Release Date: Out Now
The other week I was reminded of what must be one of the oldest jokes in the world - what would you get if you crossed a Bulldog with a Shitzu? According to our local evening paper someone somewhere has done this ("why?" was not a question the article covered) - and the article ended without confirmation on what the new breed was going to be called. After all these years the joke still is not funny (just out of interest, it's not called a "Zudog").
Spellforce is very much like this new pointless experiment. It's another mix of genres the combination of which probably has some very clever 10 letter acronym. For the purpose of this review we will go with RTSRPG (Real Time Strategy Role Playing Game) a game which tries to offer plenty to fans of both genres. The problem is (for me) it does not really work.
It's not so much a combo of genres but rather one genre with another one kind of glued and taped to the side rather than seamlessly sliced together. It's very similar in style to Warcraft and the like which is a shame, as I was not a fan. The background to the game is pure fantasy - a mixture of every book to feature an Orc or a Dwarf since Tolkien picked up his pen. The RPG part of the game focuses on your main character or the "HERO" of the story and his travels and interactions with many of the NPCs that you find along the way.
However it just seems like a gimmick - there doesn't seem to be any real point to it. You are able to zoom in on your character and move around in a 3rd person style but there's never any real need to do so, and it rather overcomplicates matters. The RPG never seems to gel and always seems out of place. As with every RTS game since time began you have to increase your armies and construct buildings, and Spellforce tries to be clever here by making you quest for the plans to these upgrades, but in practice it just seems to make the whole thing more clumsy.
As clever and as different a Spellforce wants to be, it cannot escape what it really is at heart. Typically for a strategy game there are different races that all have different units that all basically do the same as some other unit for the other races - if you've ever played a RTS then you'll know what I mean. Each have their strengths and weaknesses, some of these units help with the construction whilst others help with the fighting - some are good at ranged attacks, others designed to get stuck in with swords and shields. To anyone who has played Warcraft this will sound very familiar.
Controlling these units is usually rather simple, a left click here, a right click there soon sees you leading your army into battle. One addition is the number of spells and commands which can be carried out from a list of icons at the top of the screen. This is actually a rather nice feature and does help somewhat in the heat of the battle. However as the game progresses and the battles get bigger and harder the game takes a turn for the worse. Most of the units are very similar in style, and it soon can become difficult to pick out the ones you need, and to make matters worse there are no context sensitive commands depending on what your mouse cursor is over. You do soon get used to it but it by no means helps.
One of the big problems with RTS games for me is usually the hit and miss path finding system. Sometimes your units act as an elite band of fighting men with the route finding skills of some world class orienteers, and then at other times they act like one-legged drunks trying to find their way home from the pub in the dark. Spellforce spends most of its time as that drunk. You may have a damn fine plan on how to win the next battle but it all goes to pot when the units at your command just want to do their own thing, some want to attack things they shouldn't, whilst others decide to go nowhere near the ones they should be poking with swords...
The graphics follow the rest of the game in the fact of being very hit and miss. Some of the lighting effects are very nice and the cut scenes are well handled, but the main bulk of the game such as buildings and units are all rather bland and very samey. The sound is the same standard as the graphics - some nice music and some nice spot effects combined with some terrible (has to be heard to be believed) voice acting in the set pieces.
As stated earlier I'm not really an RTS fan and Spellforce has done nothing to change my mind - its attempts to combine two genres may have succeeded in places, but like the bulk of the game for every hit there is a miss. I'm sure seasoned RTS fans will get a lot more from it than me, but the game's failings are always apparent and the RPG parts may not sit happily with them.
- It's deep and probably very long.
- Some rather neat features.
- For every good there is a bad.
- As hard as it tries, Spellforce doesn't really provide anything new.