In case you haven’t heard of the divinity games before, they’re the series of cruel and unusual challenges that all souls must endure before they can pass on into the ultimate reward of oblivion. But honestly that’s neither here nor there.
Why the hell would you even want to know?
Unrelatedly, if you’ve never heard of the divinity series of video-games before they’re a perfect example of how a fucking awesome premise can fall victim to weak game design. Because almost nobody’s heard of them you might be surprised to learn that the shitty game design related to how movement on foot and sword combat were clunky and awkward. But about ten minutes of game-play will tell you that this doesn’t fucking matter, because the awesome premise is that you can transform into a dragon. Thus if you spend more than ten minutes on foot swinging a sword you’re playing it fucking wrong. It’d be like buying a Hog to take your kids to school. Sure, it works, but you’re missing the point.
To make matters worse, It was also a fantasy RPG that found itself in the unfortunate position of competing with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
It didn’t have a dragon’s chance in Skyrim.
The newest iteration of the franchise moves away from it’s lacklustre roots and gets rid of the human mode entirely, throwing away basically all it’s more traditional RPG components in favour of a diplomacy-em-up mode in which you debate the policies of the empire you are trying to build and an RTS mode wherein you and an army of steam-punk tanks vaporise anybody who disagrees. The story that unfolds is fairly interesting, but it seems to work entirely without the interference of the people you’re at war with, preferring to pay attention to the infighting and petty squabbles of your generals and advisers. This means that the drama, such as it is, is more of the “Wahhh, I don’t like that lizardman, he’s all snooty” variety, when really it should be more “WAHHHHH! The earth will burn and drip with blood to herald my ascent!”.
Something else that got to me, aside from all the aforementioned lack of big, grand gestures, is the lack of a voice for the player character. All the other characters are fully voiced, but your guy apparently just zooms around the deck of his giant magical airship on a fucking segway, staring silently at people while they deliver exposition about the political mishap of the day. Dialogue choices are made and then presumably communicated by waggling your formidable man-dragon eyebrows in a evocative manner until whoever you’re talking to gets the idea.
At first I thought this might have something to to with the often ridiculous branching nature of some of the choices, where little things bundle with little things like the first few snowflakes of an avalanche until, hours down the line, you’re arguing politics with an entirely different wife who’s made entirely different choices and, like that avalanche, flattening an entirely different set of mountain villages. I figured it might be difficult to get information for all of those little conversations together and voice recorded, and then I realised the truth.
The player character isn’t voiced for a far simpler reason: Sean Connery must have been busy. It’s so simple once you realise that. After his total dominance as the voice of Draco in the 1996 movie Dragonheart there can’t be an actor alive who’d dare to try to pull of a regal, gracious dragon, knowing they’d be competing with Sean Connery. After all, you can just ask armed mobster and Ex-Marine Johnny Stompanato what messing with Sean Connery gets you. (Disarmed and kicked the shit out of on the set of James Bond, for those too lazy to look it up)
On top of this awesome but probably nonsense speculation, there’s a notable abundance of talk about legalising fantasy weed, and a notable lack of using dark magics to enslave the souls of men. At one point you have the option, if you follow an absurd and almost illogical series of choices, to take a female skeleton (your sexy skeletal wife, in fact) and give her a hot living body. This doesn’t make any sense, of course. If you wanted to marry a skeleton in a hot living body, you could have married basically anyone. You could have even married a hot lizard woman. You’re a fucking dragon emperor.
That’s kind of the biggest problem I have with the storytelling. It’s a game about being a fucking lizard king, son of emperor and dragon (because of course you fucking would if you were an fantasy emperor) and all of the conversations you have, either with the store brand Wandalf the Grite substitute or any one of your weird little band of generals and advisor’s, end up feeling as though you’re not much more important than anyone else. It’s just feels a bit discordant, when you spend the other half of the game flying about as a dragon with a motherfucking jet pack. It’s really two separate games and unfortunately the two sides never really jell.
Of course, the fucking mammoth loading times between them don’t help
Overall, It’s a definite “Come for the premise” kind of thing. It doesn’t do much well, but now it’s out of oblivion’s playpen there’s nothing out there that it’s competing with.
I enjoyed it, but I don’t know how much of that was because it was good, and now much was because it was new. But if you’re as jaded as I am, by all means give it a go.
Don’t trust the shambling Undead though. Those guys are assholes.
Divinity: Dragon Commander
Developer: Larian Studios
Released: August 6th 2013
Score: 7/9 Hammers