Spellforce Universe (PC) review
"It's hard to dispute the value of Spellforce Universe. The world is nearly endless, with many MANY locations to see, and an amount of lore that would fill a mighty tome. Quests come in piles to rival those of bodies left in your wake. For every flaw, there's a strength to hold it up, and a reason to persevere. Whether your goal is to see the next story, or see the next character ability, the game has something for you. After all, there's an entire universe awaiting."
Spellforce Universe Is five games. Two numbered entries, and three expansion packs. Each of which is of themselves two games. Part RTS and part RPG, with equal servings of each. This obviously totals up to an amount of content that seems like it should be delivered on a forklift. The five story lines will take in the realm of 20 hours to beat each, translating to roughly 100 hours for the whole collection assuming you never replay any plots, or mess around in the sandbox modes, or take the game online, all of which there are compelling reasons to do.
The duality in the nature of Spellforce is the game's greatest strength. If it was made one or the other alone, neither would be particularly compelling, however the frequent shifts in perspective keep both experiences fresh for much longer than they might otherwise be. For an RTS, Spellforce suffers from having relatively few units per side, and as an RPG, it lacks the pure creativity and polish of system that other genre competitors have.
But it can all be forgiven because the two systems intertwine so well, at times giving the feeling of being a small group of adventurers stumbling through ruins oozing history from the cracks in dilapidated walls. And at others being the commander on the front lines of a massive clash of armies.
Of the two, Spellforce 2 is undoubtedly more polished. It's the sports car to Spellforce's jeep. But sometimes driving off road is fun too, and each game has their merits respectively. The differing design philosophy is evident in the resource management. Spellforce has 6 different resource types, some of which are rather abstract. This becomes a rather precarious juggling act, especially in the RTS segments of the game. Keeping your resources of many many different types in decent supply to build fresh units while managing a hero and combat on the front lines is a handful. By contrast, Spellforce 2 only has three, and they all directly relate in easily understandable ways to units, buildings, and magic.
On the other hand, Spellforce has a more in-depth character building system, allowing direct access to stat points to control every facet of growth. Other than that, both games games manage advancement through skill trees. This becomes the core of the RPG half of the game, and one of the most enjoyable parts about it. The skill trees allow a great degree of customisation starting from one starting point. Although two different players will start with the same character, the characters that they finish with can be totally different. The wildly varying skillsets add a lot of allure to the game's sandbox mode, which lets you level a character without the tedious mucking about with the plot and hunting for flags in subsequent playthroughs.
Which isn't to say that the stories themselves are bad, in fact, finding the opposite was quite a surprise. Spellforce does take place in a fairly cliche fantasy universe full of Elves hiding in trees, looking down their noses at the passerby, and Dwarves busily chiseling out artsy underground labyrinths. Some surprising plot twists await within the familiar walls of the world itself. And really, any game with five stories is going to have something for everyone, unless you simply don't enjoy the genre.
That said, the campaigns just don't apply themselves well to experimentation. And for that reason, there's also a quest mode, where you start out in a central hub, and do tasks for XP that let you level relatively quickly, without watching cutscenes or mucking about with hunting for flags to advance the story in order to unlock higher leveled zones with new quests. Toying with new ways to unleash havoc on the battlefield works well, primarily because there are so many. Spellforce 2 has 24 different areas of combat you can specialize in, with the expansion pack adding another 6, and they range from duel wielding swords, to using magic to manipulate the minds of your enemies.
Whether you want to wade into a sea of enemies, smashing them in the face with a gigantic shield, or raise an army of the undead to go forward and dispense your havoc somewhere far away, your avatar is a ball of formless clay ready for shaping.
It's hard to dispute the value of Spellforce Universe. The world is nearly endless, with many MANY locations to see, and an amount of lore that would fill a mighty tome. Quests come in piles to rival those of bodies left in your wake. For every flaw, there's a strength to hold it up, and a reason to persevere. Whether your goal is to see the next story, or see the next character ability, the game has something for you. After all, there's an entire universe awaiting.
Freelance review by Josh Higley (June 21, 2008)
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