A common trend these past few years is to take a couple of genres and squish them together to create a whole new entity. Invariably, one of those genres is “RPG.” That’s okay, though. Doing this tends to yield some deeper, more engaging experiences that bites the hooks deep into the player’s skin. Such is the case with Grimlore Games’ SpellForce series. Strangely enough, this franchise has been going on for quite a while and has been quietly developing a loyal fan base. After seeing SpellForce 3, my first experience with the series, there’s no real question as to why. This game melds real time strategy with a classic Bioware RPG in a way that makes complete sense.
The story takes place in the world of Eon. Four houses have rebelled against the ruling crown, decimating the land and any semblance of stability for the denizens therein. Through a dense storyline of political machinations and more than a little deceit, the situation doesn’t appear to be getting any better. This is where the player comes in. In a party of four, the player explores the countryside on a quest to bring peace to a war torn land. Where their loyalty ultimately lies remains to be seen, though, as there are plenty of options for treachery or honor.
This is all played out in a long single player campaign taking place across the many lands of the world. Some quests might involve a basic dungeon crawl, collecting loot and clearing foes. Others could focus on commanding a large army to defend or attack specific objectives.
During my time with the game, I was able to go on one of these dungeon crawls. Using a classic isometric view, the dank depths appeared foreboding. This dungeon was bleak and dark, but stuffed to the brim with some great treasure to improve the survivability of the heroes. It is expected that the player use skills that play off of another, such as causing an enemy to bleed with a melee attack and following up with a mage attack that does extra damage to bleeders. Ability to utilize skills in this fashion isn’t necessarily required, but it certainly makes the process easier as there are a ton of enemies that are vying for the heroes’ innards to be spilled upon the ground. Fortunately, the minimap is set up to be cooperative, providing indicators regarding where might be a good idea to explore. Completionists can ignore these, but it’s nice to have a clue.
In addition to the lengthy and varied single player campaign, SpellForce 3 also features a complete multiplayer RTS game. Allowing up to six players to take the field, players fight to take up slivers of land and occupy them with buildings. It’s not enough to take the region by chasing off the enemy; a camp must be built before it is officially claimed. Of course, those buildings are destructible. This design is such that I do not see a viable method for turtling around one base to build forces. Failure to expand leaves much needed resources available to opposing players, as they cannot be gathered until the region is conquered. There is also a supply line system in place, as needed resources available in one area won’t be in another. To build higher tier units, the resources will need to be shipped to the proper base. These lines can be harried and robbed by opposing players, so it’s a good idea to give it an escort. With the large armies that can be mustered, and the even larger creatures that can be brought in, this feels like a more mature take on the Total War series.
Both the story and the multiplayer is brought to life with some well crafted art. The myriad pieces of loading screen art were laboriously hand painted by one man, and the effort shows through. The realistic medieval towns and castles seamlessly give way to fantasy elements in a cohesive way, showing an eye for visual design. I marveled at the little touches I saw, such as a statue whose arm had fallen into the pool before it and nobody had the time nor inclination to fix it. The way the spires of the castle almost leap off the screen brings the illusion of playing the game with 3D glasses without becoming overbearing.
The thing with SpellForce 3 is that one cannot grasp everything that the package has to offer from a thirty minute appointment with hands on time. It’s one part Baldur’s Gate and one part deep RTS put together in an enticing package that should keep fans of either genre pleased for months to come when it releases later this year.