Larian's problem is that they're too unfocused and it makes them often lose sight of the project they're working on. They seem to get bored and then begin other projects to leave unfinished. Then some of those projects get mooshed into one game. I don't think they've made a fully realised game since the original Divinity.
So, how does that apply here?
First of all, let's consider that the original concept for this game was actually very different than what we ended up with. There's a lot of evidence to support this.
1.) Their Kickstarter described a game devoted to dragons and aerial combat. It was to be an apology to those dragon fans who'd bought Divinity II for how badly they were screwed over and let down. Furthermore, the media (such as trailers and screenshots) released at the time depicted proper aerial combat, along with unique art assets for enemy forces, enemy flying bases, and flying base combat that never made it into the final game. It gave the idea of an aerial combat MOBA with dragons, which was a brilliantly original idea to be sure.
2.) The concept art for the game shows dragon forms for the various characters who were kludged into your crew as generals. They were supposed to be leading their own forces, as the generals of the diplomats you're dealing with.
3.) The AI behaves like a MOBA. It hangs around out in the middle of nowhere just to give you something to fight (jungling), and when it's not doing that it strictly follows preset paths in big blobs. This isn't even remotely like how an RTS AI is supposed to work, and it doesn't play like any RTS I've ever experienced. It definitely acts like a MOBA in which you were supposed to play a champion (dragon). Yet the end result of the switchover to RTS makes the dragon pointless (I'll come back to this later).
Thus I believe at one point Larian were distracted from creating the game they wanted to make by starting a number of side projects. Such as the 'Risk clone,' the 'card game,' and 'diplomacy.' I've used quotations because it is to laugh to actually consider them to be such (I'll come back to that later, though).
And each of these projects ended up grossly unfinished, with some having barely any work done on them at all.
Of course, once Larian was done being distracted by experimental shinies, they realised that all of these ambitious projects could never be realised. This included the dragon aerial combat MOBA depicted in their Kickstarter. What to do? They didn't have the assets necessary to actually create their MOBA now, so they ham-fisted whatever they had together and called it done.
Worse than that? They even lost sight of what they were actually making: A game about ruddy dragons! It's a game called 'Dragon Commander' where you don't ever see any dragons -- including your own!
Yet this is what Larian is known for. Losing focus, lazily slapping together something, then merrily dropping it into the market hoping that people will be stupid enough to just buy it sight unseen. They did the exact same thing with Divinity II. THis is what they do.
That, and they just make so many promises that they never, ever keep. How is their reputation not utterly destroyed by this point?
Really, all they had to do was make an aerial combat game about dragons. Instead, they've ended up with what feels like a compilation of bad shareware/home computer games from the '90s, all slapped together into one package that they've very optimistically overpriced. And anyone who's played budget games from that era knows what I mean -- lazily made, unfinished, shallow, uninspired, aggravating, and borderline unplayable cash-ins. That's Larian to a tee, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt. That's on me. I was stupid. Never again.
You might think that's an unfair comparison, but let's look at what Dragon Commander actually is, shall we?You can be a diplomat! Hooray! ...except no.
It's a shallow, binary, yes/no, choose your own adventure sort of affair. It lacks subtlety, nuance, and imagination. It's funny at times, but that's the only virtue it has. Instead of being able to posit your own ideas, instead of debating and politicking to change a proposed bill, you become the voting public embodied in one, tyrannical instance. I didn't want any of that. If you're going to offer me diplomacy, offer me diplomacy! What we got was tyranny.
If you're looking for this sort of thing, I'd recommend looking elsewhere. Any Choose Your Own Adventure book does it better. Try Lone Wolf, or Fighting Fantasy, or even the entirely free Choice of Dragon, which is written much more eloquently and humorously than Dragon Commander could hope to be.
Uninspired.You can play Risk! Woo! ...except no.
It's a completely one-dimensional affair about the basic micromanagement of units and resources. There's no real strategy involved either beyond brute-forcing your way through the map. This isn't even Risk, it's too oversimplified and one-dimensional for that.
Lazy.You can be a dragon! So awesome! ...except no.
You have to micromanage everything so if you take your eyes off your units for a moment they're probably going to be doing something painfully stupid (thanks AI). And the enemy forces progress so quickly that they gain weapons and units that can quickly destroy your dragon whilst resisting any damage it could otherwise do, thus rendering the presence of the dragon completely redundant.
Pointless.You can play a card game! Neato! ...except no.
The cards don't really have much of an affect on anything. You can completely ignore them and still easily beat the game. They're almost entirely cosmetic, essentially only tickling your resources or units, hardly altering them in any meaningful way.
Crap.You can play an RTS! Rad! ...except no.
The only viable strategy is to create a lot of units and send them in one giant blob to your enemy's base, which results in an immediate victory as the AI is flummoxed by this tactic. I'd hardly call that strategy. Strategy involves... well, strategy!
It feels like the enemy AI was expecting to have a dragon of its own protecting it, which is also suggested by skirmish mode where you pick a dragon type for your AI enemies but they never actually use it. I believe Larian has even admitted to dropping the ball on this one.
It's a pretty game, yes. But it's all style and absolutely no substance at all. When you play the game, it really does feel like a bad shareware compilation. It leaves an unpleasant aftertaste in your mouth. You'll feel entirely ripped off by the price they're rather optimistically asking for it.
It's got the depth of toilet paper, and the general design ineptitude of a bad movie tie-in. It's not fun to play, unless your idea of fun is driving a nail into one of your eyeballs. Yes, at first, it'll wow you with its graphical flair, but that's all it has. And that's not worth the entry price. Not remotely. Dragon Commander is a game that looks good until you actually play it.
I find myself wishing they'd stuck with the original idea, which was brilliantly unique and could've ended up being one of the best dragon games on the market. As it is, the amount of 'dragon' in Dragon Commander makes it entirely disingenuous to even call it such. It feels like false advertising to me. A bit of a con, if you will.
If you're buying this because you're looking for a dragon game? Trust a fellow dragon fan -- save your money. I know that us dragon fans have been longing for a game for us, but this isn't it. This is just an effort to take advantage of us by selling us a shareware compilation disguised as a dragon game. That's the most uncool thing anyone could do, really. And I certainly won't be buying from Larian in the future. I've learned my lesson.