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Spellforce 3

Score: 74%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Developer: Phenomic
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 (Campaign) / 2-6 (Multiplayer)
Genre: Real-Time Strategy/ RPG/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Spellforce 3 was my personal introduction to the series. Well, specifically, the beta. I did a preview of the game, but at that time, only Multiplayer was available, and you played as Orcs, which are a bit limited, conversationally.

Now that the game has been released, I've been able to play as Humans and encounter the Elves and can say that the units and buildings are visually varied and the voicework is actually quite well done. The music is also quite pleasant, making for a great presentation, all around.

As a gamer with three monitors, I really appreciate when a game either directly addresses the use of additional monitors and makes use of them or designs their UI such that their game can be played across multiple monitors. Spellforce 3 will support the resolution of my three monitors, side-by-side to allow me to see a sweeping vista of the game, which is really beautiful. The only strangeness that occurs when I do so is that the loading screens only show the middle stripe of the image (the head and feet of the monsters displayed are off-screen) and an existing issue with moving around that requires you to zoom in to move around and the edges of the map seems a bit exaggerated when playing on three monitors, but it's not a deal-breaker and is well worth the wider view.


Gameplay:

Spellforce 3's story is one of prejudice. Prejudice and betrayal. Well, prejudice, betrayal, and destiny. Okay, you've got prejudice, betrayal, a clear case for destiny, and tyrannical religious zealots persecuting mages, but that's really tied back into the prejudice. And people aren't what they seem to be. I don't want to ruin the story, but let's say it's full of magic, intrigue, and quite a bit of tension between mages and muggles, Humans and Elves, Humans and Orcs, Humans and Humans and Orcs and, well, everybody. In a nutshell, it's up to you to save the world.

So, in this Hero-Based RTS, you will control a party of up to four "Hero" characters, which can be leveled up, given new abilities, and can be customized by equipping them with upgraded gear and weapons along with the teeming masses that you command. You don't create these heroes from scratch, however, but merely modify them from their default state as you progress. You do, however, get one character who you can completely build out from, well, almost scratch. The Hero is rooted in the story and, as such, the Hero's last name is Tahar and is the child of a specific character, but you can choose the character's first name, gender, attributes, and skill trees, allowing you to build one central avatar the way you like.

I primarily focused on the Campaign Mode here, since it wasn't available at the time of my preview and since I'm not a big fan of multiplayer gaming. The shift between "RTS" and "RPG" gameplay is subtle, both taking place in the same engine and with the same camera views. This works well in the city of Greyfell, when there's no real clock ticking away. You can run around the city, talk to certain people to complete a couple of side quests and collect loot from various chests located around the city. You can even get a little bit of sparring in, while you're in town. This part may lull you into a false lack of urgency, however, for when you proceed to an area with an active enemy who can build and expand, the clock is ticking, regardless of any RPG interactive elements. As an example, I once lost a sector and then the entire current mission while having a very in-depth dialogue with someone in the wild. If you're actively in a war with someone, you don't have time to explore your world RPG-style... the game doesn't wait around for you.

The Guardians (creations of Aonir) are gone and, with them, the usefulness of the Godstones, so after the Prologue mission (should you opt to use that), the Godstones may be seen, but not used. Well, that is until an unexpected turn in the game embues you (and your party) with the ability to use the Godstones to fast-travel about the map and to return from death.

When in RTS sections and playing against an enemy faction, you'll need to work on expanding your territory and making use of the available resources. That includes improving your outpost/town center, building logging huts, building a hunting camp or fishery and then getting those important barracks built and generating military units. While all this is going on, you'll want to use your Heroes to explore and find new (clearly marked) outpost building locations that will allow you to expand your territory and, perhaps, take out some enemies and enemy buildings along the way.

As the story progresses, you will acquire a base of operations and need to set off to acquire allies to help in your fight in order to save the world. Along the way, you will be able to get your hands on blueprints that allow you to upgrade buildings and units and you will eventually be able to also use your hard-won (or stolen - um - found) gold to research upgrades for these allied units at your base of operations. That might be a good reason to hold onto your gold for a while.

There are also Multiplayer Skirmishes that can be played, for those who want to play against other actual players, but one interesting option in the Multiplayer section is that you can load saved games from the Campaign and play Co-op with friends over the Internet. No one on my (short) list of Steam friends has the game, so I didn't try this, but it's an interesting feature.


Difficulty:

The aspect of Spellforce 3 that introduces most of the difficulty in the game is the combination of RPG dialogues (which slow you down) and the very time-sensitive nature of the RTS parts. Being able to recognize when you're actively in a land-grab with one or more opponents and concentration on growing your forces and utilizing resources will make all the difference any time you're up against RTS opponents. And, as the various Heroes will spout out frequently: "Expansion is the key to success."

Of course, there are a few levels of difficulty to choose from, but in Campaign, once you start your story, you're locked in at your chosen level of difficulty. This will get more involved as the game goes on, but you can't ramp up (or down) the difficulty without starting the Campaign over again from scratch. If you want to play the game for the story, then Easy allows you to play through the game, enjoy the story, and do the RPG content without having your head bashed in while you're chatting about what the Elven culture is like. I started at the second (of four) difficulty levels and then backed it down when I got killed because I took too long to read. In Easy, I have had Heroes get killed, but only once was it all at the same time. Other than that, I have one of them revive the other. And, since there's a mechanism built into the game that allows your Heroes to be resurrected a certain number of times via the Godstones, I probably should have been playing on a harder difficulty. Then again, I don't like respawning, in general, so I probably got more enjoyment on Easy.

Another important thing to make the game easier is to select your upgrade paths carefully. While skill tree selections are important, your Heroes' selection of armor and weapons will be governed in part by their attributes, so you'll want to make sure that your hero is increasing his or her Strength if you want to use warhammers, for example, or Dexterity if you're looking at using bows. Constitution increases hit points, but also is a requirement for certain armors, so as you find loot, acquaint yourself with what looks best and what the minimum attribute requirements are. It seems that as you level up, attribute increases are fewer and further between, so use them wisely. If you end up with a cool weapon and you're thinking of switching gears and bulking up a Hero who currently has a 1 in Strength in the hopes that they'll later be able to use something that needs a 6 in Strength, you'd be better off using that weapon for a new ally, where you can spend your initial points in a different direction. However, if you find yourself wishing you could start a Hero's allotment over from scratch, well, that's not impossible; there's a potion that will allow a soldier to "reinvent" themselves and will let you choose from scratch again. I know it exists for skills, anyway, I believe there's one that does attributes.

So, if I could only give one tip to make this a bit easier, it would be to not be overly hurried to spend or claim anything. When you complete a quest and you can claim a reward, don't rush it, will be there later - even if you've been thrown in prison and your belongings were taken, you can claim the reward, so it's sort of like a bank, in that way. The second you spend an attribute point is when you'll come across a weapon or bit of armor you'd really like to use, but it requires a single additional point in... something else. Finally, the best example of this is when I finally got a chance to check out a vendor's wares and found a chest plate and a shield I had never seen before that were both enchanted and quite interesting, I sold all kinds of items to pay to acquire those items for their exorbitant cost of 3-4000 gold each. At the end of the very next (very small) side quest, two of the six options I had to choose from as possible rewards were these exact items. To add insult to injury, the values indicated for these phenomenal prizes were a couple hundred gold a piece. And, if you save up your money, you can spend it on improving your allies' units, either making them cheaper or increasing their hit points... starting at, oh, I don't know... about 3-4000 gold.

Luckily, I don't have to limit myself to one tip to make the game easier, so here's your second one: If an enemy isn't invading you, but is just out in the wild (such as wild animals or undead) or defending their own territory, they are, essentially, tied to their location. If you start to run away from that cave, clearing in the woods, or building, they will only chase you so far. At some point, they will literally turn around and head back. With this knowledge, you can pull them away from their "safe place" and engage the closest couple of enemies as the others return to their home. This will allow a small force to whittle away at an army quite nicely. Remember Brave Sir Robin and bravely run away...


Game Mechanics:

The biggest issue I have with Spellforce 3 is the combination of time-sensitive RTS gameplay with traditionally non time-sensitive RPG dialogue interaction. While the addition of RPG elements seems like a great fit, the fact that your enemy can be building forces and taking you out while you're working your way through discussion dialogues really ups the difficulty level and pushes you to rush through these RPG elements or avoid them. This is sad and seems pointless; all they would have had to do is pause progression (on all sides) when a player is in an RPG interaction in Campaign Mode.

Another annoyance I had with the game is that the game's display settings would mess up when I first launched the game. For example, the screen settings in the game would claim that the game was set to Fullscreen, but it would actually be in Windowed mode and, apparently as a result, the mouse pointer wouldn't be actually lined up with where the mouse was pointing, so that I would have to watch for the UI elements near the pointer to observe what selection was lighting up, when the pointer appeared to be pointing at another item, altogether. I would usually fix this by choosing Windowed and then choosing Fullscreen again, to reset the display, but on one occasion, I had to close and reopen the game before it would behave. Still, I mention this as a minor annoyance, because this happened on load and didn't mess me up when I got into the actual gameplay and because this may very well have been somehow related to having three screens and having played across all three at one point. To clarify, I would have this problem when I was playing on just my center screen, but I can't completely discount the possibility that playing with three monitors may have led to this problem.

My initial experience with Spellforce 3 felt that the RPG and RTS sides didn't mix really well, but I believe that had a lot to do with me not being an advanced RTS player. The inclusion of the Easy difficulty level allowed me to still enjoy the game and, as my RTS skills improve, will provide a new challenge on harder difficulties. If you don't like real time strategy, this isn't going to change your mind. If you're an RTS gamer and you want to try out an RPG, this isn't the one to start with. The combination makes it is own, new thing and diehard fans of one camp or the other won't likely appreciate Spellforce 3. However, gamers who enjoyed The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing and are interested in playing an RTS will likely find this right up their alley. In any event, the $50 USD price tag seems a bit steep. If you want to check this out, I would suggest watching for a Steam sale.


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows 7, 8, Windows 10 (64 bit), Intel Core i5 3570 or AMD FX-6350 or better CPU, 6 GB RAM, NVIDIA GTX 660 2GB or AMD Radeon 7850 2GB or better Graphics Card, DirectX Version 11, 15 GB Free HD Space, DirectX Compatible Sound Card
 

Test System:



[Alienware Aurora] Intel Core i7-3820 CPU @ 3.60GHz, 16 GB dual-channel DDR3, Alienware Mainboard, Windows 10 Home 64 bit, Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 (4GB), Three Monitors (HP W2072a/W2082a), 500 GB Solid State Primary Hard Drive, 1000 GB Secondary Hard Drive, Saitek X52 Flight Control System, Logitech Logitech G402 Hyperion Fury, Logitech G710+ Mechanical Gaming Keyboard, Astro Gaming A30 Headset Black Gaming Headset, EPB Fiber 100Mb Internet Access

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