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Geneforge 2 (PC) artwork

Geneforge 2 (PC) review

"It really isn't that much different from the first game. That's a good thing..."

I'm going to open this review of Geneforge 2 by reminding you of the previous installment, because mechanically, visually and conceptually there's no difference between the two. You still play as a kind of magician called a "shaper," and all of the "creations" (creatures you summon) make a return in this one. Once again, you create and command them in strategic, turn-based battles while exploring various areas. Presentation also remains unchanged, with fittingly antiquated graphics, stock sound effects and an extremely minimalist soundtrack. Heck, even the three factions from the original game--the Loyalists, the Awakened and the Takers--emerge again in this campaign, along with a new group to potentially join called the Barzites.

It's understandable that developer Spiderweb Software prefers minimalism in its products, focusing more on solid rule systems and strong campaigns. This makes it easy to recycle a lot of assets and build a new experience without starting from scratch. Unfortunately, it also means that some of the issues created by minimalism will remain unaddressed. To wit, the game's lack of an accompanying soundtrack presents a huge missed opportunity. All you get musically is a single opening theme that dissipates after a few seconds. The only other noises that pop up consist of public domain sound effect used in the previous title, including the marketplace commotion, some annoying person yelling unintelligibly and growling monsters in the wilderness. Look, I'm not saying Spiderweb needs to offer players an award-winning score, but at least give us more than a ten second track and a bunch of generic racket.

As you can imagine, some of Geneforge's other flaws also rear their ugly heads. For instance, specialty items don't have their own unique sprites, and sometimes share them with mundane objects. When you see a pitcher of red liquid lying on the floor, it's difficult to tell if it's just a generic drink or demon's bile, the latter of which allows you to craft powerful equipment. There are also a few stages that are unnecessary and seem to exist only to pad out the game's length. There's a certain swamp in the north central region, for example, that's just an open field with nothing in it but splotches of green and some scattered foes. Sure, there might be a tacked on quest or two you can complete there, but the game would have been better off without this locale, as it adds nothing to the experience.

Thankfully, though, the game amends one of its predecessor's biggest flaws. The original adventure had a very weak middle section composed of tedious regions loaded with pathetic enemies. The going turned slow during this phase because it took eons to level up on the paltry amounts of experience your prey was providing. Geneforge 2 not only makes up for this by better scaling its adversaries' levels, but also by presenting a variety of challenges throughout the campaign. Though you'll enter a fair number of levels populated by scores of tough beasts, you'll also find locations packed with traps and unique puzzles or events. One area, for instance, contains numerous acid-spraying mines. At this point, you might question how useful the mechanics stat could prove to be, especially since it determines your effectiveness in disarming powered equipment (i.e. those damn mines).

There's another place that seems innocent, even tranquil, until you hear the blast of a ghostly horn. That's when a party of spectral opponents rush toward you, each of them infecting you with deadly status ailments. Fighting these guys head-on isn't an ideal approach, so you need to tinker with the stage a bit and formulate new strategies. There's a trick to ending this spree of madness, and doing so nets you one of the best weapons available in the campaign.

As you can tell, exploration begets some excellent rewards and exciting moments, even if the challenge factor is sometimes brutal. Straying from the beaten path takes you to nightmarish places like the "Demonic Depot," where you fight a whole army of tough zombie-like beings called "rotghroths." With a little brain power, preparation and save scumming (not to mention choosy character building), you can overcome gauntlets like this and nab some wonderful spoils. You might also uncover some new pieces of equipment that'll either bolster your already badass shaper or fetch a hefty reward at the nearest shop. Or hey, you might also bump into vessels containing permanent stat boosts or new creations for you to shape. Those alone make exploration worthwhile.

Spiderweb also further sweetened the deal by providing new creations. Along with the aforementioned rotghroths, this title also introduces gazers (similar to beholders from D&D) and drakons, which are powerful, bipedal dragons. As you can probably guess, that also means you'll be squaring off against these beasts, which bumps up the difficulty factor a touch. Although drakons look intimidating, they're nothing that leveling up and buffs can't fix. Gazers, and their powered up cousins called "eyebeasts," are incredibly troublesome, what with their crushing long range attacks that can strip off a fair chunk of your HP. I'm glad to see the developer flexing their creative muscles in this installment, as it only makes me psyched to try out Geneforge 3.

Ultimately, Geneforge 2 demonstrates that a sequel doesn't need to look and feel entirely different from its predecessor, provided there's enough material to work with. That being said, I don't think that Spiderweb can get away with another entry in the series without evolving at least a little bit, because this second installment has just about exhausted the original game's presentation and audio. I'm not expecting a monumental leap in the third title, but at least a slight change and some fresh content would be nice. As long as I get to create an army of monsters and send them into strategic battles, plus earn some snazzy loot, I'll be happy.

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (January 13, 2020)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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