Dungeons & Dragons: Dragonshard Review
By Dwayne Baird |
For some time now we've been excited to see what Liquid Entertainment's RTS take on the D&D world of Eberron. Measured against Warcraft and Middle Earth the fantasy world of Eberron provides as attractive a setting for a fantasy strategy game. But rather than simply using the Eberron setting to create a straightforward RTS, the gang at Liquid have also added numerous RPG-like mechanics to help bring a little more variety to the experience.
Before we go any further though we should qualify Dragonshard's claim to be the "first D&D RTS experience." While that's a powerful marketing message, its validity depends on how you define D&D. For some people, D&D is all about the mechanics: base-attack bonuses, will saves, spell memorization, etc. For others D&D is about the content: beholders, paladins, dungeon traps, etc. The truth is that D&D is made up of a mix of both of these elements. (For me personally, the rules are probably more important to the brand than the campaign setting. A Conan game run with D&D rules seems more like D&D to me than a Forgotten Realms game run with Hero system or GURPS rules, for instance.)
That said, Dragonshard reflects the content of the D&D world rather than the core rules. As such, it would be better marketed just as an Eberron game than a D&D game. Unfortunately, the new Eberron setting just doesn't have the draw that Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk have, so it makes more sense just to put D&D on the box and leave it at that. I don't mean to dwell on this point too much but, as a fan and player of the pen and paper game, the distinction between an RTS based on the D&D mechanics and one simply based in the new campaign setting is worth noting.
Rather than adapting the full range of 3.5E rules, Dragonshard merely merges the basic concepts of classes, experience levels and dungeon crawling to a more traditional RTS format. On the upper world players will have to create massive armies and lead them against enemy strongholds. Gateways to the lower world will allow players to lead parties of adventurers into battle against a wide variety of monsters proctecting gold and magic items.
Dragonshard captures the spirit of the Eberron campaign setting. The locales, races and overall backstory of the game fits well with the details found in the source books. Considering that Dragonshard was written by Eberron's creator Keith Baker, it's no surprise that it feels authentic at every level. The main features of Eberron -- dragon shards, warforged golems, scary lizards, etc -- are all out in force here. I will admit being disappointed in not being able to field massive armies of dinosaur riding halfing barbarians but I suppose you can't have everything.
Eberron was created out of the bodies of three warring dragons. While two of the dragons became the world itself, a third dragon took the form of a massive ring of crystals orbiting the world. These magical crystals sometimes plummet to earth where the peoples of Eberron to fight to gain ownership of them. In addition to the humans, dwarves, dark elves and the usual suspects of the fantasy milieu, Eberron also features wood and metal constructs known as warforged. Originally created as mindless warriors, they've since achieved sentience and taken charge of their own destiny.
Players take charge of one of two factions in Dragonshard - the valiant Order of the Flame and the tail-lashing Lizardfolk. Both forces are competing to gain control of a massive magical shard, the coveted Heart of Siberys. The Umbragen represent a third faction (playable only in multiplayer and skirmish modes) that stands in opposition against both player factions. Each faction has about a dozen units it can field and four different unique hero characters who can impart profound bonuses on their entire army.