|Release Date:||November 4th, (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Craig Dudley (Mani)|
|Buy now at Amazon.co.uk|
Dragonshard is the first game set in the new Dungeons & Dragons world of Eberron, now I haven't played D&D for many years or followed it's evolution much, so I can't comment on it's authenticity, but we do get treated to a kick ass intro movie which goes a long way to setting the scene. These little CG movies must cost a fortune but I do love them. It's also the first D&D RTS game ever, the Dungeons and Dragons universe probably lends itself more to roleplaying titles after all, indeed Dragonshard does have RPG elements but we'll get to that later no doubt.
Many moons ago, lots of games had their own custom installers, but until Dragonshard, I hadn't seen one for years. It's also in much the same style as the games menu system. I guess it's like some sort of magically powered machine. Nice idea, but generally I do other things while games are installing, so it was more of an inconvenience than anything else.
The screenshots included in this review don't quite tell the whole story, the game itself doesn't seem to include the option to capture the screen so these are fraps captures that for some reason don't look quite as good as the game itself does, I can't really explain why but they just seem to be missing detail, particularly with environmental things like water which ripples beautifully in the game but looks quite static on the shots.
Models would seem to have quite low polygon counts but that is offset by the very detailed skins they wear, cloth cloaks will also flow nicely if that option is enable in the menus. Dragonshard looks great and isn't that much of a system hog either, even when your fighting fifty foot scorpions or demons in the underworld, the occasional slow down does happen, but usually only with huge armies fighting, this isn't that common.
The sound in Dragonshard is very good indeed, the music for instance has a distinctly Hollywood epic feel to it. There's also a fair amount of it, it doesn't get overly repetitive either which is always a bonus. General sound effects are also clean and crisp, no obvious flaws here at all.
Voice acting is pretty much always something I criticise in games, but to be perfectly fair I can't do it here. Unit acknowledgements are varied and high quality, speech in the cut scene's isn't too over acted and even the tutorial voice is easy to understand, although it does sound like that guy who does all the action movie trailer voice overs. The UK version did come out quite a bit later than the US version, I have a feeling that this is where some of that time went. All aspects of the games' sound are solid and well produced.
Far from being a standard real time strategy title alone, Dragonshard tries and to some extent succeeds in melding it's dungeon questing RPG roots with a fantasy RTS. Similar to last years Armies of Exigo, Dragonshard is played on two levels, the upper level is the surface of Eberron, here you play the RTS element of the game, build you base, train your units, collect Dragonshards. But down below, is the more traditional dungeon, in this case a sunken Elven city named "Qalatesh". All manner of mini quests await in the underworld, prepare your party and wander in the dungeons collecting gold, your second resource as well as the experience points you need to level up your character classes. You do of course gain those points from killing your enemy on the surface too, but you won't be finding any bonus spells or items on the surface very often.
Many of these bonus items can be used to give various types of boost to you champions or soldiers in general, increased hit points, inflicting more damage, better armour etc, you get the picture. This is lifted more or less straight from Dungeons & Dragons and has a decidedly RPG feel to it. So much so that you can actually buy and sell these items in the reward shop between stages of the campaigns. Be advised though, that while you can resurrect your main champion from your keep, and special bonus items in effect are lost once a champion dies, though they can be re-applied if you have more.
Being mainly an RTS game, you will need a base, the Dragonshard's case you get a large Keep surrounded by four blocks of four building plots, building a number of the same building on adjacent plots will allow the units that building trains to level up given enough experience points, you ca also add one of four special monuments to any plot in a block to give a bonus to all units created in buildings on that plot. So you can either got for fours buildings of the same type, allowing level five units, or lower levels with added bonuses. There are a lot mroe than four types of units tough, so choosing wisely abd being prepared to demolish buildings and rebuild something else is always handy. Base defense is pretty much limited to the towers on your outer walls firing spears/arows once they themselves have been levelled up. For the RTS gamer who likes to create a powerful home base, this can feel a litle limiting.
As is becoming common, your units are created as captains and as you level up, they get soldiers automatically added to their own mini squad when they are near your keep. Each level will give you an extra soldier, from level 2 where you get a single helper, to level 5 where you not suprisingly get 4. There is a special bonus item which allows this to increase further for a single squad however. I should add that your soldiers cannot accompany your captains into the dungeons below, they just sort of magically disappear when you enter the underworld, and re-appear as you emerge.
Of course levelling up a character gives you more than just the ability to command more soldiers, hit points increases as well as the potential to do more damage are also acquired, sometimes your captain will also gain a new ability or spell if he or she is magically inclined. Each race also gets the option of a single juggernaut unit, for the Order of the Flame, this is a huge Phoenix that can devastate units and building quickly from the air.
Unfortunately, fun as they are, the two campaigns are a little bit short, somewhere in the region of seven missions for each of the mainly human "Order of the Flame" and the "Lizardfolk" races. At least another whole campaign would have been nice, maybe we'll get that as an add-on, preferably free or very cheap as well. Still, there is a decent skirmish mode included in which you can also control the "Umbragen" a race of dark and evil Elves. The enemy AI does actually seem to be fairly good too but it is quite hard to discern that in half a dozen skirmish games. Dragonshard does also offer multiplayer and includes a reasonable but not huge selection of maps to play on. I'd like to see a few more over time.
Dragonshard certainly doesn't offend, but neither does it massively excite, it's a solid fantasy based real time strategy with many D&D style RPG elements that's actually quite good fun to play. The story isn't completely stupid and campaign mode plays well with many side quests added to each mission, although the campaigns is a bit short for my liking. It also has an extremely thorough group of tutorial missions that will set up even the most novice of strategy gamers for the task ahead.
Hardcore RTS players might find it a touch limited in places, mainly with base building and defense, but it is quite easy to pick up and play and there certainly is some depth here too, I guess that's the sign of a well made game, easy to play, hard to master.
I can't really criticise Dragonshard, there's just isn't anything really wrong with it. What I would say is that while I have very much enjoyed playing Dragonshard, I never really got totally sucked in. It's hard to explain, this is a very, very good game that's very well made, it's just not a brilliant one. Well worth it's price tag though, especially if your a fan of Dungeons & Dragons.
- Multi level action
- Great to look at
- Excellent sound
- Reasonably well balanced
- Extremely detailed tutorial
- Easy to play, hard to master
- It's Dungeons & Dragons
- Awesome intro movie
- Skirmish Mode
Not so good stuff
- Nothing all that new
- Only two, relatively short campaigns
- Bases/Cities can feel a bit limited
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