decisions and political relationships affect the course of the story and gameplay; part tactical turn-based military board game; part trading card game and part full-blown RTS. This genre-splicing presents an RPG totally unlike any other, and what's more, as the eponymous Dragon Commander, you get to take to the skies during the RTS mode and physically move and attack in real time – but more on that later.
Currently in closed beta, the online multiplayer section, namely the RTS portion of the game, is available to pre-order customers, and despite showcasing a fair few bugs and glitches, the good news is that the finished product is shaping up nicely.
The RTS mode is a frantic, quick-paced affair, where the key is in the quick acquisition of troops and units. Be it to use your numbers to either mount an early attack, acquire desolate recruitment stations out in no-man's-land or to provide cannon fodder to the impending doom of your opponents' marauding dragons; you need to pad out your army quickly.
To fit in with DDC's other game mechanics and styles, which aren't present in this beta version, your army can recruit a maximum number of troops depending on your territory's population. You can build more recruitment stations and liberate new territories, increase your population and expand your military presence, spreading your overall empire across the individual battle map and eventually the entire globe.
War factories allow for deadly steampunk-inspired tanks and airships to be built and sent to dispose of your enemies. The setting of DDC allows for some unique units, basing their original creations on the game's story. Set long before the whole Divinity series, a dangerous new Empress and religion threaten to take over, or even destroy, the world with the teachings, summoning and deployment of new technologies and demonic entities.
Skirmishes play out with a 'mine's bigger than yours' feel, whether it's the size of your army or the biggest, most badass war machine you have created, you generally find there aren't many tactics that can help you out of a bind when you're even slightly outnumbered - as I said it's largely a question of quantity over quality. No 300 Spartans fighting off hordes of entire armies here. This is a little unfair to focus on, as this is largely what happens in warfare, and Dragon Commander's tactics aren't in the battles themselves per se, but more in how you use your early troops in expanding your territories, bases and armies. But when all that is said and done, you still have to defend against, or deploy your own... dragon!
Bizarrely fitted with a jetpack between its wings, you, taking the form of a dragon in the RTS mode, get to take to the battlefield in real time and deal some timely but deadly damage to your foes. Beginning the battle with a passive clock counting down the seconds until you get to unleash the beast, you use the time to build up your army from scratch. Eventually, when the clock counts down to zero, you can then choose to deploy your dragon and unleash some fury. For a limited time, and in another genre-splicing effort, you find yourself invading a real-time strategy from a third person action shooter's perspective. You physically control the movement and speed of the dragon, who and what to breathe fireballs all over, and, being a dragon commander, you also get to command your troops from the air too via some very intuitive controls.
The dragon injects some great originality into an arguably over-saturated genre, and works very, very well. While a little too weak in the beta mode to really put to great use, the full game naturally involves levelling up your dragon with better attacks, commands, etc, but as he is in the beta / beginning of the game, he's just a little too susceptible to surface-to-air missiles and dies (well, get's knocked out until the next respawn) too easily.
I'm very much in love with the dragon inclusion to the RTS format, and can't wait to see it used to its full potential come release day on the 6th August. And this is just one side to the full game – with so many different modes of play all rolled into one, the appeal of DDC is widespread, and by the looks of it, the balance between RTS, RPG, board game and trading card game is spot on. Imagine the best bits from Mass Effect, Command & Conquer, Risk and Magic: The Gathering all mashed seamlessly together, then throw a dragon into the mix and you're looking at something much greater than the sum of its parts, and a suitable contender for game of the year (even though it will most certainly be GTA V).
Despite some teething problems with a fair few bugs, the developers are working hard with the beta testers to iron out the game-breakers and provide you with a perfect version of a great gaming experience come the 6th August. Watch this space for a full review soon.