Less is More is a series of articles that looks at games mechanics, gameplay elements, locations and other such design choices that weren’t needed and how they retract from the overall experience of the game.
I really wanted to like Divinity Dragon Commander. On paper, it ticks all my boxes. Unique-ish fantasy world, a rich tapestry of characters, turn based world conquering, oh and RTS battles where you play as a dragon with a jetpack. Honestly, they had me at jetpack dragon but the rest did sound really interesting as well. The problem with Divinity Dragon Commander is that it is the very same rocket fueled dragon that lets the rest of the game down. I know, I was disappointed, too.
The problem with the RTS battles is the total lack of control players have over their units, factories (which produce units) and constructing new structures. Players have rudimentary control but nothing that allows for any strategy. Not that Dragon Commander’s RTS battles involve a great deal of that anyway. Mostly it makes a big army, enter dragon mode and hope that you win. If not, then repeat until either you can’t build more units or the enemy has been wiped out. It isn’t very interesting and since you can easily have multiple battles in a single turn of the game it gets old very quickly.
The RTS battles would have been much better if they were entirely AI controlled and you could just be a cool dragon. Flying around blasting enemy units, healing your own and scrubbing out the whole Commander part of Divinity Dragon Commander. Making choices and deciding the future of your kingdom outside the battles is awesome, I love that stuff. In battles though it becomes a tiresome, arduous affair. Technically, players can auto battles or pay a general to participate instead. The issue with that is A) the AI can lose even battles that feel like a sure thing and B) you have to pay gold to your generals to fight for you. Gold that could be better spent upgrading your units or on powering up your dragon. In other words, choosing not to fight a battle in person is rarely the best idea and yet taking part is super boring and you might lose anyway. If Larian could re-release Divinity Dragon Commander then I’d implore them to do one of two things:
Make a general always control an army. Meaning that even when you take part in a battle they are building units and dishing out orders, so all you need to worry about is being a badass dragon. Similar to what we saw in the Drakengard games – man I love those games.
Simplify the combat and remove the RTS battles entirely. The player with the strongest units wins. No percentage chance of victory like the current system. Just either win or lose. The reason for this is because the battles are by far the least interesting part of Divinity Dragon Commander. The maps are basically the same and feature a generic fantasy landscape. I’d be happy if they were removed the battles and instead focussed on the political elements that it nails.
That’s right, get ready for fantasy politicking. You can always make the Undead and the High Elves happy. Sometimes you need to upset the Imps so that the Dwarves will be on your side. Every choice upsets somebody. It is impossible to keep everyone on your side but you don’t want to upset them too much because you might need their help someday.
That cool looking dome shows the world map underneath.
This is where Divinity Dragon Commander excels. It is a fantastic fantasy politics simulator that also has a story which steadily unfolds as you play. All the characters from your generals to the Imp that powers your army are fully formed characters each with their own motivations, predispositions and failings. Larian have done a fantastic job of realising these characters and making every conversation with them interesting. I’d take more that over a weak RTS game any day.
Having said all of that though, I’d recommend playing Divinity Dragon Commander. There is no other game like it. I would say crank the difficulty all the way down and just enjoy the story, decision making and political wranglings that follow. I believe (although correct me if I’m wrong) that the difficulty setting only affects the RTS battles, so by reducing it to the lowest setting you improve the overall game. I do so hope Larian make a sequel to this weird, hilarious oddball of a game as it has all the trappings of something truly great.