Although drawn from D&Dâ€™s quasi-steampunk Eberron campaign setting, the three playable races in Dragonshard all conform to immediately recognizable RTS tropes. The Order of the Flame is your standard anthropomorphic bunch of humans, elves, and dwarves; the Lizardfolk are reptilian, tribal, green, and Zerg-like, and the dark, creepy Umbragen are the thalidomide stepchildren of the undead and Protoss, the austere, no-nonsense worshippers of chaos and haunted technology that no RTS would be complete without.
Unlike most RTS games that let you build anywhere, Dragonshard forces you to make broad tactical choices right from the start. Radiating from the four sides of your main HQ are four quads of four â€œblocks,â€ each of which can support sixteen buildings. Each can produce one of ten unit types, but the number of production facilities also governs how many units you can make. Placing more buildings of the same type adjacent to one another also lets you level up units by spending the experience points you collect by finishing quests and killing monsters and opponents. Higher-level units get more hit points and mana, deal more damage, and gain access to more powerful abilities.
Alternatively, you can build monuments for global enhancements to your units, like damage bonuses or faster movement. With limited real estate and replenishable resources, itâ€™s common to raze and switch out buildings on the fly, depending on your needs of the moment. Some units harvest resources faster, for instance, but can be phased out once your armies are big enough to shore up the difference. As a turtling deterrent, your base defenses are limited to initially useless walls and towers, although they can be upgraded to shoot projectiles at invaders and automatically repaired during battle. Expansions consisting of only four blocks apiece lie scattered across most maps but canâ€™t be structurally reinforced.
The gameâ€™s two primary resources are gold and dragonshards. Although gold is accrued automatically at a sluggish rate, sparkling heaps of it can be won by delving into underworld dungeons with your units via well-marked entrances located around the map. Once inside, you get to kill monsters and open chests, some of which are accessible only to high-level rogues. Dragonshards, which bear a more than passing resemblance to StarCraftâ€™s mineral deposits, can be found only on the surface, strewn in tidy clusters after they periodically rain down from the sky. Both resources are necessary to make units, and, considering how small most of the maps are, battle over fluctuating resource locations tends to constitute much of the gameplay. To help hasten such confrontations, each race conveniently comes with a unit that harvests resources faster. When promoted to level two, they can cast a Find Resources spell that lifts the fog of war momentarily to show the locations of the latest shardfalls.
Resources are only one variable to consider. Giant shrines called Places of Powerâ€”found both above and below the surfaceâ€”grant global stat bonuses to your units, and you can win instantly if you maintain control of a majority of these for three consecutive minutes. You can also win by finding and controlling four â€œseals of light,â€ hazy white artifacts that drop randomly off monsters underground. The catch is that when you pick one up, the carrying unitâ€™s location is revealed to all players until it reaches home, leaving it vulnerable to interception en route. Thankfully, this stuff can be disabled.
Whether or not most aficionados are willing to admit it, playing pen-and-paper D&D back in the day involved a lot of tedium and complexity for its own sake. What made the franchise endure wasnâ€™t the combat systemâ€”better ones were always coming outâ€”or the â€œbrandâ€ itself, but the creativity of the players. Their passion and imagination made the experience more visceral than just rolling weird dice.
System Requirements: Pentium IV 2 GHz, 512 MB RAM, WinXP