Itís hard to believe, but up until now there has never been a real-time strategy game set in the Dungeons & Dragons universe. D&D has spawned countless RPGs and many and RTS has been set in a fantasy world filled with magic users and orcs, but the two worlds have never met before. This glaring oversight has finally been rectified with the release of Dragonshard, a game that not only brings D&D into the RTS realm, but does so while still remaining true to D&Dís RPG roots.
The storyline in Dragonshard is set in D&Dís Eberron world and pits three factions against each other in a battle to possess the Heart of Siberys, a particularly powerful Dragonshard artifact. The first is the Order of the Flame which is the ďgoodĒ faction made up of an alliance of dwarves, humans, and elves. Next we have the Lizardfolk, a race of lizards created by the power of the Heart of Siberys. Finally there is the Umbragen, a faction made up of dark races from the underworld. Dragonshard departs from the usual RTS model in that there are only two faction-based campaigns, with the Umbragen being the odd race out.
From the very start of the campaign youíll see what a good job Dragonshard does of bringing RPG and RTS games together into one. This is partially accomplished by dividing the maps into two levels, one above ground and on below. Above ground the action is more RTS-focused, as it is home to the gameís base-building and unit recruitment activities. Below ground the gameplay is more akin to that of an action-RPG, often involving some good old fashioned dungeon crawling. Side-by-side mini maps help you keep track of the action on both levels, but the missions are usually designed so that your focus will primarily be on one level at a time.
Dragonshard does not simply follow a boilerplate RTS design for its strategy elements. Bases can only be built on special map locations, and the bases themselves are limited in size as you can only create structures in one of a baseís designated slots. The first consequence of this is that youíll have to make strategic decisions as to which types of units you will want in your army as often there will not be enough available slots for you to create every possible structure. Furthermore, your units will be faced with a level cap unless you build more of the same structure. For example, a single tavern will produce thieves that can be upgraded to level 2, but to upgrade your thieves to level 3 youíll need to build an additional tavern. Of course this will use up one of your precious building slots and perhaps force you to go without a certain unit type.
Another interesting aspect of unit management is that you are actually building captains at your structures and not individual units. These captains will accrue followers based on their level and this is how youíll actually fill out your army. When you go underground, though, your captains will have to leave their followers behind. This keeps the dungeon aspect of the game more on the scale of a raiding party than an invading army and is more in the spirit of D&D games.
There are two types of resources in the game, gold and dragonshard crystals. Gold is steadily produced on its own as a kind of tax revenue stream, but to really accumulate the gold you need to run your army youíll need to collect treasure on your forays underground. Crystals are gathered above ground although they can occasionally be found underground as well. The crystals are left behind by periodic meteor showers, so itís effectively a renewable resource. Any unit can gather gold or crystals, so thereís no peasant style unit in the game.