Review: Spellforce

The other day I decided I needed to buy another computer game and since it looked good and I had heard some praise and there was talk of innovative gameplay, I decided to buy Spellforce.

I had to re-install windows on my linux machine and because I messed up had to reinstall linux as well.

Disclaimer: I own the German copy of the game therefore some of my translations may not be accurate. I have played the game only for a few hours (~8), so I might be wrong on some points.

Overview

What type of game is Spellforce? It’s supposed to be a mixture of strategy and roleplaying set in a Fantasy environment. In my eyes the background detail and story as far as I have played draw heavily from Lord of the Rings. You start out playing an ‘Avatar’ a ‘Rune Warrior’ (which kind of reminds me a bit both of Revenant and of Planescape:Torment). There was a huge war some time ago which left the world broken and now the only (?) surviving Grand Wizard called you back to help bring order into the chaos. Of course all is not as it seems, there is trouble brewing in the world.

The first level starts out with you building a small army and killing some goblins. You have to reach a city of the humans to warn them about the danger they are in.

There are six races to be played, the first you get to use are the Humans. You start out with the ‘building/summoning’ stone for 1st lvl human workers with that you can summon workers and later warriors from monuments scattered across the map. For each building you need construction plans, you start out with some basic plans for human buildings. This is quite standard: you collect wood, stones, iron and ‘aria’ (the human substance the human race derives their magic from) and to build better military units or more military units you need to build certain buildings. All units are produced at the monuments. Which is one of the novel features of the game. Your avatar can then take some of your fighters and go on an expedition while the workers collect more resources.

Later on you find more building plans and can build stuff for different races though each monument can produce only units of the race the monument’s type.

There is also a second type of monument at which heroes can be summoned. These heroes can be summoned if you have a summoning stone for them. You can find these in the game and depending on your level you can control up to five heroes. These are quite strong units that have some spells and you can equip them with armor and weapons.

The roleplaying element is carried mostly through your avatar. The race of the avatar cannot be chosen as Rune Warriors seem to be their own ‘class’. You can choose to be male or female. For each level you gain you can distribute 5 points on several attributes (the usual: Strength, Wisdom, Intelligence, Endurance, Agility …) and you gain 2 skills. The skill system is unique to this game as far as I know and it looks nice: there are basic skills like ‘White Magic, Black Magic, Elementarism, different Fighting crafts), each of the basic skills has three subskills for example White Magic has: life, blessing and nature as subskills. Each level of skill or subskill determines the spells and fighting moves you can learn. Of course I made a spellcaster so I cannot say anything about the fighting system.

So far I have played 4 or 5 maps which have been a mixture of the “building an army” and “questing with your avatar”. Via ‘Soulstones’ you can travel between the different maps but when you leave the map all that you build will be gone when you get back. On the positive side: if you come back later some of the resources may have regenerated so far I have seen the stones, the iron and the aria regenerate and I know that elves can plant trees.

My opinion

I have played a lot of roleplaying games and several strategy games so far and here is what I think about Spellforce and whether I think it is worth the 47 Euros I payed for it.

On the positive side:
– I like the skill system so far. It’s something new and of course I am eager to get to higher levels with my avatar to try out some things.
– The summoning stones and especially the heroes are a nice feature.
– I don’t need a lot of micro-management so far.
– The hardware requirements are moderate (512MB, 1.8Ghz, Geforce4, 3GB)
– I like the idea that you can jump back to older ‘levels’ to go shopping or complete quests. It’s new for a strat game but not for anything rpg-like of course.
– the heroes are nice but not a novelty either
– the point and click fight systemlooks nice but so far I have only made a spellcaster and that is not working as expected.
– there is a multiplayer mode but you have to use a pregen avatar for those games so where is the point in that?
– runs smooth (after the patch) but I have read different on forums…
– simultaneous use of different races (haven’t gotten there and cannot say whether this makes the game better but it sure sounds good)

On the negative side:
– to sum it up: the programming is sloppy.
– I think there should be a standardized API for game controls because these controls are rather unexpected half of the time and the manual doesn’t even have an overview. The controls are not intuitive and I have played a lot of games that did better most notable Warcraft III.
– neither the rpg nor the strat part of the game are really novel and the mixture wasn’t that well thought through. I like the ‘rpg’ scenario from Warcraft better.
– the game claims you can play it either in the ‘iso’ perspective or in 3rd person, but I find myself playing at max-zoom-out level to have an overview of what is happening. The screenshots on their page are all zoomed-in but you’ll never be playing in that perspective…
– the mouse border scroll is too fast. Slowing it down simply causes a jump instead. I keep ending up somewhere I don’t want to be
– so far the strategy missions where simple ‘destroy that bunch of X’
– the roleplaying quests where mostly collect this and collect that, I expect a bit more of the story in the levels to come.
– I had to patch the game to be able to watch the intro video because it was too damn slow
– it’s a current game and well the looks are ‘moderate’ I had expected a bit more
– I keep having the expression that you really cannot fail a mission. Either I am too good or – more likely – the game is too easy.
– Formations (?) for your troups: not working
– There aren’t any orders you can give your troups like: hold this position. So there – the maps are rather large and I was walking around a lot.
– The opponents aren’t really playing the game as warcraft opponents are rather there are little ‘nebulas’ scattered around the map (Incubation-like) that spawn more monsters as long as you don’t destroy the buildings next to them
– “The Click’n’Fight-System” is not working for spells as far as I can see. And don’t get me started about the ‘Aura Spells’
– awfully long load times for each level (best is when the load screen for about 10secs says “Almost there”)
– the really dumb things the character says: “It’s a trap” (as soon as she is attacked by 2 or more units) “The lines must hold” (even when she’s alone)

Summary
What convinced me to buy the game was the phrase “innovative gameplay”, don’t fall for it! Spellforce tries to be everything and achieves very little. Many game concepts weren’t quite thought through. Often it seems like they saw a cool feature in another game and then implemented it ‘somehow’ like that. By direct comparison with Warcraft, Diablo, the Baldurs Gate series (including Planescape Torment), Revenant and many others I don’t want to list, this game simply fails to fulfill my expectations and at 47 Euros this is quite expensive and I’ll probably sell it on ebay along with Master of Orion III. The two games have another thing in common: best let the AI fight by itself it is surely better than anything you could do.

Seems like a game ‘I want to have made a game, too’. I am pretty sure I cannot do it better but then I am not working in the gaming industry trying to….

If I want a roleplaying game I’ll sit down with friends at the table or take out Neverwinter Nights, Morrowind, any Baldur’s Gate/Planescape/Icewind Dale. If I want strategy I’ll play Warcraft, Age of Empires or still Total Annihilation, even Heroes of Might and Magic III (I never got to any of the newer ones). But I don’t think I’ll be playing Spellforce much longer.

MourningDragon: “The two of you look like Batman and Robin with those masks!” (about my avatar and first hero)

PS: It seems there is a demo, download it and try it out before buying at least (I should have …which didn’t keep me from buying Empire Earth….)

One Reply to “Review: Spellforce”

  1. Since I have been getting quite a few hits from the jowood forums lately, I can add this to the review:
    I haven’t played the game since before Christmas … it just didn’t get to me.

    I got to the first ‘dwarf’ missions and that is where I quit …

    Something about quests. There seem to be an awful lot of tiny sidequests and it’s a bit like Morrowind in that respect: you can really get lost in doing those side quests.

    Btw way I hate that ‘ghost’ quest from the second level. Each time you go back there is a yet stronger ghost waiting and you have to wait a few levels because he is undefeatable before you have a certain strength. I really am still not sure wether it is a problem of the controls, the AI, the general difficulty level or what else … but there really are few different strategies and tactics to be tried.

    At the forums a few reviews besides mine were mentionned:

    Total Games
    Computer and Video Games

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