Yep. It’s another Dragon Commander article. Why? Well, we’re independent press, and they’re an independent developer. The fascinating thing about Dragon Commander is that it’s a game that would never in a thousand years be greenlit by a major publisher. Why is that fascinating? Because despite that, it’s looking to be a huge success, and, more importantly: it’s bloody good. That’s really why we’re giving it so much coverage. We see it as something of a revolution. It’s privately funded by the money of the developer, and built from the imaginations of them. No creditors, no marketing meetings, and, probably, no suits. That’s cool, right?

This article contains most of the resources availiable to you in battle, explaining what they are, and their weaknesses and strengths. Take small tokes, friend, because you’re likely to whiteout.

What is a blob?

Before we start the “your mother” jokes, we’re talking tactics. There’s something of a trend in the reception of content we’ve been providing, such as this video, which states that before fully understanding the esoteric title, thanks to coverage from media all over, they thought it was a silly idea. It is a silly idea, isn’t it? Having said that, if it works, it isn’t stupid.

A fellow named Ole Herbjornsen from Matsuko Development, filled with ex-EA and ex-Ubisoft employees, said “I just saw a link at www.rpgcodex.com to your preview for Dragon Commander. I previously thought the basic premise for the game sounded rather daft, but after watching the video preview, and then reading your written review from back in February I decided to buy a copy of the game on Steam. Three cheers for my soon-to-be resurrected undead bride!” A little understanding goes a long way, and whilst I feel we’ve done a good job at covering the RPG mechanics, I thought I’d leave it up to other people to discuss the RTS ones. Not any more.

Dragon Commander still remains too esoteric for some, although others at Destructoid and Rock Paper Shotgun are having no problems understanding the intricacies of combat; combat that is, to some people, about putting all your units into a blob, and sending them to the enemy base.

DC_Artwork013

This view is generally from people concerned with the AI, or single player campaign. It’s possible to beat the campaign by doing this to some extent, but at the same time, it’s actually not. The press beta covers the first, introductory section of the campaign, where you rise to fame as an accepted commander, from a lowly “bastard”. It’s difficult, but only because it has a learning curve. Once you master that, good use of upgrades and the Dragon will take you a long way. Deriving your opinion on the tactical RTS elements from the single player press beta is a bad idea, partly because it doesn’t have all the upgrades, cards, and units (as far as I can see), and partly because in no RTS game does the AI play the same as multiplayer opponents.

Imagine judging Eugen Systems’ Wargame: AirLand Battle on the AI in the single player campaigns? European Escalation launched without a skirmish mode for that reason: it is of no educational value as to the viability of tactics in the multiplayer. That’s one of the reasons why single player coverage for this RTS, and any RTS, isn’t indicative of the multiplayer experience. But I don’t expect that to convince you.

A blob, as it pertains to the RTS genre, is a clump of units – usually one clump – sent into battle to meet another clump. A mix of units, left to their own devices. Is it possible to be victorious in Dragon Commander using only this tactic? Well, not really, so here’s why:

Skills, unit types, Dragon abilities, and countering your opponents cards

Firstly, there are a number of things you’ve to take into consideration in Dragon Commander: the ability to upgrade your units, giving them active and passive skills, the unit types themselves (some have low armour, but act as glass cannons, so keep them back), and a need to avoid certain units if the enemy is using a debuff card which affects them.

Now, this applies later in the campaign, but at the start, your Dragon can overcome most obstacles which would reduce the number of units you lose. But RTS tactics really come into play in the multiplayer, so let’s look at the skills you’ve got at your disposal there.

When I played Dragon Commander against the developers in February, I sucked. They made the game, and I was picking it up for the first time. That’s to be expected. The dev bopped and weaved his units around the map, flanking and surprising me. I was able to launch a bomb type ability from my Dragon, which took town a cluster of Shamans he was using to mass-heal his units in a blob. A small victory, I remember, because since he had blobbed his units together, I was able to take advantage and blow them all up in a single hit. After that, he reduced the amount of units he had together, and began to dart and weave with much smaller battlegroups. He recognised that I had a certain ability, and he adapted to it. That’s the fundamentals of RTS combat: adapt to your opponents arsenal, and tactics.

So what does affect combat? We need look no further than the manual.

Cards

DragonCommander-cards

Strategic Cards: These cards range in capability from destroying buildings, to boosting economy, to stopping an enemy from attacking you. Strategy Cards, as the name implies, are played solely on the Strategy Map and aim to give you an
edge before going into battle.

Mercenary Cards: Mercenaries are hired guns that are activated during the deployment phase before actual combat. These cards may range in capability from a group of Troopers to a heavy Juggernaut flagship. Use these cards to catch your opponent off-guard, or to increase your army’s potency in a big battle. Mercenary Cards are solely played during the deployment phase before combat.

Dragon Skill Cards: The deployment of these type of cards give your dragon the ability to equip a skill that you otherwise may not have in possession. This way, your dragon may wield a very powerful skill that can cause havoc during battle without having completed the necessary research. Dragon Skill Cards are solely played during the deployment phase before combat, and these skills will disappear after the real-time combat is over.

Unit Buff Cards: These cards are a one-time use buff on a specific unit type in real-time battle. They affect the statistics of a specific unit type in a beneficial way, giving your troops more power in combat. For example, Troopers may get an increase in attack speed or damage during the entire real-time battle. They are solely played during the deployment phase before combat. Unit Debuff Cards: These cards are a one-time use debuff on a specific unit type in real-time battle. They affect the statistics of a specific unit type deployed by the enemy in a detrimental way, reducing their power in combat. For example, enemy Hunters may get a decrease in movement speed or in damage done during the entire real-time battle. They are solely played during the deployment phase before combat.

Real-time Strategy Buildings

As I mentioned before, it’s important to understand what each building can produce, and how to use that unit. The follow buildings are available in the game, but be careful, because you only have a finite number of locations on which to build them. Choose wisely, and strategically. Putting a War Factory in your main base might seem strategically logical, since it has the strongest units, but they cost much more, and you might find yourself too poor to produce them in time, relying on a Battle Forge farther back.

  • Battle Forge: This is your standard production facility for Infantry-based units. Troopers, Grenadiers, Warlocks and Shamans are all produced from this building.
  • War Factory: With advanced tech comes a new facility, and you’ll need a Factory to produce machinery-based units. Hunters, Armours and Devastators will make their way to the battlefield from this building.
  • Aerofactory: The Airport is the production facility of Air-based units such as Imp Fighters, Bombers and Zeppelins.
  • Shipyard: A Harbour functions as the production facility of your fleet. Transports, Cruisers and Juggernauts are all produced in the Harbour.
  • Ground Turret: Basic ground-to-ground base defence that fires at a single enemy unit.
  • Air Turret: Base defence that is only able to shoot Air units with great efficiency.
  • Mortar Turret: Long-range splash damage base defence, meant to destroy clusters of enemy units.

An extensive look at the units availaible, and their upgrades

Trooper

Trooper: The basic, most standard unit fit for all-around ground combat; strength in numbers.

Strong against: Infantry-type units; in large groups can be quite effective against any ground-based units. 

Weak against: Higher tech units; splash damage units such as Bomber Balloons and Devastators; Air units.

Upgrades:

  • Troopers Enhanced Engines: Increases the movement speed of your Troopers.
  • Spoils of War: Allows Troopers to fully capture enemy buildings. The building, once captured, will be under your full control for the remainder of the battle.
  • For the Empire!: Your Trooper’s core overloads, disabling his main attack and making him explode upon contact with enemy units or buildings, dealing significant damage but destroying him in the process.

Gren

Grenadier: The first unit with anti-air capabilities; has a long attack range and is an excellent choice against heavy armoured units.

Strong against: Armours, player dragons and Air units (when in sizeable numbers) 

Weak against: Hunters; splash damage units such as Bomber Balloons and Devastators

Upgrades:

  • Imp Binoculars: This increases the attack range of your Grenadiers.
  • Enhanced Explosives: Your Grenadiers will gain a significant increase to their area-of-effect damage impact.
  • Chemical Warfare: The Grenadiers will fire off a hazardous projectile that diseases enemy units upon impact, dealing damage over time; activated ability.

Sham

Shaman: Functions as a field medic; capable of healing others in and out of battle; very fragile and cannot defend himself; has multiple skills at his disposal.

Strong when mixed into armies as support, but weak when left alone as he has no attack and is easily taken down without allied units to cover him.

Upgrades:

  • Cripple: Casts a spell upon the enemy to paralyze and root them in fear. Enemy units will be held in place and unable to
  • retaliate for the duration of the spell.
  • Immunity: Casts a protective shield around the target friendly unit, increasing its defense significantly.
  • Charm: Allows your Shamans to take full control over mind and body of an enemy unit, enabling you to use that unit against its own master for the duration of the spell.

War

Warlock: Slow, but dangerously disruptive unit capable of casting several offensive spells. Can defend himself, but is not meant to fight for an extended duration as the unit is slow and unable to take out the heavier units by itself. Meant to be used as an offensive spell caster,
not a direct combat unit.

Upgrades:

  • Cloak: Casts a spell that shifts your Warlocks into hiding in the shadows for a limited amount of time, where they may escape to live another fight.
  • Meet the Beetles: Turns an enemy unit into a harmless ladybird, disabling its attack and usage of spells for a limited amount of time.
  • Death From Above: Summons fire and brimstone from the sky to rain down upon your enemies, dealing massive area-of-effect damage over the target area.

Hunt

Hunter: Fast moving, guerrilla-type fighting unit.

Strong against: Infantry type units, Air units and player dragon (when Hunter has ‘A Bird in the Hand’ researched) 

Weak against: Devastators, Armours, Juggernauts, Air units and player dragon (when Hunter has ‘A Bird in the Hand researched)

Upgrades:

  • Revelation: Enables your Hunters to detect cloaked units in an area around them; passive ability.
  • Teleportation: Hunters are able to teleport to a distant friendly unit, enabling for fast travel across the map.
  • A Bird in the Hand: Equips your Hunters with rockets, enabling them to effectively fire at air units.

Arm

Armour: Good all-round offensive and defensive unit; can take a lot of punishment before biting the dust.

Strong against: Infantry type units apart from Grenadiers, Hunters, Devastators 

Weak against: Grenadiers, Air units, player dragon, Juggernauts

Upgrades:

  • Public Transportation: Armours gain the capacity to load and unload Troopers and Grenadiers, transporting them over the battlefield.
  • You’re Mine: Allows your Armours to drop ground mines into the field, which will explode upon contact with enemy units.
  • Short Sharp Shock: Your Armours will release a powerful shockwave, dealing massive damage to nearby enemy units in contact with them.

Devastator

Devastator: Siege-type unit, strong in assaulting fortified positions and holding the line.

Strong against: All ground-based units in general, especially when clustered together 

Weak against: Armours, Air units and player dragon

Upgrades:

  • Devastator Enhanced Engines: Increases the movement speed of your Devastators.
  • On the Double: Allows your Devastators to fire their cannons twice in rapid succession, reducing single-shot damage but significantly increasing overall damage done; passive ability.
  • Besiege: Enables siege-mode, which allows Devastators to fortify their position in place, giving up mobility for increased attack range. Devastators are able to go freely in and out of siege-mode on command.

imp

Imp Fighter: Dedicated anti-Air unit, has a limited attack on ground units with research unlocked.

Strong against: Air units, if wielding the ‘Bombs Away’ upgrade; Armours, Devastators, Juggernauts, Infantry type units apart from Grenadiers 

Weak against: Grenadiers, Hunters with ‘A Bird in the Hand’ researched, Ironclads

Upgrades:

  • Bombs Away: Equips your Imp Fighters with bombs, which allows your Imp Fighters— who are otherwise dedicated anti-Air units— to attack ground units.
  • War of Attrition: Imp Fighters’ attacks will slow down their enemies’ attack speed.
  • Iron Plating: Gives a significant health boost to Imp Fighters by upgrading their materials.

bomb

Bomber Balloon: Dangerous against clumped-up units; very powerful antiground attack but susceptible to Anti-Air. Strong against: All ground-based units in general apart from large groups of Grenadiers; even more effective when enemy units are clustered together Weak against: Large groups of Grenadiers; Hunters with ‘A Bird in the Hand’ researched; Imp Fighters, Ironclads

Upgrades:

  • Mine High Club: Bombers gain the capacity to lay air mines, which will explode upon contact with enemy units.
  • Revelation: Enables your Bombers to detect cloaked units in an area around them; passive ability.
  • Enhanced Explosives: Gives a significant increase to Bombers’ area-ofeffect damage.

zep

Zeppelin: Utility unit that can cloak entire groups of friendly units, as well as increase their attack range significantly when flying within vicinity.

Strong when mixed into armies as support, but weak when left alone as they have no attack and are easily taken down
without friendly units to cover them.

Upgrades:

  • Fly, My Flaming Pretties!: Allows Zeppelins to unleash multiple fire-bats on an enemy air unit, dealing massive damage.
  • Fog of War: Enables Zeppelins to cloak themselves and a group of units in the area for a limited amount of time.
  • Mustard Gas: Zeppelins cast down a smoky cloud of poisonous gas upon their enemies, dealing consistent damage over time in an area of effect that persists for a limited duration.

trans

Transport: Meant to transport your units across the map; can cloak and even self-destruct when all else fails.

Weak in general combat but can defend itself. Has approximately the same killing power as a Trooper and, as such, should not be brought for its firepower alone.

Upgrades:

  • Cloak: Activates the Transport’s cloaking device, enabling it to hide from the enemy for a limited amount of time.
  • Minesweeper: Enables your Transports to sweep mines from the water, rendering them useless.
  • For the Empire!: Causes your Transports to activate their self-destruct mechanism, disabling their primary attack and allowing them to explode on contact with enemy units, but destroying them in the process.

iron

Ironclad: Dedicated naval and anti-air fighting unit; can intercept enemy projectiles and detect mines or cloaked units.

Strong against: Air units, Naval units, player dragon 

Weak against: Ground-based units

Upgrades:

  • Revelation: Enables your Ironclads to detect cloaked units in an area around them; passive ability.
  • On Guard: Your Ironclads may activate an improved defensive targeting mechanism, targeting and shooting down incoming enemy projectiles in an area near them for the duration of the skill.
  • Sea Mine-Maids: Allows your Ironclads to deploy sea mines that will
  • explode upon contact with enemy units.

jug

Juggernaut: The flagships at sea; extremely strong both in offense and defence; can launch tactical warheads and may create back-up Imp Fighters when being assailed from the air.

Strong against: Ground-based units 

Weak against: Ironclads; Fighters with ‘A Bird in the Hand’ upgrade; Bomber Balloons, Devastators

Upgrades:

  • Imp Binoculars: Increases the attack range of your Juggernauts.
  • Imp Backup: Allows your Juggernauts to deploy Imp Fighters from their position, providing air support when needed; each Fighter costs the regular amount of Recruits otherwise required.
  • Imp Bunker Buster: Your Juggernauts can launch an extremely potent tactical warhead that deals an enormous amount of area-of-effect damage in a target area. Due to the strength of this attack, the warhead is targetable and can be destroyed before it reaches its point of impact.

As you can see, the relatively humble number of 14 units have a wide variety of uses, strengths, and weaknesses. They have passive and active upgrades, and each of these passive and active upgrades can either help your ally units, or hinder the enemy. Some units, too, are weaker against the players Dragon than others. There are mines, stealth abilities, AOE, DOT’s, and other abilities useful in the field of combat. Allowing them to clump together, and merely fire on the enemy, is not a good idea in multiplayer – since your opponent will be using the abilities and strategies at his disposal to full effect.

Dragon skills

If you’re of a more naturalistic disposition, you could use the Dragon as a nice, free-moving camera to look over the rolling hills of Rivellon. If that’s you, then stop reading, because you’re mad. The Dragon has its own set of skills, so let’s look at all of them.

Dragon Skills

Passive Skills:

  • Rejuvenation: Permanently and drastically increases the Dragon’s health generation when out of combat.
  • Aura of Restoration: The Dragon emits an aura that increases health generation to nearby allied units.
  • Aura of Annihilation: The Dragon emits an aura that increases the damage done by nearby allied units.
  • Aura of Frailty: The Dragon emits an aura that reduces enemy units’ attack range significantly.
  • Blood Leech: Gives the Dragon a vampiric embrace, allowing it to permanently replenish a portion of its own life with each attack that deals damage.
  • Devastation: Permanently increases.
  • Soar: Permanently increases the Dragon’s flight speed during normal and jetpack flight.
  • Scales of Steel: The Dragon’s natural armour gets reinforced with an increased layer of scales and muscle, significantly increasing defence against attacks.

Active Skills:

  • Breaching Fire: The Dragon overheats its breath, dealing increased damage to medium and heavy units, such as Devastators or Armours.
  • Salvation: The Dragon heals a portion of its health over a small period of time.
  • Dread Roar: The Dragon strikes fear into the hearts of many, paralyzing them in place and stopping them from acting for a limited amount of time.
  • Aegis: The Dragon casts a protective spell around an allied unit, significantly increasing its defence for a set amount of time.
  • Bastion: The Dragon casts a defensive shield around itself, increasing the amount of punishment it can take for a limited amount of time.
  • Chameleon Hide: The dragon almost completely disappears from sight for a limited amount of time.
  • Unveil: Allows the Dragon to see through enemies’ disguises, revealing cloaked units in an area around it.
  • Cleansing Charge: Cleanses friendly units within the Dragon’s area of effect from negative effects such as Fear, Sabotage, etc.
  • Mass Restoration: The Dragon replenishes the health of target allied units and all friendly units in its vicinity.
  • Sabotage: The Dragon fires a burst of energy that disables the primary function of an enemy building or unit. This will stop the building from being able to construct or research for a limited amount of time. It will also stop enemy units from being able to attack or use skills.
  • Pillar of Restoration: The Dragon casts a pillar of restoring energy that reaches skyward and heals all the units in its vicinity for its duration.
  • Pillar of Flame: The Dragon casts a column of consuming fire that deals damage to units within its vicinity for its duration.
  • Charm: The Dragon casts a domination spell upon an enemy unit, gaining total control over it for a limited amount of time.
  • Acid Blaze: The Dragon’s glands add acid to its fireballs, which deal both damage on impact and damage over time.
  • Purifying Flames: The Dragon invokes a healing breath, infusing its fireballs with a restorative power capable of mending the wounds of friendly units.
  • Eye of the Patriarch: Unleashes a single, massive fireball dealing extreme punishment in an area of effect.
  • Friends with Benefits: The Dragon casts a protective shield on a friendly unit, which reduces damage taken and, in turn, the Dragon receives healing whenever the unit deals damage.
  • Ray of Power: A ray is created between the Dragon and an allied unit, giving the unit a huge damage increase as long as the link between both remains.
  • Inspire: The Dragon inspires a friendly unit to increase its attack speed and movement speed significantly.
  • Advance!: The Dragon invigorates those around him, significantly increasing all friendly units’ movement speed.
  • Berserker Roar: The Dragon roars ferociously in an area around him, causing all friendly units to gain a huge increase to attack speed, but taking increased damage in return.
  • Crippling Roar: The Dragon roars powerfully in an area around him, rendering all enemies incapable of attacking or using skills for a limited amount of time.
  • Call of Valour: The Dragon roars defiantly around him, causing all friendly units to gain an increase in damage output and armour fora limited amount of time.

Each of these skills, and the skills of the units, offer (in my experience, anyway) rich and varied strategic opportunity to out-wit your opponent. I’ve deliberately left out the different card types, and upgrades, because I don’t want you losing your perfect 20:20 vision, but the buff and debuff cards of course mean that you’ve to work around certain units weakened, or strengthened, by cards played.

AoE skills, and why blobbing your units is generally a bad idea

Crippling Roar is an example of a skill that might be used against you, if you clump your units together. This skill effectively stops you from attacking for a certain amount of time, giving the enemies Dragon, and his units, ample opportunity to wipe you out simply because you had too many units in one spot. Pillar of Flame is another damaging AoE, and Eye of the Patriarch is the aforementioned skill I used at the tech demo. Units, too, have abilities and skills that’ll damage large clumps of other units. For instance, bombers can destroy a whole battalion if they’re all clumped together, and artillery from Armour or Juggernauts will likely wipe them out, too. Mustard gas from the Zeppelins will cloud groups of enemies, Chemical Warfare from the Grenadiers can do a similar amount of damage.

It’s simply not true that, in multiplayer and the later single player campaign, bombarding your enemies with blobs of units is a good idea, and if you thought that there wasn’t much to Dragon Commander’s RTS component – the majority of the game – think again.