The current trend of releasing strategy oriented titles shows no signs of abating, as another seems to have appeared on the horizon. The Dragoness: Command of the Flame is from the teams at Crazy Goat Games and PQube, advertised as a “HOMM inspired adventure with a roguelike twist”. Those are not words that will endear a game to my heart, but as long as it plays well…
Starting with the narrative found in The Dragoness: Command of the Flame and we are on fairly safe ground. The game is set in the Drairthir Peninsula, a land that has been destroyed after a war between two warring factions of dragons. We take on the role of The Commander, complete with capital letters, so you know we are important; a promising Elven warrior. We are recruited by The Dragoness, required to take control after the old capital has been torched by the bad Shai-Va dragons. You see, a new capital city needs to be created at a place called Niwenborh. Of course, to do this we need to gather stuff, get more troops and everything else, so the scene is set for a riveting journey.
The story is just about there or thereabouts but unfortunately The Dragoness: Command of the Flame looks (and plays, but more on that later) like a mobile game that has been blown up onto the big screen. There are two main screens to interact with but neither will blow you away with their graphical prowess.
The exploration screen has various paths and items to find and collect, as well as creatures to fight. While the character models are very much okay, there’s nothing amazing here. The same goes for the battle screen – it looks nothing more than a chess board viewed from an isometric perspective as creatures appear on it, ready for some fighting. There is no variation in the fight screen though – it is always the same size and this gets dull after quite a short while.
The audio is okay too, although the voice acting of our second in command (who happens to be a Pangolin, of all things) soon gets annoying. Still, it is nice to have some voice acting in place, and while the rest of the game has sound effects, there is nothing here that made me swoon with joy. Functional, is the kindest thing I can say about the presentation.
So, no pressure then, but the gameplay is going to have to be amazing to pull this one back, right? Well, sorry to disappoint, but it isn’t.
The comparisons to free-to-play games start with the first bit of The Dragoness: Command of the Flame – why can I only move a certain distance before having to end the turn, and have my energy refilled? I understand why it has been done, in order to try and introduce a bit of resource management into the game, as each day, the creatures you have in your army will need to be fed. But honestly I just found it annoying. Trying to get to the objective of a level, seeing your path turn red means you have to move almost to the marker, then pause while the day renews, then finish your journey. All it The Dragoness: Command of the Flame needs is a pop up suggesting that you buy more moves, to make the deja vu for a dodgy mobile title complete.
Wandering (slowly) about will see you come across various things to interact with. These can be NPCs who can give missions, or merchants to buy supplies from. There are also enemies to fight, which you have to approach and fight by pressing A on them. Doing so will start combat. Before that though, you’ll want to grab supplies off the ground, and head into buildings in hope of finding a reward of some sort. Treasure chests are usually guarded by enemies. Last but not least are camps, allowing you to recruit new creatures to join your army. Obviously, the more creatures you have, the stronger your army, but conversely you need more food to keep them healthy.
Sadly, the controls – even on this screen – are pretty ropy, geared much more towards mouse and keyboard. It must be said that the controller optimisation is pretty poor. Losing your cursor, for instance, happens far too frequently.
The creatures are a mixed bunch, and while there are over forty types to find and recruit, there’s a chance your interest levels will wane well before that. It’s good though that you can merge creatures of the same type together to make new, stronger beasts. This is certainly a decent way of keeping the army size under control.
And as your creatures fight, they gain levels and become stronger, so it is worth fighting as much as you can. However, it’s here where a roguelike twist comes in too – when a creature is killed, it is gone forever. Luckily, as they don’t have a massive amount of personality, you don’t tend to get too attached; a few dead Ents is a small price to pay for victory.
Once combat is joined, things must get better, right? Well, marginally. Much like my chess board analogy from above, your minions line up on the left of the screen, the enemies on the right, and you need to make them dead while you keep your creatures alive.
Each creature can move a certain range, and if an enemy is within striking distance, they can also attack. The attack – and the range – varies by creature, with Ents needing to hit things up close and personal, while Centaurs can get busy from the other side of the screen with their bows, for instance. There are also magic attacks to utilise, of various different types, and these can turn the tide of battle in your favour. All in all, the combat is quite interesting, and certainly you need to use your brain to come out on top in some of the later battles. Always have more creatures than the enemy is a good tactic to use!
The thing is, The Dragoness: Command of the Flame is that worst of words – disappointing. It fails to really grab hold and even after sinking a silly amount of hours into it, the spark never ignites. Perhaps it doesn’t do anything particularly wrong, but The Dragoness: Command of the Flame also fails to do anything really right. This one is very much middle of the road.