Divinity: Dragon Commander

I got Divinity: Dragon Commander during the last big Steam sale and I really loved it.  It does a lot of different things well, but I wish it just had a bit more polish, because it really is a unique and good game.

Dragon Commander, as a game, is split into three big parts.  You have a turn-based strategy layer that plays like Risk or a similar game.  You move units from province to province in order to capture then or start battles, and you can play cards in provinces to sabotage enemies or help yourself.  My biggest issue with this layer is that it felt a little flat.
Each province has a primary race, and each race has its own level of happiness with your rule, but its effect is so minor as to be negligible.  If a certain race loves you, you can build have more units in RTS battles, but I never had a battle that hit the unit cap anyway.  Besides the gold and research each province produced, and the buildings contained within, all of my provinces felt completely interchangeable.  Only having one building per province, and a small selection of buildings, too, contributed to that.  

Plus, there felt like there was a disconnect between the strategy layer and the storyline.  Imp provinces weren’t technological powerhouses.  The Dwarven and Lizard lands didn’t contribute the most money.  It would have been nice to have something more like Rome: Total War’s strategy layer, where there would be multiple buildings to build that would influence the province in more detailed ways.  Perhaps different races prefer to trade for goods of other races, so owning provinces of many different races makes economic sense, but takes more work to keep together, as not catering to a race’s desires when you have a significant population of them makes them less happy.

Once you start a battle, you enter the real-time strategy battle layer.  While fun, allowing you to transform into a dragon and rain destruction onto the battlefield, it felt too simple.  I rarely needed any tactic better than “build guys and have them shoot the bad guys.”  It’s also a bit too fast, in my opinion, but maybe I’m just an old man.  Still, it felt hectic sometimes, switching between dragon mode and sending orders and putting in build commands.  I would have preferred if the battles were more focused on the units that you actually brought to the fight, rather than built during it.

My favorite part was the last main part of the game, which is the role-playing aspect.  Each turn, you can talk to generals and advisors aboard your flagship and make decisions on behalf of your empire, and help people with their problems.  Decisions range from prohibiting nudism to allowing criminal immigrants to be deported, and each decision makes some races happier and others less happy.  The Undead were especially bothersome here, since their religious fanaticism and fatalism tended to run counter to what I wanted for my empire, but luckily my skeleton bride kept them happy towards me.

I really enjoyed the decisions.  Not only were they unique and interesting, causing me to look forward to getting involved in my realm’s politics, but there weren’t right choices and wrong choices, just choices and consequences.  Dwarves dislike government healthcare because of the cost, Imps like it because they tend to lose limbs while experimenting, and instituting it costs you money but makes the general populace happier.  I’d love to see this implemented in other games, as it did a good job of making it feel like there were other factions out there that mattered, even if I wish their support actually did something more.

You can also progress storylines involving your generals and queen.  Catherine and Ophelia were my favorites of these, respectively, by far, and I only wish that their storylines had gone on longer, and that there were other things they could do.

Once I ended Ophelia’s storyline, she just hung around her chambers saying the same few lines.  She’s the empress.  Can’t I send her on diplomatic or morale-boosting missions?  Can’t she try to persuade local lords to support me?  It seems a waste to just have her hang around the ship.

Your generals can command battles and gain traits, but there aren’t very many traits they gain, and little indication of what these traits do.  Catherine’s fought twenty naval battles.  Shouldn’t she gain some skill in it?  I kept giving battles to my generals hoping they could level up, but I was left disappointed.

I absolutely loved the writing, though, and the end of the first act had a nice little change in scope that I appreciated greatly.  I enjoyed the game a lot, and if they make a sequel, I think it’ll be even better and I’ll definitely buy it.  I wish they had been able to flesh things out a little bit more.  It did a lot, but only a few things well.  It has a lot of features I would love to see in other games, though.  Something like XCOM 2, for instance, I think could benefit from the RPG aspects of the game.

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