I look down upon the land, a vast open area ripe for the taking. The Jeeps lead the way, quickly traversing the mountain terrain towards a group of buildings, untouched and unused. The claim is an easy one; a factory, an airport and a recruitment center are up and running in seconds, and tanks, infantry and airships begin trickling out, towards the small smattering of military might protecting the borders.
An explosion; the enemy battleships begin launching their shells high and far, the zeppelins above them providing the extensive view for their gunners. The roar of tanks rolling towards my defenses is deafening, and hesitantly I order my army to march on. The fear of being hugely outgunned and outnumbered doesn’t last long however, because I quickly remember I have nothing to fear: I am tough, like the thick, leathery skin of a rhino; I am fast, like a cheetah seeking its first meal of the day; I am powerful, like a bear defending its territory; the world will crumble beneath my power. I move the RTS camera towards my troops and get in nice and low, and hit the enter key. In an instant, the dynamic of the battle changes dramatically…
For I am fire-breathing, blade-winged dragon. With a jetpack.
Right now, you might be wondering what I’ve been smoking, or at what point you wandered in to a J.R.R. Tolkein’s Steampunk rendition of Lord of the Rings. What I say now to you is that you’re actually hearing a first-hand account from a pre-release demo of the startlingly different take on RTS games by Larian Studios.
Chapter One- The Idea
Like all new development studios, Larian Studios wanted to make a big impact on the industry by radically changing the dynamic of an already existing game model. In much the same way that World of Warcraft reshaped the way MMORPGs handle player development, or how the Half-Life series redefines what it is to tell an epic story from a first-person perspective, Dragon Commander looks to take the RTS world by firestorm by giving the player a first-person method of getting better involved with the battle, and turning the tide in their favour.
The work-in-progress game is separated into what feels like minigames, each with their own special part to play in shaping the world for the player. On the command ship, where both the story and character develops, players are thrust into the world of politics, deciding the fate of the realm on controversial issues that are present and relevant to modern society. This only gets better if, like me, you enjoy a game where there isn’t an easy “I Win” button, or where choices made have a “right” and “wrong” option, because every decision will affect which of your fellow diplomats are offended by your decision, or by the majority vote should you choose to abstain from the decision. The result is not just a difference in conversation options, and well-animated and stunningly voiced NPC reactions, but also on how the game develops for the player, locking off or opening access to various upgrades throughout the game. Between the political issues and the conversation with other crew members, it’s difficult not to get lost just in the pseudosocial side of the game just by self, but alas we must move on.
Chapter Two: Ready for Risks
Once all that is dealt with, the game transforms; a Risk-style turn-based boardgame which works especially well in multiplayer. Like any good game of Risk, you can move around the map, split your armies to march on multiple fronts, take lands, develop technologies, and best of all, start wars. This is where the game gets really interesting, as when players clash, they are given the option to either auto-resolve, which works on the raw numbers, and dice rolls, or the players can choose to battle in the RTS game.
Chapter Three: Ready for Battle
I’ll be honest here; the RTS really stole my heart, so I may gush on this a little. I’m aware there is more to the game, but there’s really something quite special about the RTS. It starts like any normal strategy game; you can control your units, and while you might not be able to place buildings wherever you want like a true RTS, it’s immaterial in this game. You take over building bases with unit proximity and select a building type to construct on them. You can then create your units, and expand; heading for other areas and taking those bases. When combat happens, things just explode into action – in two different forms.
Chapter Four: Did I mention the Dragon?!
You control your units just like any other RTS game, but while they’re moving around, performing the actions you’ve given them, you can turn yourself into a jetpack-equipped, firebreathing, unit-destroying dragon. You can combat other dragon commanders in this mode, you can even control your units to a slightly lesser extent, and lets not forget you can manipulate the way the battle unfolds with your dragon powers.
From being the annoying little untargetable bee, buzzing around a bigger unit and doing minor damage relentlessly, to destroying entire battalions in a second with devastating attacks, to mind-controlling enemy units and healing friendlies, your dragon is by far the most powerful unit on the battlefield. The controls are wonderful and intuitive, and with just a little practise (it took me all of one game to get the hang of it and thoroughly devastate the poor journalist I was placed against!) you can learn to be highly effective switching between full RTS control to maximise the effectiveness of your units, and being what is essentially a hero unit in third-person control.
Changing the game, one Dragon at a time…
The way this changes the game is unprecedented; most RTS games can be fast and lethal, but when you can use every single moment of your time doing damage, scouting the enemy, and otherwise gathering information and deploying countermeasures, Dragon Commander is by far the most exciting RTS game I’ve played since the release of StarCraft II.