Going into this title, I had multiple warning flags. For one, Spellforce 3 is the third title in a series that has been on ice for quite some time, and it was made by Grimlore Studios, newcomers to the franchise who were creating their first game as a studio. As someone who hasn’t played any Spellforce games before, I was definitely skeptical, but after completing the main campaign, I am surprised by how good it was.
The gameplay on offer is relatively simple. To quickly explain, Spellforce 3 is a base building RTS, and each mission map is split into different sectors that the player can control. Each sector must be controlled in relation to each other, so if I have gained control of one in the middle of nowhere, supplies such as food or wood can’t be brought to the location as there is no direct path to it. However, if I have captured the sectors leading from my home base to the sector, supplies can be sent out via carts, which can get destroyed by enemy units.
This leads to a back and forth with the enemy as important sectors are captured and lost. Some sectors contain different resources than the other, so if I needed iron, for instance, then I would have to capture and hold a sector that can I can mine iron from. Same goes for food, which can be hunted from animals, caught from bodies of water, or slowly utilized from a farm. Sectors do eventually run out of resources, so the player can’t stay back and ‘turtle’, or retreat back into their fortified base and wait out the enemy.
While this is going on, four separate heroes are controlled by the player. These heroes have talent trees, abilities, equipable armor and weapons, and stats such as intellect, dexterity, or strength. During the campaign, the heroes become quite powerful, to the extent that they can destroy armies on their own, which is cool to watch but can also drain the tension from the fighting. Why bother building a massive army if your heroes can win the mission by themselves? This is something that I managed to accomplish more than once during the campaign.
Spellforce 3’s 20 to 30-hour long campaign is extremely dense for a video game narrative. This is a great thing, as you the player can make decisions that are legitimately thought-provoking. These do not only extend to the main missions, as a number of side missions also put you in a position of ultimate authority over characters who you will only see once, and then never again. Does this mean that you, the player, are brutally efficient to forward their own goals, or will you help anyone that you come across instead? It's up to you, and sometimes I legitimately felt uneasy at the decisions I was making, as I always pushed towards solving the game's main mystery over everything else.
As the son or daughter of Isamo Tahar, you are viewed with suspicion. This is because your father is the man who started the Mage Wars, a highly destructive war that the land of Eo - where the game is set - has barely recovered from. However, while Tahar (your in-game name) is making a life for himself in the army as a Corporal, a plague called the Bloodburn has begun to spread, killing many (but not all) after a song in a foreign language is heard by magic users. As suspicion begins to mount towards those who can wield magic, you are pushed onto the case to discover its source and to end it, if possible.
Throughout the game, the story is routinely excellent. While the cast of characters continues to grow, each has their own backstory and reasons for acting the way they do. This leads to a surprising amount of twists and turns, slowly revealing a rich history of Eo and the people that inhabit it.
There are some issues, though. Somewhat frequently, there are spelling errors. Characters would say something that is close but not exactly what was outlined in the subtitles, or there would be subtitles that are either misspelled or have improper punctuation. While this occurs often, it isn’t completely distracting and can be mostly ignored. The fact that Grimlore Studios are based in Germany is a big hint, which makes it likely that the fault lies with the translators and the Q&A rather than the German-speaking developers.
However, what can be laid at the feet of Grimlore Studios is a myriad of glitches and bugs. Sometimes, during cutscenes the characters clip into objects or completely spaz out, repeating an animation once, twice, or many times, sometimes leading ruining the momentum behind a scene due to its goofiness. There was also an incident during my campaign where I was supposed to find pieces of armor for Isgrimm, a dwarf who had joined my group early in the campaign. When asked him if he would wear a different set of armor, he declined but mentioned that he would upgrade his armor.
During the campaign, I found the items needed to upgrade the armor, but nothing happened. This got to the point he could no longer be used as a tank, as he became too weak to take the hits and protect the party, so I switched him out for another hero. Near the end of the campaign, I was randomly given a bevy of dialogue options, such as talk of experiments he was conducting and discussions of subjects that were now out of date, like they should have been held hours before. In fact, one of the dialogue options let me upgrade Isgrimm’s armor, which would have been great about five hours previously.
Spellforce 3 feels like a title that was released a few months early. Right now, over thirty patches have been released since Spellforce 3’s December 7 launch, which is an average of one patch every couple of days. While lots of things have been fixed, it also doesn’t look like the patches are going to end anytime soon. What this means is that while Spellforce 3 is playable, it should not have been released in its current state. In short: Spellforce 3 plays like a beta, not a finished product. It works, but there are obvious issues that should’ve been resolved before launch.
Another indicator of what could be a rushed release is how I managed to complete the campaign. Tahar has an ability called Fire Spark, which allows me to select a unit and cast a fireball, severely damaging them. While this was a useful spell, I eventually discovered that by upgrading it, I could literally mash the button and cheese my way through most scenarios, including the final boss battle. This is because the cooldown lasted just a second or two, the ‘focus’ effect was minimal, and I had a lot of focus due to the decisions I made with the stats. The amount of damage could take out a few different units with one shot, and quickly down huge enemies in a laughable short amount of time. Again, this is something that should have been caught, either during the development process or the weeks after its release.
It isn’t all doom and gloom though. Like I previously said, the storyline is excellent. From beginning to end, I was captivated by the history of the world, and how the people interacted within it. While the characters’ races ranged from Orcs, Humans, Dwarves, and Elves, each has their own specific role to play in the story, their own personal reason for wanting to find and cure the Bloodburn, and their own private issues that are slowly revealed as you get to know them better. It’s all voice acted as well, and while I wouldn’t say its excellent across the board, for the main characters the voice acting gets the job done.
What more than gets the job done, though, are the graphics, which are nothing short of incredible. Each place that I went was noticeably different, and they were all convincingly conveyed with such beauty that I felt like an awestruck tourist at times. Most places look like somewhere people could live, which surprised me and only served to enhance the visual experience. At ultra-settings, this game astounds with its visual clarity, ranging from Greyfell’s soaring towers to the harsh and desolate lands of Barga Borg, the game brought my computer to its knees at times, and for good reason: this is one of the most visually impressive titles that I have ever seen.
What isn’t nearly as incredible though, is the audio. Like the voice acting, it’s serviceable. If anything, it reveals the low-budget nature of this game, which is belied by the amazing visual fidelity. When armies fight and sword clash against armor, it does sound like fighting, but it could sound better. Right now, it sounds like a heavy board hitting another heavy board instead of a sword or a spear hitting armor. When an explosion goes off, its an explosion, but it doesn’t have the oomph that a massive fireball would create. It’s like if shot a pistol as fast as humanly possible to replicate the sound of a machine gun. It works, but in the back of your mind you register the slight hitch and know it could be done better.
The same goes for the multiplayer. It works, but there isn’t much to it. Players can play against each other in several modes, which works fine, but right now there isn’t that much of a multiplayer community, so you may have to wait a while for a match. Interestingly, there is a co-op campaign mode that up to three people can play, which both is and isn’t as awesome as it sounds. For myself, my friends quickly became bored when I wanted to listen to every conversation and scour the map completely to find every secret (of which there is a surprising amount of lore that can be found). For those with likeminded friends, the co-op campaign does work, but you may have to play on a harder difficulty for there to be any meaningful challenge. For instance, I controlled the heroes while my friend controlled the army, which made a potentially challenging mission to something almost painfully easy.
Spellforce 3 Review | Final Thoughts
While Spellforce 3 is an uneven experience, it hits all the right notes. The storyline is great, the visuals are stunning, and the basic gameplay is good enough to keep your attention. Overall, if you are an RTS fan desperately looking for a new fantasy-based experience, you should feel right at home here. If you are not a desperate fantasy RTS fan but you are still interested, then at least keep this on your radar. While you do get 30 hours of singleplayer content, the number of bugs and glitches make this a title that you should wait before experiencing. Maybe a few more months, when the dust is settled, and this game is as patched as it will ever be, but right now you should wait and let the developers finish weaving their spell.
Our Spellforce 3 review was conducted on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher.
- Amazing Graphics
- Intriguing Storyline
- Above-Average Gameplay
- Ho-Hum Multiplayer