Spellforce 2 – Demons of the Past Review
Let me start off by saying that I have not played any of the previous Spellforce games in the series and have only a passing knowledge of the series in general. This is important to note because Spellforce 2 – Demons of the Past is an expansion pack, the final one, of a game that Wikipedia tells me came out way back in 2006. While that is impressive in and of itself, the fact that fans continue to pick up expansion packs for a non-multiplayer focused (it has LAN and Online) game shows the dedication of the fan-base.
The first problem that we run into is that this is not your normal sort of expansion pack. Demons of The Past is a totally stand alone entry in the series. This means that you do not need to own any of the prior expansions or even the original title to play. This ends up being a huge double edge sword when it comes to new players, such as myself. The problem most notably rears its ugly head in terms of the games story elements. You are thrown in at the very end of what essentially is a story that has been told for nearly seven years. The exposition that happens during the intro video is vague at best and fly’s by so quick that you will be left scratching your head as soon as the game begins. I can’t rightfully knock on the story to that extent, having never played the other entries, but if you are going to have a stand alone game and want new players involved, you are going to have to do more in explaining your back-story.
From a graphics standpoint we are still, underneath all of the trimmings , dealing with an engine that is pushing seven years old. To the developers credit they have implemented a host of improvements with regards to widescreen resolutions, a new shadow algorithm, normal mapping, better lighting calculation including rim light effect, Shader Model 3.0 and native SXAA support. These implementations work well and along with the general art style, the game does have a nice look to it. From looking at the game you would think it bears a stunning resemblance to World of Warcraft, and while that may be the case, I would say visually and mechanically it falls more in line with Warcraft III in terms of look and gameplay elements.
The gameplay is really where Spellforce 2: Demons of the Past really shines in just how unique it really is. Many games in the past have taken a stab at blending two separate genres with varying degrees of success. In this case the Spellforce series blends Real Time Strategy with RPG elements. Essentially you have a hero, or several, who you guide throughout the course of the games adventure. You can level them up from experience gained in each map, collect treasures, manage inventories and even shop at various merchants. For those that can remember, Warcraft III had the same soft of ideas, but here, they are much more developed.
When one of your hero dies in combat you have a limited amount of time to resurrect them before you suffer an end-game scenario. While you can purchase and build a resurrect altar, the first several times I played I suffered defeat because this mechanic was never explained to me. In fact, on the very first level after picking up a companion, they managed to get themselves killed (My fault!) and me, figuring the timer counting down over their portrait was the time until they re-spawned, I went about my merry way. This lead to catastrophe, as while I was engaged in conversation with an NPC I died, but me being mid sentence the entire game crashed back to the desktop.
(Annnnnnnnnd I’m dead.)
Glitches are another thing that really drew my attention, even after only playing for an hour or so. The introduction videos audio was nonexistent, mouths moved only when they felt like it during many conversations and on more than one occasion I had the game crash back to desktop, one time even requiring a hard reboot of the computer I was testing it on. I’m not sure what the case was for these random glitches as the game progressed I suffered fewer and fewer of them, almost as if the games bugs were all centered around the beginning interactions.
Audio wise things fared better, at least from a compositional standpoint. The games music flowed well and felt appropriate to the setting of the world. There is a great deal of voice acting within the game, and to the credit of the voice talent, everything seemed fairly natural and did not detract from the immersion the game was setting. Sword clashing, town centers, player and enemy units all sound great while playing.
Now you are going to have to excuse me as I am going to have to switch between both my reviewer hat and player hat in this next bit. As a reviewer, there are a number of factors that come into play when I look at a game and one of those things is how easy is it to get into the game and enjoy yourself. With Spellforce 2 – Demons of the Past, this becomes a troubling topic. You are thrown into the game with not so much as a tutorial level and asked to play a level, that in any other RTS would be mid way through the game. Within the first major level you are tasked with defending a large city area, defeating an all powerful Lich, dealing with droves of enemies and doing several fetch quests for the local townsfolk. The amount required of you is mind-boggling! You go from building basic units to building enormous Dragon Titans in the span of a single map.
Now, changing hats, the player in me says, “Wow, this is great! I feel like I’m required to adapt or die if I want to survive this.” (Side Note: I died, a lot, like enough times to stack my corpses the height of the empire state building). Now, if you know me or have read some of my work, you will know that I tend to talk about how games have become too easy and that players today might not even know what a “Game Over” screen even is. I have complained about games holding my hand and showing me all the controls before I jump into a level thus negating any sense of wonder or excitement I, as a player, may have had finding out these things. And as a player I sort of enjoy the constant deaths and cathartic feeling I get from it.
Putting my reviewer hat back on, the lack of an interactive tutorial or help in Spellforce 2: Demons of the Past is an almost detrimental bane on the game. Yes, I love figuring things out, but if there is absolutely nothing to help you then you just end up playing a guessing game. While the game does offer some basic tutorials in the form of some highly compressed videos that constantly skipped on me the first few times, there is no instruction on how to play and no natural flow and rise in difficulty when playing. You are just expected to know everything and as my friend says, “Handle yo S*#@ Son!” The major problem I have with how Spellforce 2 handles this is due to the fact that the game is so unique in how it’s played. This hybrid of Real Time Strategy and RPG is, even to this day, is not a common thing done in games. I understand that this is an expansion, but when you make it a stand alone to a game that came out seven years ago you can bet your bottom dollar that any new players are going to be left with a bad taste in their mouths.
Spellforce 2 – Demons of the Past is going to be a very polarizing title. There are a number of very neat ideas and mechanics that are implemented quite well, after seven years they better be, but also comes with the steep learning curve, some frustrating glitches and some unpredictable difficulty. If you are a fan of the series then you are going to love the game and will want to pick this up and see how the story finally ends. If on the other hand you aren’t, then you are going to have to ask yourself if the RTS/RPG aspect of the game enough for me to deal with the steep learning curve, and at the price, and with the amount of content the game has it just might be.