There’s a lot of chance taking when you go after that crossover game. You can either be hailed as a hero or go down in memory as the producer behind the miss of the decade. Spellforce 3 treads this path lightly and reflects it both in its design and story.
Spellforce 3 is, by all means, a hybrid. It takes the ideas of an RTS and RPG game and mixes them together to present something else, something that doesn’t follow the usual tropes found in games. It is a surprisingly well-done title in that respect and although not without its blemishes it manages to stay on course more or less the entire time.
When you put those two genres together there is a hint of a possibility that there might be a balance problem. Where the RPG put emphasis on the hero, the RTS believes in strength in numbers. The dragons of Dragon Age might be much less intimidating if we faced them as an army rather than a pack of four.
This latest Spellforce does come out on top in that respect with a story that justifies the times you go at it alone and the times you need your trusted soldiers. Your fortunes change rapidly within the game and you will find yourself on the right and wrong side of a chasing army. It’s a little familiar here and there with the sins of your father and betrayal playing the first fiddle.
The rule of simplicity
The unique mechanics of Spellforce 3 allow the game to do things that other RPGs sometimes have trouble with. It is ideal to shift focus from the small to the huge. This leads you to be part of the spectacular and epic moments of great battles – which you would probably be watching on cutscenes in a more traditional game – as well as those more intimate and smaller moments you spend with your party.
The ease and relative simplicity of interacting with the game is definitely one of the reasons why this works so well. Controlling your companions is limited to just a couple of buttons with a fantastic action wheel that gives you contextual choices depending on which character or enemy you target.
This stays true also for the RTS portion of the game which, of course, includes base building and resource gathering but is fairly straightforward in that respect and automates tasks in a very organized manner. Ensuring that the systems for both are quite simple, the game ensures that when both are present they are fairly easily manageable.
This straightforwardness has its downside. There are a couple of races to the game but in the strategical part of the gameplay, there is very little difference between them, for example, no race-specific buildings in sight. How you play them on the battlefield is also pretty simple and the fun comes from the incorporation of your RPG heroes and their powers into the game.
What is it, really?
Spellforce 3 shines mostly when the elements are mashed together and the RPG is everpresent. That’s why the multiplayer skirmish mode is something that won’t keep you glued to the screen as it focuses on what the game lacks rather than playing to its strengths. What saves it are the well-designed maps that make you think more strategically and the summonable heroes that turn the tides of battle.
The game’s RPG dominance somehow also shows in the way it is presented. The game is downright beautiful with landscapes rendered for a top-down view in such a way that is often breathtaking. And all the small quests, all the loot is hidden in a corner are followed by a fantastic realization of their surroundings. You get the feeling of satisfaction by visiting those places and not of redundancy as if the game was sending you there just for the sake of prolonging the experience.
What the game invites you to do is trust it. Trust that the systems it put in place for you are complementary in a multitude of ways. Trust that the story will be a sufficient enticement for you to keep coming back for more. It promises it won’t disappoint and it really doesn’t. Delivering on many fronts the adventure is well worth experiencing.
There are a few bugs here and there. Sometimes an event won’t trigger and you’re stuck or some smaller glitch appears that will force you to reload a save. They are, however, few and far between and won’t really distract you from what is a pretty good game.