Despite its many flaws, I quite enjoyed the original Spellforce: Order of Dawn and its expansions. The attempted marriage of RTS and RPG genres succeeded much more than I had expected, although there were a good number of missteps that kept the original game from truly shining. Learning from their mistakes, Phenomic tweaked, polished, and revamped their RTS/RPG hybrid to bring us Spellforce 2: Shadow Wars, a much improved, much more entertaining title. It’s still not a perfect game, but Spellforce 2 is certainly a title worthy of attention.
Set some years after the events of the original, Spellforce 2 throws the player into a rather generic fantasy world of humans, elves, orcs, and dwarves. The story is also rather generic, detailing an uprising of Dark Elves and Undead in a plot to stir up naughtiness and world-ending. Of course, a Hero arrives, from a group of near-immortal beings known as Shaikan. Players naturally take control of this avatar and attempt to stop the growing tide of darkness. Although the story is nothing new or exciting, it does manage to weave along through a good 40 or so hours of single-player campaign, which is no mean feat.
In typical RPG-lite fashion, the main hero (and up to 5 other secondary heroes) quest about the world, killing enemies and taking their stuff, gaining experience and leveling to bigger and better powers and abilities. Character development is more detailed than most RTS games, but fairly light when compared to most RPGs. A level advancement allows the character to purchase or increase a skill in a somewhat extensive skill tree. There are two main branches, “Magic” and “Combat”, and while characters can mix and match between these trees, the best characters will be those that focus on one or two specific areas. Still, most of the fantasy norms can be outfitted through this tree, from sword-wielding combat tank to healer to death-dealing dark mage. One of my biggest problems with the first Spellforce was the randomness of spell acquisition. You could play through an entire game and never find the most useful or powerful spells if luck wasn’t on your side. In Spellforce 2, however, spells become available as points are dumped into particular skills, so players will never be without spells if they so choose. Level advancement also allows characters to equip bigger and better items, and Spellforce 2 is brimming with toys.
The heroes will quest through all the maps in squad-based real-time RPG action, but in many of the maps players will have a chance for some RTS goodness. There are certainly no new conventions here, and RTS veterans will dive right in with no problems. One of the big issues with the original Spellforce was the almost confusing amount of resources to gather in the RTS maps. Thankfully, Spellforce 2 has distilled these down to 3 primary resources needed for all races. Speaking of races, Spellforce 2 also consolidated many of the original games varied and sundry races into 3 alliances, the Clans, the Realm, and the Pact. Unlike the original, in which players needed to adventure to find various runes in order to summon a particular unit, each unit is available for every alliance, provided the requisite building is allowed due to story reasons. The alliances seem pretty well balanced, although there are some standout units.
As far as the RTS/RPG balance goes, Spellforce 2 seems a little weighted toward the RPG side of things. I found myself doing much more with just my heroes than with my RTS hordes, although for the bigger bosses and combats the RTS units are certainly necessary. I found the balance to be just about right—the simplistic RTS elements never get too stale, but they are never just a gimmicky add-on, either.
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