The SpellForce series has earned its reputation for delivering two genres and combining them to create something very special. While not being the first of its kind, SpellForce: Order of Dawn, developed by EA Phenomic and published by JoWooD Entertainment and others, on one hand, had quests to fulfill, loot, party members to recruit and enemies to fight similar to games like Sacred or Diablo. On the other hand, it offered the chance to build a massive army filled with infantry, archers, cavalry and many other kinds of units, akin to RTS games like Age of Empires or Empire Earth.
The RPG action got even more exciting when you were leading an army of hundreds and watching them go to work on unsuspecting rival armies. The game and it’s expansion packs were well received and a sequel entitled SpellForce 2: Shadow Wars was released later, receiving higher acclaim as it improved on the original in almost every way. Expansions were released for Shadow Wars which added new quests, new units and brought battles to new heights. Even though the expansions kept the series alive, SpellForce 2 had run it’s course and fans were eager for the next chapter of the SpellForce series to lead their parties and their armies to battle.
Developers Grimlore Games along with publishers THQ Nordic have now released the third chapter of the series, SpellForce 3. Serving as a prequel to SpellForce: Order of Dawn, SpellForce 3 returns you to the world of Eo where the land has been ravaged by a brutal civil war and where you must gather together a fighting force to charge towards the front lines and hold back the coming storm.
The year is 518 and the rebellion lead by the mages has been put down. Yet the effects of the war have long-lasting consequences. Refugees roam through the land, monsters are on the loose and the “Bloodburn” plague is rapidly spreading. The Lord Marshall rules with an iron fist, as the Queen tragically lies in a coma. Your father was a rebel mage, but you’re also loyal to the Queen. Where does your allegiance lie?
You start off on your journey after the prologue, creating your character, finding party members, fulfilling quests, exploring wide open spaces, caves, dungeons and fighting an entire array of fantasy-themed bad guys. Each party member has a skill tree based on their class. The more you fight and the more quests you fulfill, the more experience you earn, allowing you to distribute points to your skill tree and attributes for each character. Skills and spells that are learned can be taken from your spellbook, allowing you to swap to your favorite ones to use in combat. You can also assign an active activation group for your party, giving you more spells and skills to use on the fly by switching to another group containing new spells and skills.
There are also numerous items that you can collect along the way for your party such as new weapons, armor, items and other goodies to enhance your battle prowess. Godstones found on the map allow you to teleport quickly to other Godstones found on the map, enabling you to quickly jump from one end to the other without traversing for miles. Action RPG fans are in for a treat if they’re looking for non-stop action as enemies are plentiful in this game and they’ll put up an immensely tough fight.
Be sure to make good use of those hotkeys and activation groups since you’ll need to use a lot of spells and skills to come out on top. Fights between your party and the bad guys are always fun to take part in. You’ll frantically be slamming those hotkeys activating your skills and spells and even just watch as your heroes drive their swords, launch their arrows and direct magic projectiles straight into the enemy’s faces. The action is non-stop and battling with hoards of powerful enemies to become even stronger never gets old.
The RTS element of the game is very similar to games like the Age of Empires and Empire Earth games. Once your party takes over a camp, you can begin gathering resources such as food, wood, and stone. Upgrading your HQ, mining for better resources, researching new technology and finding blueprints provides you access to advanced building tiers and advanced troop types. You’ll soon be recruiting tougher swordsmen, missile units, spearmen, cavalry, race-specific units like the Elven Magicians and also the dreaded Titan. You can use Godstones to teleport your entire army to other areas of the map, allowing you to initiate surprise attacks.
Battles with armies are an absolute treat to watch. You thought battling the enemy with heroes was fun? Try it with hundreds of brave soldiers fighting alongside them! There’s nothing more gratifying than gathering an army, charging them towards another army and watch them mercilessly pulverize each other. You’re charging your soldiers to the front and you’re holding the line to protect your base, swords are clashing, cavalry is crashing, you’re casting powerful magic to strengthen the lines or unleash elements hell on your foes, it is just a messy, gripping, thrilling, exciting spectacle of brawn and carnage. You’ll find yourself cheering in victory as you defeat the last enemy combatant, leaving the opposing army in absolute ruin and burning the last building at the enemy’s base to the ground.
The developers have totally knocked it out of the park in terms of visual quality, as SpellForce 3 looks absolutely amazing. The colors are bright and vivid, the special effects soften and lighten each scene, character models are highly detailed, the waters ripple and glisten, trees, grass, and plants are swaying back and forth, there are animals in the air and on the ground, every area feels like a living and breathing part of a wonderful, vibrant and immersive fantasy world.
The sound design also deserves high praise with a rousing, roaring and moving orchestral musical score driving the action and inspiring you to go out on this amazing adventure, gather your party, assemble your army and march to victory. The voice acting is top notch and the characters speak like they’re fighting for their lives and are serious about their quest to save the world. The clashing of swords, basing of clubs, arrows flying through the air and magic crashing into an entire mob of soldiers gets your adrenaline pumping, your heart throbbing and you’ll always find yourself eager to participate in the next battle where you’ll once again emerge victoriously.
Skirmish is also on offer from the campaign, currently allowing you to fight as either the Orcs, Humans or Elves with maps to do battle on and varying difficulty levels. Test your military skills against human opponents in the multiplayer mode and you can even play the campaign in co-op, leading your parties and building armies together to complete the story as a team. Even after you’re done with the main campaign of SpellForce 3, there’s plenty of reason to keep coming back for more glorious battles.
SpellForce 3 combines 2 genres better than most other games out there and presents both genres in a roaring, action-packed adventure that’s sure to keep you on your toes and eager to keep fighting through the entirety of the game. While the game is a load of fun to play throughout, the big problem is SpellForce 3 lacks originality. SpellForce 3 uses both elements of RPG and RTS games and combines them very well, yet it still doesn’t offer anything new to either genre. The RPG side of the game takes cues from many that came before like Diablo, Sacred, Baldur’s Gate and others, while the RTS side uses elements from Age of Empires and Empire Earth. The story itself isn’t really worth writing home about either. As interesting as the world and lore of SpellForce is, it isn’t anything you haven’t heard of before if you’re familiar with fantasy-themed RPGs.
Overwhelming numbers tend to get the job done more than strategy and skill as your starting soldiers are woefully underpowered. Unless they’re backed by even more soldiers and your heroes they’ll be cut down in seconds and even then enemies soak up ridiculous amounts of damage, even when they’re the same unit type or a starting enemy your party fights against. You’ll find yourself switching to a lower difficulty level just to get past an overpowered enemy.
There are a lot of bugs in the game right now. Many of your units have pathfinding problems and get stuck on buildings and scenery. Sometimes dialogue repeats itself even after the scene has taken place. Sometimes heroes won’t follow others into battle even when you’ve directed them to the frontlines. Some NPCs just bug out in cutscenes jittering back and forth and they’ll even get stuck on the player if they are in their path while the player is in dialogue with another character.
SpellForce has come back in a big way. The latest entry into the series has stayed true to the formula that it has delivered for 14 years and has shown that the SpellForce series has still got it. It combines two incredibly popular game genres and blends them together seamlessly to create something grand, epic and wholly exciting. SpellForce 3 may not have any ideas of its own, the story and characters are rather forgettable and the bugs can get annoying, but everything else that the game offers will be an enthralling, engaging and exhilarating experience that both action RPG and RTS fans will enjoy. Get SpellForce 3 and show the people of Eo that their new savior has arrived.
This review was based on a digital review copy of SpellForce 3 for PC provided by THQ Nordic.