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Dragon Commander: Hands-On Preview


I got invited by Larian Studios to pay them a visit and check out Dragon Commander and Divinity: Original Sin. So I drove to their offices in Ghent (Belgium) and took up to 6 hours of their time for them to show me the two games and have some hands-on experience. Unfortunately I had to leave (because I had to, not because they wanted me to) with the nagging feeling there simply was insufficient time to do what I would have liked to do.
I'll talk about Original Sin at a later time, this is about Dragon Commander.

Update: Upon release of this article I was infomed that the story has changed since my visit to them. I have updated this article to reflect that change.


The story

You are the bastard son of the emperor, a Dragon Knight. There was peace once but his children have been waging war on the emperor with their armies using, until then unseen demonic technology and killed him.

There is chaos everywhere and Maxos fears the whole world will come to an end. You are the only person who can put an end to that by defeating your half-brothers and sister and banish this demonic technology from the face of the world.

The presentation started at your ship The Raven where we already created a small empire of our own on board of that ship. With this new position comes new responsibilities. We have nations to look after and the more nations you conquer the more people become dependent on you.


The RPG side of things

Dragon Commander takes place before any of the events in the other Divinity games, including the yet to be released Divinty: Original Sin. Dragon Commander is not a role playing game. It is a real-time strategy game with RPG elements that can take up quite a big chunk of your total playing time. These RPG elements are character development and influencing the story by means of making choices and experiencing the consequences of these choices. As far as character development is concerned, this does not apply just to your character but to all characters on your ship. All of this takes place on The Raven, which is separated into six different rooms to accommodate this.


The Throne Room

In the throne room the counselors await you. There is one counselor for each race, with you being the representative of the human race.

The undead are conservatives and religious fanatics who want nothing to do with the commonly accepted religion of the seven gods.
Elves are spiritual and have a loving nature. They believe people should be helped as much as possible and live together in harmony.
Dwarves are capitalists and industrialists who are very family oriented.
Lizards are libertarians. They do not mind much what you do as long as it doesn't bother them and you clean up the mess. They are very much in favor of taking their own responsibility.
Imps are atheists, are rather chaotic and are suppliers of all kinds of technology.

With a representative of each of these races present a question was put before us about allowing or disallowing same-sex marriages.
Each of your counselors will have something to say about this. The undead cannot agree with it as their faith forbids it. The elves have a lot of same-sex relations and are in favor. The dwarves can obviously also not agree with it because of their family oriented thinking. The lizards think it should be allowed as everybody has a right marry who they want and the imps feel it should be allowed as well.

The choice is yours. You can go with your own set of ethics on the issue, but it is a game, so you can also decide to select the option that will benefit you most as it will increase your alliance with one or more specific races. Each of the races will have their own story arc, providing you with a bonus at specific points on that arc. It is up to you and your choices to advance the races on these arcs in a way that will benefit you. It is however not possible for you to do this for all the races, so you will have to decide what is most beneficial to you. If you for whatever reason do not want to go through all of the dialog options with the representatives you always have the option to let the majority decide or to ignore the issue.

Your choice will be published in the Rivellon times and it is that type of newspaper where you simply cannot do something good, so you will see your choice back in big headlines focusing on the negative aspects of it.


The Bar

In the bar you can find your generals, and like the councilors of the races each of them will have their own story arc as well where you can help them to achieve their goals or block them, which will move their personal stories in a certain direction which might or might not be beneficial to you.

As an example, a situation with Catherine was shown, one of your generals who used to be a queen, but whose nations have been conquered by the enemy. In these nations under her rule, women were in power and she is not pleased with anything that sounds or looks like male chauvinism. She has discovered that men and women are not treated the same on board the ship and she is complaining to you on the wages, which are lower for women. A choice is presented to you to do something about this. Each choice that is made will have consequences. You can give her what she wants, decide not to do it, or even make some denigrating comments towards her.


The Laboratory

Chief of the laboratory is an Imp; he takes care of making sure The Raven keeps on flying. He is claiming to have established a connection with the ship as he 'hears' her singing in his dreams. This will lead to a whole separate story involving the ship, which was however not explained at this point in time. Besides keeping the ship running our Imp will provide you with new research as well.

The further you will get in the game, the more units you will have at your disposal to a maximum of 15, each of which can be upgraded. As each unit can have 4 upgrades, the total possible configurations is 60. This will make it possible to have a completely different army in various play-throughs.


Personal Quarters

In your personal quarters you will find Maxos, who is not only here to guide you through the story, but he can also upgrade your dragon skills, of which there will be about 20 available upon release.


The Royal Chamber

In the royal chamber you will find your princess, if you have chosen one. At the point where we were at in the demonstration, we were just about to do that.

Strangely enough only a Lizard, Elven, Dwarven and Undead princess are waiting, while the Imp princess is missing. You are reminded not to talk about that though, but will find out later that she was killed in an explosion. You can listen to each of the councilors and the princesses to make your choice between the see-through boney undead, the good looking shy elf, the sturdy voluptuous dwarf or the refined lizard.

Like everybody else each of these princesses will have their own story arc and desires which you can help to fulfill or not. The undead princess for example is all bones and has a big desire to have some skin on her. Depending on your choices she might undergo a series of actions that will result in her becoming a beautiful blond or having a shiny robot-like look. To accomplish this you will have to make some really tough choices.


You are not marrying out of love so you can decide on whom you think looks best or you can make a strategic choice depending on what race you need something from, that you might not get otherwise.


The War room

The war room is where you will find the strategy map to plan your battles. The map is divided into nations on land and areas on sea. In Dragon Commander every nation on the map has a population and will generate an amount of gold per turn. These are the resources that will be used in the game.

You will have various units at your disposal (15 in total) of which I saw only a few (or still remember) divided in land, see and air units.
Each unit will have a certain amount of move points. For example the hunter has 2 move points, but a bomber has 6, which allows you to move them around on the map.

To assist your strategic choices the game also has cards, which you can win or get during the game from your political advisors, generals, princess or in combat. A maximum of 5 cards can be played, with most of them being visible to all participants. In the course of the game you can extend the number of cards that are not visible, making it harder for your opponents to see what you are doing. There are different types of cards with which you can for instance increase movement points, generate extra attack power or create an extra defense.

In Dragon Commander you can also create buildings that are constructed using the available resources. A few examples were given, like the Academy, which when built will decreases the cost of research. Then there is the recruitment center that will transform your population into recruits. A harbor allows you to build sea units and an airfield does the same for air units.

When you have talked to everybody you want to talk to and your movements on the map have been completed you can commence combat. If you don't like to fight that much or are not an RTS player you can make a choice to auto-resolve the battle. Then again, what is Dragon Commander without the option to play as a dragon and spit some fireballs.


The Strategy Part

In the real time strategy part of the game your units will move to the designated areas. You can change their direction, play your cards, construct units and buildings and assist your units by changing into a dragon. The type of dragon you can change into is selected at the start of the game. A very strong dragon in combat or a rather weak dragon that gives its units a large boost (think about twice as much), which is good for people that do not want to play as a dragon. The third type of dragon will provide you with a lot of control skill bonuses and the last dragon is balanced for everything, but does not excel in anything.

In the hands-on we played with four players, of which I was one with Swen Vincke, head honcho of Larian Studios, talking me through the game. We started out moving our units on the strategy map followed by planning our upgrades for them. Having never played the game I was clueless on what would be useful, so basically Swen told me what to do and I just moved the mouse and did the actions. We bought, researched and moved units till 'we' were happy with their configuration and position.


When all four players finished on the strategy map the real-time part started and we started building units, constructing buildings and moving our units into an area where there was something to attack. We changed into a dragon, breathing fireballs on our opponents, which was great, and we died, which was not so great. Whenever your dragon dies in battle it will respawn in a certain amount of turns. You can decrease that number of turns at the cost of a number of recruits. Your amount of recruits is finite, so you have to be careful with them as when they drop to lower numbers, losing is imminent. Fortunately your dragon comes equipped with a jetpack allowing you to move with great speed while attacking thus making you hard to hit.

We flipped back and forth between the construction of buildings and units, moving the units and fighting, which was hectic as I mixed up what my left hand and right hand should do. I rarely ever play RTS games and this hands-on exercise reminded me on why that is, but let's not dwell on my performance here. Farhang and I won and even though rumor has it that Farhang doesn't win that often, I really doubt that my being there influenced the outcome a lot.


Single Player or Multi Player

You can play Dragon Commander either alone or with a maximum of three other players. In single player mode you play against the computer and the whole RPG part of the game comes into play, which does not exist in multiplayer mode. Furthermore you can actually lose. In multiplayer you can lose a battle, but in single player you can lose the game when all your territories have been conquered by Aurora.

In multiplayer mode there will always be two sides and each side can have two players. So with a party of four you will always team up with one other person in order to defeat the other two. There will be multiple maps available whereas in single player mode you will only have one single map.


My thoughts

I am probably not the best person to judge on the real time strategy part in multiplayer mode, which I think will be a major selling point for Dragon Commander. This is what you will be playing with your friends and I can imagine this will attract quite a lot of players who haven't played a Larian game before.

My interests are more with the single player game to strategically plan my choices and try to play the councilors, generals and princesses to make sure they take actions that will benefit me most.

The developers have scanned the political agendas of many nations on the world to look for representative situations that they could embed in the game and modify to fit in a fantasy environment. It will be fun finding out what they come up with. Just as it will be fun to plan the strategy and creating havoc with your dragon and units.


Quite a bit has changed during the development of Dragon Commmander. They changed to the Original Sin engine and the combat has been redone quite a few times to find the best working solution. This is likely to benefit the game a lot, but didn't do wonders on it being released on one of the previously mentioned release dates. However the current mentioned release date of 'near July 2013'  looks to be the date when the game will actually be available in digital download and retail. A closed beta is likely to start in the next months. Until that time there are still some issues to resolve like voice recordings, facial expressions, UI feedback, AI and balancing, but none of these look to be a show stopper in releasing the game.

To be honest I got myself invited to Larian Studios to write this article, but was more interested in Original Sin. I still am very interested in that, but I was amazed about how much fun it was to play and experience Dragon Commander. I will definitely buy the game for the simple reason that these guys know how to make a great game.

Box Art

Information about

Divinity: Dragon Commander

Developer: Larian Studios

SP/MP: Single + MP
Setting: Steampunk
Genre: Strategy-RPG
Combat: Real-time
Play-time: Unknown
Voice-acting: Full

Regions & platforms
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2013-08-06
· Publisher: Larian Studios

More information

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