SpellForce 3 is the perfect RPG/RTS hybrid

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SpellForce 3 is a perfect illustration of how a good core concept is probably the most important thing a video game can bring to the table.

The SpellForce series has been around since 2003, and it’s survived for almost 20 years because, essentially, it’s the only game in town if you want to play an RPG and a real-time strategy game at the same time. . The stories and characters aren’t particularly memorable; the gameplay is not particularly deep; graphics and sound are nothing special. But here we are, three games and seven expansions, and I still can’t put SpellForce down.

For the past few weeks I’ve played SpellForce 3: Fallen God, which is the newest – and probably the last – expansion for SpellForce 3. According to Steam, I’ve played this series for 351 hours so far. , and I’ll probably record another 5-10 hours before I’m done.

During my playthrough, I rolled my eyes at the endless streams of dialogue, gritted my teeth while mousing over every inch of the map looking for tedious collectibles, and I went through each mission with the exact same “overwhelming force” strategy. And yet, I’ll miss the game once it’s over, simply because there’s nothing else like it.

A hybrid genus

My adventure – “love affair” is probably too strong a term – with SpellForce began after playing Warcraft III in high school. I loved the hero characters in Warcraft III and how you could level up their stats and abilities over time. I especially liked how the upgrades persisted from mission to mission, giving the heroes a real sense of growth. I had to know if there was another game that fully combined the character growth of an RPG with the large-scale battles of an RTS.

spell force 3

(Image credit: THQ Nordic)

I assumed there would be a wide range of choices. After all, RPG and RTS games, in theory, appeal to a similar type of player. You start with next to nothing and must manage your resources wisely to build slowly. You develop your own strategies and find the right units and/or equipment to complement them. Both RPG and RTS games require a kind of “hurry up and wait” mentality, with bursts of frenetic activity sometimes interrupting periods of methodical thinking.

However, aside from Warcraft III, the choices turned out to be pretty slim. For some reason, few developers have ever attempted a true RPG/RTS hybrid. While grand strategy/RPGs are a bit more common, SpellForce is the only long-running RPG/RTS series I know of – and even after 19 years, it’s more of a niche game.

I love how SpellForce 3 handles base building and expansion.

The basic premise of any SpellForce game is that you create an avatar, customize your stats and skills, find new gear, and manage a whole party of adventurers, just like any good RPG. But sometimes you will encounter a challenge that is too big for your group to handle alone. Then you will have to establish a base, search for resources, research new technologies and build an army, just like in StarCraft or Age of Empires.

The SpellForce series features six different playable races: humans, elves, dwarves, orcs, trolls, and dark elves. They all feel distinct and interesting enough to play.

The first game, SpellForce: The Order of Dawn, and its two expansions were quite difficult. Party members had no personalities; your character level could make battles meaningless or impossible; the accumulation phase felt intolerably slow; there were sometimes not enough resources to complete missions if your first big attack was going south.

SpellForce 3: Fallen God also does something I’ve almost never seen before in an RPG: it humanizes Trolls.

But the germ of a good game was there. It was really satisfying to build your character over time, customize stats, learn new abilities, and even make dialogue choices to affect the narrative. RTS missions raised the stakes every time you launched one, giving the game a deceptively epic feel.

SpellForce 2 and 3, as well as their expansions, built on this foundation, introducing better RPG mechanics, better balanced races, and significantly better pacing. While SpellForce 3 is still a little janky in places, it’s as good as the series has ever been. With smooth, streamlined gameplay and some innovative ideas that better RTS games could really benefit from, it’s the best execution of the hybrid RPG/RTS concept I’ve seen so far.

Some good ideas

While I really enjoy the SpellForce series, I don’t want to oversell it. It’s definitely a ‘good’ game rather than a ‘great’ one, and I don’t think that will change anyone’s opinion of the RPG or RTS genres. However, he has some creative ideas – and those ideas are what kept me glued to the Fallen God expansion.

In terms of gameplay, I love how SpellForce 3 handles base building and expansion. In most RTS games, you can recruit resource gatherers, construct buildings, and establish bases anywhere you can find space. This gives you a lot of freedom, but can also encourage more timid players (like me) to hunker down and hide in a single corner of the map for most of the game.

spell force 3

(Image credit: THQ Nordic)

In SpellForce 3, on the other hand, your main base can only support a certain number of workers. If you want to gather resources, recruit soldiers, and construct buildings and anything faster than a snail’s pace, you definitely need to take your heroes exploring, fighting enemies, and conquering territory as you go. This increases the pace of each mission and forces you to defend a large swath of territory rather than a single choke point.

SpellForce 3: Fallen God also does something I’ve almost never seen before in an RPG: it humanizes Trolls. In most Western RPGs, including previous SpellForce games, Trolls are usually big, stupid bullies who sometimes take orders from Orcs and occasionally make nonsensical remarks in broken English.

This time around, however, you play as Akrog: leader of a thoughtful and peaceful tribe of Trolls called Moonkin. In Fallen God, Trolls have their own culture, customs, beliefs, and even speaking style. (They don’t use the pronouns “I,” “you,” or “we,” which may explain why they seemed hard to understand in previous games.) Akrog and his people aren’t walking weapons; they are victims of slavery, trophy hunting and the sheer indifference of the “fragile” races of Orcs, Elves and Humans. Seeing this world from their perspective is a fascinating experience.

Just as the Warcraft series humanized Orcs and made them three-dimensional characters, rather than easy experience points for “prettier” heroes, Fallen God made me care a lot about a bunch of Trolls. scary. I would like other games to follow.

SpellForce 3 — Reinforced

spell force 3

(Image credit: THQ Nordic)

It’s a fortuitous time to play SpellForce, as the series is just days away from making its console debut. SpellForce 3 – Reforced hits PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S on Tuesday (June 7), and it could introduce a whole new contingent of fans to this unusual series.

I’m personally a little skeptical of console ports of RTS games, as the control schemes never seem to work properly. Still, SpellForce always did things its own way and usually had something worth showing for its efforts. If enough people buy the game, we might see a SpellForce 4 – and maybe other developers will realize that the RPG and RTS genres are ripe for another hybrid experience.

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