May The Spellforce Be With You!
If I’m going to be honest, THQ Nordic was on my poop list after Elex. Clearly, sprawling RPGs are their thing, if only partially. Yet to have such a vast world be lacking in finer details and laden with combat issues made me really doubt whether or not they could manage to impress me if given a second chance. I took Spellforce 3 hoping to be proven wrong, and I was. Sort of.
In Spellforce 3, the RPG genre meets RTS in yet another vastly detailed, fantasy-rich environment. Because this is intended to be a melding of genres, both are present, but to say they blend would be disingenuous. More often than not the player will find themselves switching between the two at random. It’s balanced, but the game shift is obvious enough to almost warrant a record scratch at each transition. That’s not exactly bad, but it can be jarring.
Now, fair warning, I’m not the biggest fan of the RTS genre. Although to say I’m not a fan seems unfair, the fact is that I just don’t play very many of them. So when it comes to ranking the RTS side of this game I’m at something of a loss for how to go about it in terms of comparing it to other games of this caliber. What I can say from my own personal experience is that I didn’t like how Spellforce 3 handled this side of things, but as this is a review I’ll be getting more into that later.
Oh No, Not This Again!
In terms of story, Spellforce 3 is more than a tad generic, I’m loathe to admit. Everyone’s at war, this time against mages (getting a slight Dragon Age kick here). Apparently, mages are naughty, vile, evil people that need to be destroyed. Naturally, this has sparked something of an outburst and the mages rebelled, with a man by the name of Isano Tahar at its helm. He’s nearly caught, but manages to leave you behind, his child, whom he was going to sacrifice for…reasons?
Anyway, jump ahead eight years and you’re now a member of the Wolf Guard, enlisted so as to hopefully make up for your father’s crimes against Eo. Naturally, many people are unhappy with this chain of events, but you make the best of it. At least until a plague breaks out and the Wolf Guard is given the order to destroy an entire village to ensure it doesn’t spread. This doesn’t go well with you, and after a fight, you end up killing some of your unit to try to stop the slaughter.
Needless to say, this ends poorly. The city’s residents are killed anyway, and now you’re sentenced to death for killing fellow soldiers. But never fear! The leader of a new religious group announces that you’re in fact the one meant to save Eo from this plague. He releases you and sets you out to find the cure, lest the world falls into chaos.
An…RPRTSG…Like No Other?
As stated prior, Spellforce 3 combines RPG and RTS in a not so seamless blend. You’ll be switching between these two mechanics styles as the game sees fit. Fortunately, the RPG side of things works well enough. You have a party made up of characters with varying strengths and weaknesses that you level to your preference. You can also equip armor and weapons to ensure you have the best equipment possible. However, when it comes down to battling, things get a little hectic.
Before you can even start to build your armies you need to gain resources. This includes things like wood, stone, and food (gotta feed them after all). So the first things you need to build are the facilities that will grant you these resources. Then, when the requirements are fulfilled, you can finally build your army.
This doesn’t sound too bad, but here’s the thing: enemy waves come in droves and with no particular patterns to them. That’s realistic enough. But ensuring you’re equipped enough to fight off multiple assaults from different angles is a complex task given how slow your resources build, even at the normal level of gameplay. I was more frustrated just trying to maintain my units than I was with any other aspect of this game, and restarts were required more often than I care to admit.
Thankfully, most of the combat seems pretty short lived for the first ten or so hours of the game. With a few rounds and a restart or two you should get the hang of what you need to do, and with a little bit of luck players will skate to a win and be able to continue on with the story.
The Pacing Leaves You Snoozing At Times, But It All Looks And Sounds Great!
Speaking of story, I have to say I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen one progress so slowly. At ten hours of gaming, I felt like I’d only started to scratch the surface of what’s going on in Spellforce 3, and that’s not exactly encouraging. A slow story can often mean an underdeveloped story, and as I’ve already said, this one is a little cliche already.
It’s not all bad though. In fact, most everything else is just fine. Characters are well written and the dialogue is very grounded. The environments are expansive and well detailed, almost to a fault. Often I found myself stopping to look at my surroundings instead of bothering with whatever my current mission was. The music is also surprisingly astounding. In games like this, I don’t expect the soundtrack to be much better than the graphics or cutscenes, but it was here that Spellforce 3 blew me away. If the music for this game ever became available for purchase (or is available and I just missed it somewhere) I’d buy it up in a heartbeat.
Ultimately the world of Spellforce 3 is a solid one. It was believable, and the characters were all delightfully their own – meaning no one felt like a characterization of someone more iconic in the fantasy genre. When you start playing this game you truly feel as though you’re stepping into something epic, even if it takes a little extra work on the gaming side of things to get there. I was worried at first that Spellforce 3 would require all of my time with none of the return, but fortunately, I’ve had nothing like that so far.
I would hesitate to call Spellforce 3 an RTS game, as it clearly leans more toward the RPG side of things. However, if you are a fan of RPGs and would like some experience with RTS styled gameplay, this game might be a good initiation into that world. If you really want to test your merits there is also an online mode where you can fight other players, and a multiplayer mode if you want to get together with some friends. While things like long load screens and some glitchy interface responses might get you down at first, I feel like players can adjust well enough to make up for some of these shortcomings.
Spellforce 3 was nothing if not fun, and while I had my issues I couldn’t recommend this game enough to anyone who loves in depth and gorgeous fantasy genre games, be they RPGs or RTS games. The price is a little steep, currently running for about $50 on Steam, but considering that you’re getting AAA gameplay time at less than the standard price it’s really not that bad of a deal. You may have a few bugs to contend with, and the loading screens might be a big lengthy sometimes, but I really couldn’t recommend Spellforce 3 enough to anyone looking for something with a little bit of added flavor.
Final Verdict: 4 / 5
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PC review copy of Spellforce 3 given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.