Dragons with jetpacks. Elemental mishaps. Expect all this and more in Larian Studios' upcoming Divinity duo.
There's nothing more awesome than a dragon--except for maybe a dragon in a jetpack. Still not convinced? Then how about a dragon in a jetpack in a board game/real-time strategy/action hybrid with religiously devout skeletons and dwarves wearing gold-rimmed hats?
Maybe that got your attention, then.
Divinity: Dragon Commander is one of two upcoming games from Larian Studios set in the Divinity universe. If you're a longtime PC gamer, then you probably know this series, which started with Divine Divinity in 2002. But Dragon Commander is not a role-playing game, though it does have elements of RPGs. Rather, it is a hybrid game, much of which takes place on an overhead tactical map that gives you an overhead view of the kingdoms you long to control, as well as within your very own command center.
At your base, you engage in dialogue with various advisors and make choices based on their suggestions and attitudes. For instance, you might get an opportunity to divorce your elven bride and marry a dwarven princess instead. Doing so will strengthen your ties with the dwarven faction, but the undead counselor won't be so pleased: by marrying for political reasons, you insult the sanctity of marriage. You can see the results of your decisions on the tactical map. Your decisions could lead to revolts in certain lands, meaning that you would no longer be able to produce units there. In this case, you can be certain to annoy the elves, who will rise up in anger.
Once you enter battle, your choices boil down to this: what is the best way to crush my enemy? This is where the RTS game comes into play. As in most similar games, you build structures to support your army and send units into battle, in this case floating artillery bases, imposing airships, and other fantastical steampunk offenses that you send soaring through the sky from your floating island base. What makes Dragon Commander different is that you can enter battle as a fire-breathing dragon (you yourself are a dragon knight) and spew flames at the foes that dare challenge your superiority. Your wings might give you speed and lift, but when you need an extra boost, you can activate your jetpack and go flying through the air at high velocity. That jetpack also allows you to slow down time and evade incoming bullets.
Such battles occur in both single-player and multiplayer modes. In either case, Dragon Commander's colorful, tech-meets-magic visuals are striking at this early stage. Character designs in particular show lots of little touches, from the fox skin wrapped around a dwarf's neck, to the way a princess's dress strap falls daintily from her shoulder. Meanwhile, the jagged ears of your imp counselor looks as if they could cut through tin. Battles themselves light up the screen with dazzling blue plasma fire and giant explosions. It all looks so pretty.
If you'd rather the franchise stick to its role-playing roots, well, there's a game for you as well: Divinity: Original Sin. Divinity II took the series in a somewhat different direction with its third-person adventuring, while Original Sin returns to the isometric view associated with Divine Divinity. It is not a complete return to the ways of old, however: combat is turn-based, and up to three other players can join you on your questing in the world of Rivellon. One nice touch you don't see often: should one player enter combat, his teammates can still explore without being stuck waiting for the encounter to finish.
Once you're engaged in battle, you aren't limited to the usual attacks, skills, and magical abilities you might have expected. You have normal combat abilities, of course, but the environment plays a big role. Let's say a big mech is standing right next to a puddle. You can start your assault by making it rain in order to enlarge the puddle, so that your foe then stands in a nice shallow pool of water. Then, your teammate hurls lightning into the puddle, electrifying and stunning the robot so you can damage it without repercussions. Or perhaps there are oil barrels nearby. Pick one up and drop it in the middle of a group of swordsman, so that your companion can ignite it with a flaming arrow, killing multiple enemies in one turn.
Divinity: Original Sin isn't all about battle, however. Story is an important part of the game, even when you're playing with others. Dialogue will give you opportunities to make decisions, though your co-op partner is free to disagree. Should there be a dialogue conflict, a die roll will determine the outcome, taking into account attributes like strength (intimidate your teammate!) or charisma (charm the pants off him.) And let it be said that some of that dialogue handles mature themes: the demo we saw featured a woman who spent a salacious night with a dashing gentleman, only to discover he was no man--but a beast in disguise.
Throughout the course of Original Sin, you will have the opportunity to alter the flow of the story, using your wiles to avoid battle, or slaughtering suicide bombers before they have a chance to blow you up along with them. You can also affect your relationships with other characters by messing around with their belongings while they watch (you can pick up various items and move them around if you enjoy watching the non-player characters react to your shenanigans), or even stealing them. After all, the apple you see sitting on that poor woman's table might be handy if you need a health boost. And if she gets too bothered by your disregard for her property, and gets in your face about it, you can just strike her down.
Divinity: Original Sin and Divinity: Dragon Commander are very much the products of a studio that clearly loves PC games, and doesn't want to abandon the passions that made its previous adventures so interesting. Only time will tell just how these experiences turn out, but you can count on at least one thing: dragons. Dragons in jetpacks, no less. That mental image alone should keep these two games on your radar until their releases in 2013.