As someone who is fairly new to PC gaming, titles like Spellforce have always evaded me. Sitting somewhere between a classic RTS and narrative-driven RPG, it’s a title that doesn't necessarily lend itself to console play.
Spellforce 3 is the videogame equivalent of those multipack biscuits you can find in most supermarkets across the United Kingdom. Its unusual mix of genres is perfectly visualised by the bourbons, custard creams and cow biscuits included in the pack. The chocolate bourbon represents Spellforce’s traditional RPG focus, custard creams are the game’s RTS sections and cow biscuits portray the isometric dungeon exploration. It’s a brave design decision, but one that the series has championed since the debut of Spellforce in 2003.
The game’s story follows events that take place some 500 years after the first game.The player inhabits the story of Tahar, the son/daughter of a war-mongering mage who is saved by a team of heroes known as the Wolfgard. Between the time of Tahar’s capture and the death of their father, the mage wars come to an end and the use of magic is outlawed. From this point onwards a new danger plagues the world in the form of the blight, a disease that destroys entire villages. Tahar and the rest of the Wolfgard are tasked with finding the cause of the blight and ending it.
Whilst not the most original story, it does tick all the boxes many would expect to see in a fantasy-driven RPG experience - especially the anti-magic sentiment we see oh so often. Fortunately, the characters are well written, believable and backed up by a solid cast of voice actors. I did find the choice of Doug Cockle, better known as Geralt of The Witcher series, for one of the game’s main roles very unusual. It might just be me, but I struggle to hear his voice and not think of anyone other than wee lovely Geralt of Rivia.
As I previously mentioned, the gameplay in Spellforce 3 is a bit of a mixed bag, but players will spend the majority of their time in the game’s RTS segments. Tahar, and the team they are with, are tasked with taking control of an area back from an enemy force. It is up to the player to manage and find resources to help build and fortify defences. It’s a nice idea and the gameplay is fun, but it never feels as deep as some of the titles that the game is trying to imitate. Enemy forces never pose too much of a threat thanks to simple AI, making it easy to win as long as the player has an adequate number of units on their side. This is a real shame as the RTS sections really add to the game’s overarching story and lore.
Between the larger RTS segments players will spend their time exploring towns, caves and dungeons in a Diablo-esque isometric view. The combat takes a more micro approach, prioritising one-on-one combat over the macro-management of an entire force seen in the RTS segments. The simplicity of the combat system works in these situation, whilst also providing enough choice in the larger RTS battles.
Player customisation is an important part of Spellforce 3, and the developers have gone a long way to creating an experience in which the player can imprint themselves. The player customisation options and in-game skill-tree grant players the freedom to shape their character how they see fit. I personally went with a standard melee class, backed up by some melee special attacks, but it is possible to go completely in other direction. A lot of player agency is afforded through the game’s dialogue, with there being multiple choices during the game’s many conversations. They don’t have a huge effect on the overarching narrative, but they do help with immersion.
Spellforce 3 is visually pretty with a nice palette of colours on show through the game’s varied locations. Each of the races in the game are visually unique, with each one having their own building aesthetics during the game’s RTS segments. The isometric view can sometimes hinder the gravitas of certain scenes, as facial animations could have bolstered the great work of the voice acting team.
A typical playthrough of Spellforce 3 is probably going to take around 30 hours, with another ten for all the option missions. There’s a deep world and lore on offer here, some of it easily accessed through the title’s main narrative, but a whole lot hidden away in sidequests and optional in-game reading.
Spellforce 3 is an ambitious game that manages to blend fun RTS segments with traditional isometric dungeon exploration in a neat RPG package. Its commitment to blending two genres, on top of a somewhat predictable story, can leave Spellforce 3 feeling a little shallow and simple at times, but it’s never enough to sully the experience.
SpellForce 3 (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Spellforce 3 is an ambitious game that manages to blend fun RTS segments with traditional isometric dungeon exploration in a neat RPG package.