When I reviewed Primal Software’s Besieger six months ago, I questioned why the Russian developer even bothered. The game wasn’t very interesting, and it didn’t offer anything new. Such is not the case with Primal’s second game, I of the Dragon (also called The I of the Dragon, which makes me wonder if the title is a translation gaffe). This offering is an action role-playing game, and while it uses the oldest and most cliché-ridden of storylines -- there’s a prophecy about you, and you must battle the Great Evil to save the world -- your character is a dragon, and it gets to fly around and fry people, and so the experience feels new.
At the start of the game, you get to choose between three types of dragons. The red dragon is the fire dragon, and it focuses on breath weapons; the blue dragon is the frost and lightning dragon, and it focuses on magic; and the black dragon is the acid dragon, and it focuses on summoning creatures to assist it. Unlike other role-playing games, the dragons don’t have much in the way of statistics, and they don’t wear equipment, but they do get a variety of spells and attacks.
The game itself is divided into a series of missions. During each mission you must take a region of the world and cleanse it of all enemy lairs. To help you out, you can build a city in each region, and then not only will the city serve as a safe haven where you can rest and heal, but it will also prevent any lairs you destroy from re-spawning. That means your first priority in each mission is usually to build the city and then protect it, so that the city can eventually be upgraded and fend for itself.
As much as I of the Dragon might sound like a real-time strategy game at this point, it isn’t. You don’t have to manage any peasants, there aren’t any resources, and the city runs itself. You “build” the city simply by pressing a button (there is a single city site on each map), and you can upgrade it after “reapers” from the city have collected enough souls from the creatures you’ve killed.
What you mostly do during the missions is kill stuff. Oddly, the dragons don’t get any melee attacks, and so battles are more dogfights than brawls. No unit in the game is a good shot, including your dragon. Aside from attacks that have a homing attribute, units shoot where you are rather than where you will be, so as long as you keep moving you can keep yourself relatively unscathed. That means battles take a lot of effort, because not only do you have to keep moving around, you also have to click every time you want to make an attack.
Primal designed I of the Dragon so it could be played entirely with the mouse, but I’m skeptical how well that would work. You can click on a location to have your dragon move there, but that set-up doesn’t work well with the bobbing and weaving required for combat. I tried going mouse-only for a while and then switched to the more typical configuration of using the keyboard to drive and the mouse to aim. That worked well enough, although the dragon was a little clunky to move. The options page indicates that a joystick can be used, and that might be the best way to play the game.
There aren’t a lot of frills in I of the Dragon. Every so often a “tutor” will come over and give you a quest (aka a mission objective), but there aren’t any characters to care about, and the story is just enough to give you a reason to kill everything in sight. The game completely relies on dragon combat, and the problem there is that dragon combat gets a little tedious. All the swooping and circling and dodging gets repetitive, and it causes battles to take about ten times as long as they should. Plus, each region has 20-40 lairs, and between spawning creatures and re-spawning lairs, that’s just a lot of stuff to kill. Perhaps realizing this, every so often you get to play a different character in the game (like a human archer), but these situations, while a nice change of pace, also end up being annoying because the characters you play are severely weaker than your dragon and get killed at the drop of a hat (dragons die surprisingly often, too).
I’m not sure how long Primal Software actually spent working on I of the Dragon. The balance in the game is a little off (I lost count of the number of times I had to load before I finally beat the end boss), and things are a little bit sloppy (I don’t think one sentence of the spoken dialogue actually matches the subtitles). But while I of the Dragon falls short of being a great game, I think it can be entertaining for a while, and so those looking for an action-oriented role-playing game, or those who think controlling a dragon would be cool, might want to take the game for a spin.