REVIEW / The Dragoness: Command of the Flame (PC)
I’ve been around for a little while. This being said, I remember most of the tropes currently being classed as “retro” from the first time around. The 90s especially was a period when I was in my teens with far too much time on my hands and playing everything I could lay my grubby little mitts on. With this in mind, I’m probably a little bit harder on games that take that retro stance than some others might be. There were a bunch of things that I remember fondly from that time, unfortunately, quite a lot of the things that never worked very well, to begin with, have made it into modern releases too. I always try to be open-minded though, and this is where today’s title comes into play. The game I’ve been playing is The Dragoness: Command of the Flame. Let’s see whether it’s glowing with all the nostalgia we want or using things that we buried in the past for a reason.
Dragoness: Command of the Flame is a hybrid RPG/strategy/building game in which you’re thrust into a world where dragons are at war. As the new general for the kindly Dragoness you must help her save her kingdom and in doing so save yourself from a life-ending curse. The story isn’t anything to write home about but at the same time isn’t badly written. You’ll notice with a lot of this review that everything is pretty much just okay. The voice acting while decent feels like it’s been done on a budget. While the actors are proficient enough it doesn’t feel particularly polished. This might have been an artistic choice of course but if it was, I’m not sure how well it works. The content of the dialogue can be stunning, but if the delivery isn’t 100% there you find yourself either tuning out and missing bits or trying to skip stuff. This obviously isn’t great from an RPG which is always going to be plot-important.
Mechanically Dragoness: Command of the Flame is good but nothing special. You travel around the map picking up resources and occupying buildings, which help bolster the various different forms of currency you’ll need to buy troops and other bonuses. On the map will be various creature encampments and these are your battles. We’ll come to these in a moment. Aside from that, and a really nice number of event markers such as mercenary camps where you can buy new troops, you’ll have objectives to complete on each map before heading back to your capital. Once again there isn’t anything wrong with this approach but at the same time, it isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. This title has a very mid-2000s feel to it, and there were some brilliant strategy games that came about then. The thing is that we were limited by the technology we had and taking the same approach in a current release kind of leaves the game feeling more like a throwback than an homage.
Combat has plusses and minuses for me. Battles are played out on a grid and you’ll have to move and battle in true strategy style. I don’t really need to spell the mechanics here out to you because we’ve all seen them before. Aside from differing monsters (obviously, or we’d have plagiarism problems,) and abilities, everything plays out like you can probably imagine. As you’ve probably fathomed there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking happening here. Just so I’m not being overly harsh, I need to note that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As the old saying goes, if it isn’t broken don’t fix it. These mechanics all work perfectly well, there just isn’t anything overwhelming going on. The thing I really like about battles is that they have a more chess-like feel. I’m getting pretty tired of having to summon creatures using replenishing mana reserves. This works well in the CCG genre because it’s needed for balance, but it keeps bleeding over into everything else and it’s starting to get a bit old. What I don’t like about the battles is they start to feel a little bit repetitive. I think this is mostly on account of there being a lot of them on a map and them not being very long. You can choose not to battle certain creatures but they’re usually guarding goodies so that’s counter-intuitive.
Something I really like is that the focus is based less on you as a character and more on the creatures you’ll be using. The upgrades you’ll find give your creatures more movement, better health, and so on. This gives you a real feel of being a commanding character and not a hero that could destroy everything on their own but isn’t because of … reasons. Your monsters feel like the important fighting force that they should be as opposed to a bunch of pawns that can be sacrificed at a whim. In addition to this, if you lose a unit during a battle it doesn’t miraculously reappear ready for the next one. Dead is dead and I really like that because it makes you care about your choices that bit more than you might otherwise. In addition to the passive upgrades you’ll find you’re own spells bolster your forces instead of raining death on the enemy which just adds to my point about your forces being the focus and not you.
I mentioned that The Dragoness: Command of the Flame is a builder. It is, but not in the typical sense. The majority of the building you’ll be doing will be in your capital. Here you’ll build and upgrade various structures that will give you bonuses on your journey. These will come in the form of extra resources and abilities that you can take into the fight. It’s probably best to think of this as more of a series of upgrade trees than something you’ll have to micromanage as you would in a typical building game. To be honest, calling this a builder is probably a little unfair as it isn’t in the strictest sense but this extra bit of resource management is a nice touch and provides some really useful bonuses so it’s definitely worth mentioning.
Something that I really don’t like is the movement system when it comes to the map. The Dragoness: Command of the Flame takes the idea of an army not being able to function on an empty stomach and runs with it. As you move around the map you use up food. If you run out it starts having an adverse effect on your troops. The problem with this is that it feels like it takes forever to get around. The events and battles are clearly marked on the map. This being said, the marker you’re heading for might be twelve moves away and you can only move six, (for example.) This means starting a new turn, consuming food, and completing your move. I like the idea that hungry soldiers aren’t going to fight well but I think there would be other better ways to implement this mechanic without making map movement feel slow and tedious. A simple calculation based on the number of spaces you need to move with a deduction at the end would be better. At the same time, this is a game that has to have turns because you’ll get a selectable bonus for your following one. This is useful but it doesn’t alter the fact that things are slow when there’s not a lot happening.
Aside from the peeve I’ve just mentioned, The Dragoness: Command of the Flame controls very nicely. All of your actions can be performed at the click of a mouse, so there are no annoyances with shoddy button mapping. Audio isn’t a particularly big thing for me for the most part so it does what it needs to do in this particular case without being mind-blowing. The soundtrack isn’t annoying which is enough of a positive for me on its own. Graphically The Dragoness: Command of the Flame looks like something straight out of the past. If I’d picked this title up 20 years ago I think I’d have been a very happy bunny and I’m a big fan of some of the artwork that’s being used. At the same time though, a lot of the game feels kind of dated. Once again I’m going for nice but really nothing special.
As a little side note, it felt like I was spending far too long looking at loading screens. This isn’t a game that looks particularly graphics-heavy and it doesn’t feel like there are mountains of data to load when switching screens. This is something I’d have been able to forgive in the past on account of the limitations in hardware but any modern computer shouldn’t have any issues running this title and it starts to get annoying when you’re jumping from battles to the map frequently. Battles only take a few minutes to complete so there isn’t even the excuse that you’re loading in a half hour’s worth of playtime in one go. The stopping and starting became immersion-breaking for me so not really great on the whole.
All in all The Dragoness: Command of the Flame isn’t a bad game but there are way too many other titles out there accomplishing what it’s trying to achieve in far better ways. This is a title that feels a little bit more like a relic of the past than something that I’d class as retro in the sense I think it’s trying to be. For the most part, I enjoyed my time with this game and if it were given as a gift I certainly wouldn’t be complaining. On the other hand, this isn’t something I’d likely go out and buy and I’m not really hooked enough to keep going back for more. Everything is pretty average really. If you want to experience what games were like in previous generations I’d say have at it. If you’re looking for a new, cutting-edge strategy experience, however, I’d probably look elsewhere.
Here there be dragons!
Not exactly on fire
The Dragoness: Command of the Flame is a game that can be summarized as slightly above average on most fronts. This is a title that does all it intends to do fairly well and looks nice but there’s nothing that makes it stand out enough from other, arguably better, titles on the market to make it really shine. If you’re looking for something to play between other games or a fun way to kill some time then this isn’t the worst call. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a new world to absolutely immerse yourself in you probably won’t find it here.