Players become of mighty dragons to protect the land from an evil insurgence in I of the Dragon, a fast-action RPG with elements of strategy and simulation. The people of the fantasy world of Nimoan had almost forgotten the old prophecies -- until they began to be fulfilled. Now the arrival of a great evil seems imminent. Already malevolent forces -- a horde of monsters -- gather at the edges of civilization. Yet the prophecies also told of a last hope: the return of a powerful dragon who would turn back the impending invasion. As the story begins, players take the role of a dragon who is young and weak, allowing them a choice of custom upgrades as they make their way through the campaign and face increasingly difficult challenges.
When starting the game, you are presented with a long background story about how dragons and humans once coexisted peacefully. However, the world's dragons are now gone, driven away by some humans after having saved them from evil monsters. Now, humans are in danger again, and you are the last existing dragon, born from a Dragon egg saved from the ancient days. Starting off, you have the choice to play as one of three dragons; in general RPG terms a magic user, a fighter, and a necromancer who can conjure creatures. All dragons have general stats that improve as you level up which you do by gaining experience points. Experience points can be had by killing monsters and by completing quests, however you will likely gain the majority of points by doing battle. Also, stat points that you receive when leveling up can be used to gain new spells. Occasionally when doing battle, you will find magical stones that you can collect. There are three color categories for the stones, and by collecting five of one stone color, you will increase your dragon's ability in a different way depending on the stone color. All of the standard elements of an RPG are here and the ways they are implemented are well thought out in the context of playing as a dragon.
The game is broken up in to 12 areas of fixed sizes. Each area represents one level, and has a number of tasks or at least one task that you must complete. The areas are joined however, you must enter a map screen to travel from one area to another. Each area exists in real time and the time of day does change as you play. In most RPG's, you will speak to people and gain quests as you go and you can complete these in any order you please. However, in I of the Dragon, you only have one quest at a time and you won't proceed until it is complete. Almost all of these are focused in destroying all of the monster lairs in the current area. While a lair is active, new monsters will always spawn. As such, it is a good idea to destroy all monster lairs before mopping up the monsters. And there are tons of monsters, not only in number but in variety. At first this is loads of fun, however the brutal repetition of having to perform this same "kill and clear" over and over again is just better than cram studying flash cards by rote for a quiz on the periodic table. The action is in real time as well and having to contend with the controls does get tiresome; more on that later.
One aspect of the game that seems to have been decreased in its integration at some point in development was the town aspect. While there is no town in an area, new lairs can always spring up. Each area has one place where a town can be built. A town is built simply by clicking a button and the entire town springs up. While a town is in place, no new lairs can be created by monsters, but they can still attack your town. Your town's defensive capabilities are fairly basic but can get better as they town increases in level. Also, as a town is damaged, it can be repaired when the attack is over. To repair and to upgrade your town, energy is needed and this is sourced from the fallen bodies of monsters. This energy is accumulated automatically. This aspect of the game could have been more developed, as I would have liked to have seen an RTS portion of the game developed. This would have served to round out the game and relieved some of the monotony of having to fly around the entire area, and killing all lairs and monsters yourself. Each of the town's buildings are labeled which leads me to believe that at some point in development, some RTS elements were dumbed down which really is unfortunate.
Getting to actually play as a dragon is very cool, and luckily, there is a tutorial to explain the control scheme as controlling a flying beast in a full 3D environment requires some smart design decisions. Good control schemes for games that exist equally in all 3 axes of a three dimensional environment can exist as evidenced by the Homeworld series. I of the Dragon's control scheme isn't bad but doesn't seem as fluid as it could have been. The third person camera is always centered on the dragon and can be fully rotated around the dragon as the point of focus by using the mouse. Controlling your dragon is handled by either clicking where you wish to go, or by using the keyboard to move. Altitude can also be adjusted although this doesn't seem as well integrated as it should have been considering how much altitude adjustment is actually used when playing the game. There is also a first person view mode, however there is a significant head bob that is attempting to replicate what the dragon would actually see when flying. As such, I found this view mode too difficult to use when actually attacking enemies. Attacking is as simple as selecting your breath weapon or spell, and right clicking the area or enemy you want to blast. There isn't really any targeting system when attacking your enemies although if you click on an enemy it will attack that specific monster for that one attack, and moving and attacking can be difficult as the camera adjusts automatically when using the mouse to move. This isn't so bad except actually using the controls to move, attack and view the enemies around you can be a tricky affair.
The control mapping can be redefined, however my complaint is more with how the design of the manipulation of the dragon and the camera were handled. While not terrible, the control scheme either should have been more fluid to manipulate when moving and attacking or should have been somehow more action oriented to provide more of an action oriented challenge. As a result, because of the amount of time you will actually spend battling monsters, the control scheme seems to contradict the type of game that you are actually playing as opposed to the type of game I of the Dragon thinks it is. The controls lend themselves more towards being useful if the game was more oriented towards strategy, or the adventure elements of an RPG. However it feels like you are pointing and clicking to move and attack in an action game rather than being given full control of the action. While some relief can be found in using the keyboard, you would need a third arm to control the camera which is fairly critical element when doing battle with the monsters you meet.
The production values of the game are acceptable, however the in engine cut scenes can find the camera not pointing to where it should be. The graphics is where the game really redeems some merit for me. The environments are lush, or barren but always detailed. The monsters have individual detailing and their attacks yield different effects. Your spell and breath attacks also have varied animations. Although not cutting edge by any means, I found the visual elements of the game to be very appropriate even though they were not like the latest and greatest. The voice acting is acceptable and the music although not so varied is neutral enough to provide something in the background.
I of the Dragon starts you off with some great entertainment and the promise of being able to deliver more. However as you get on in the game, the tedium of doing the same thing over and over again wears thin, and you'll be left wanting something more.
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Heroes of Annihilated Empires, Heretic Kingdoms: The Inquisition, Icarus: Sanctuary of the Gods, Icewind Dale 2, Knights of the Temple II, Icewind Dale, Knights of Honor, Heroes of Might and Magic V
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