Spell­force 3

Spell­force 3 may Seem weaker Than any of ITS com­par­isons, but it is in­stead all ITS own Thing

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Bear with us, will you? Im­me­di­ately blast­ing you with terms like “Mage Wars” and “Con­vo­ca­tion” or ob­tusely fan­tas­ti­cal names like “Eo”, “Nor­tander” and “Aonir” isn’t go­ing to ease any­one but the pre­vi­ously ini­ti­ated into what Spell­force 3 has to of­fer, even if that is the method the game it­self chooses. Frankly, it just suf­fers from try­hard Tolkien syn­drome, and while this is an af­flic­tion that is un­fairly im­pacted by the reg­u­lar­ity with which gamers are forced to wrap their tongues around names with apos­tro­phes and re­learn which racial stereo­type is war­ring against which, more could have been done to emphasise the mer­its of the lore here. It is a pre­quel, for ex­am­ple, set be­fore the events of the pre­vi­ous games, but you wouldn’t re­ally gain much value for know­ing that. It’s a tale well told and has de­cent enough voice act­ing to string things along, but it’s all a lit­tle on the nose, as though the tropes of fan­tasy are so iron­clad by now that no other suit of ar­mour will fit. Yet the point is that in spite of all this (let’s face it, it’s not a new chal­lenge to strug­gle through) there’s a good deal worth get­ting into. The pac­ing, for ex­am­ple, of­fers a more plod­ding ap­proach that is con­trolled as much by player ex­plo­ration as the need to con­trol the flow of com­bat. And that’s im­por­tant, be­cause one thing you should know about Spell­force 3 – that is if you don’t al­ready – is that it is ac­tu­ally a hy­brid be­tween an RTS and an RPG, and, as a re­sult, there are quite a few sys­tems to fig­ure out.

For those who have played the pre­vi­ous games the con­cept won’t be much dif­fer­ent, but this time around the blend be­tween the two modes is far less dis­tinct. There’s no clearly de­fined mo­ments where you’re play­ing an RTS or an RPG as was the case pre­vi­ously, which makes for much more fluid game­play. You’ll con­trol a group of he­roes, some unique to the story and oth­ers cus­tom cre­ated. Much like the ma­jor­ity of

RTS games since War­craft III, these he­roes are the main crutch of your force and will, in fact, be the ones that you’ll want to fo­cus on pro­tect­ing. Each can have three abil­i­ties avail­able at any one time, items to be equipped to en­hance their func­tion and their own ben­e­fit within the group. They’re easy to make use of – even later in the game when there are more of them avail­able – though ad­mit­tedly things are made eas­ier thanks to a handy wheel menu that slows down time as com­mands are se­lected. At times it might feel like the op­tion to com­pletely pause the game would’ve been ap­pre­ci­ated, but then per­haps that would have made things a lit­tle too easy when the stakes are higher. Yet while it’s hard to say that these spe­cial hero char­ac­ters are over­pow­ered (this isn’t true since there are sig­nif­i­cant threats that will need some care­ful man­age­ment), once you’ve got a com­bi­na­tion set in stone you won’t find much rea­son to stray from that.

While Grim­lore Games has said it’s try­ing to skew the ra­tio of RTS to RPG more in favour of the lat­ter – thus the greater em­pha­sis on sto­ry­telling and com­bat – it has in­ad­ver­tently weak­ened the former. Ba­sic rank-and-file units can be killed with very lit­tle ef­fort on both sides of the bat­tle, and so their pur­chase seems worth lit­tle more than can­non fod­der. The con­struc­tion side of things works pretty well, ex­pand­ing over time and work­ing es­sen­tially au­tonomously to en­sure a steady stream of re­sources com­ing in. Watch­tow­ers can be built, too, so there’s no need to sit around block­ing off routes with a stack of units that could be bet­ter utilised else­where. In tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from Com­pany Of He­roes and its re­gional sys­tem – whereby a com­mand point needs to be un­der your con­trol to en­sure an in­come of re­sources – Spell­force 3 man­ages to tread that line be­tween de­fence and of­fence deftly.

What is most in­ter­est­ing is how there’s a much more open world here, an over­world map that can be ex­plored at will and even re­turned to. With bases set up through­out, it re­ally does feel as though you’re ex­pand­ing an army rather than or­gan­is­ing a bat­tle. With quests and in­tensely lev­elled mon­sters to over­come, it’s likely that you’ll end up head­ing back and forth be­tween ar­eas over time. That’s some­thing that no RTS, even hy­brids like this, has ever done. Typ­i­cally, each new base is in it­self a new base, and rarely will you ever re­turn once you’ve moved on. Ad­mit­tedly there are quite lengthy load times be­tween these, but it’s a novel idea that we’d like to see ex­panded on more in the fu­ture. It has a feel­ing of Dragon Age: In­qui­si­tion in this re­gard, al­beit with a heav­ier fo­cus on the RTS as­pects. Spell­force 3 com­bines to cre­ate some­thing that is re­ally quite en­gross­ing once all of its in­tri­ca­cies have set­tled on the brain. Com­bat doesn’t match the depth of an RPG like Bal­dur’s Gate, while its RTS fare isn’t ca­pa­ble of stand­ing up to any of the mod­ern-day equiv­a­lents. What is clear is that Spell­force 3 isn’t try­ing to be like any one thing; while it takes its cues from the likes of Dragon Age and Age of Em­pires, it isn’t try­ing to crow­bar the two dif­fer­ent game­play types to­gether in­el­e­gantly. There is still strat­egy in its econ­omy man­age­ment, there are still things to con­sider while bat­tling and while on the sur­face it may seem weaker than any of its com­par­isons, it is in­stead all its own thing.

Be­low: For as good look­ing as the game is, it can be a lit­tle frus­trat­ing to tell units apart in the bat­tle­field. a handy glow ap­pears around the hero char­ac­ters, though, mak­ing them a lit­tle eas­ier to spot.

spell­force 2

war­craft iii

Above: The vi­su­als re­ally are quite im­pres­sive, es­pe­cially the large-scale ci­ties that you ex­plore.

Be­low: The stronger em­pha­sis on story and cam­paign script­ing means there are a good few mo­ments that, while not ex­actly scripted, lead to some pretty cool sit­u­a­tions.

Be­low: There’s a good amount of va­ri­ety in the lo­cales, but lit­tle changes as a re­sult.

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