Preview: Divinity: Dragon Commander is an RTS that lets you turn into a freakin' dragon

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Belgium-based developer Larian Studios is currently toiling away on Dragon Commander, an online strategy game that combines a number of genre influences. The game is looking to provide an experience that remains fresh throughout without sacrificing any singular mechanics. I spent some time playing the upcoming title at a recent preview event, so I got to check out the amalgamation of gameplay styles for myself. I also got to control a towering, projectile-spitting dragon, which was as cool as it sounds.

Several characters with an array of personalities make up the cast of Dragon Commander. These characters are tasked with tackling real-world issues, and their individual stances are actually based on real-life outlooks. You've got conservatives, libertarians, scientists, and even racists — these characters don't always agree with each other, and their differing views make for some interesting interactions and debates. They'll often ask you for your input, and answering their questions will have a direct impact on the strategy parts of the game.

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Princesses are another integral part of the storytelling aspect in Dragon Commander. Once again, the way you interact with these characters will shape and impact the strategic landscape of the game. This emphasis of choice will result in different outcomes depending on the decisions you make. One of the princesses, for example, is a judge who can use her clout to help you out in different ways. There's also an elf with daddy issues, and she'll be quick to aid you if it means sticking to her old man.

It's not all politicking and interacting, though. When you're not dealing with the characters and laws of the land, you're tasked with plotting and strategizing to win battles against your aggressors. Before you enter the battlefield, you must scope out the territory you can obtain. Areas outlined in blue belong to you, and every country has its own gold revenue. You can select from a number of aerial, naval, and ground starter units to move around the map, though not all of them can seize land. That said, choosing troops that don't necessarily take over other areas but that can swarm your foes certainly comes with some advantages.

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Your last move before actually entering battles is to choose from a number of attribute cards. You've got buffs and de-buffs, and depending on what you choose, you can drastically change your strategy and head into battle in a different direction compared to your opponents. Using up cards will cost you, though, so don't expect to just stock up and go crazy with the upgrades.

Once you engage in an all-out war, Dragon Commander really shows its strategy game colors. You've got a wide variety of units to choose from, and the pacing of the matches quickly ranges from calm (a rarity) to hectic (not so rare). In order to succeed, you must constantly summon new units and build different forts, all the while monitoring both your actions and those of your enemies. During my time with the game, I engaged in a couple of two-on-two matches, and while there was definitely a learning curve, it was interesting playing around with the different mechanics and attempting to adapt to the constantly changing environment.

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From what I gathered during my short time playing Dragon Commander, there’s a lot to really take in. Quite possibly one of the more intuitive and just plain badass elements of the game is the dragon transformation. While you can’t always turn into a massive winged beast, the moments when you do are a ton of fun. As a dragon you can spit out fiery projectiles and rush through the skies toward enemies. You’re not invulnerable to attacks yourself, though, so you still need to be constantly aware of your enemies’ actions. During these sequences, Dragon Commander plays a lot like a third-person action game, yet another shift in gameplay.

I honestly can’t say that I managed to get a good grip of every single one of the elements that Larian threw my way during my demo time. That said, each mechanic poses some interesting gameplay that players will undoubtedly get the hang of once they've spent some time immersed in the world. The game treads several paths, making for an experience that frequently changes and requires you to learn new things whilst retaining a lot of information about the other gameplay aspects. If you’re looking for a different kind of RTS title, you may want to keep your eyes peeled for Dragon Commander.

Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.

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