Spellforce: The Order of Dawn
24/4/04 by Qaj
It's hard to find something I truly find outstanding about Spellforce. As RPGs go, it's linear and ordinary, and as such has little to no replay value, unless you count doing all the same things the same way only with a different class of character (say, a spellcaster instead of a fighter - having played both, the main difference between the classes is the amount you'll depend on your RTS units and heroes).
From the RTS perspective, there's nothing out of the ordinary about it, and is actually more limited than many on the market today. For instance, you can't use mixed forces to counter strengths and target weaknesses, such as attacking cavalry with anti-cavalry in something like Age of Kings. Units differences boil down to armor, damage done, and ranged vs. hand-to-hand. The interface is quirky, formations don't work properly, and controls are non-standard.
In most RTS games, when you're playing against the PC, the PC will also have to gather and manage resources (even if it does "cheat" by getting bonuses in some games). In Spellforce, you can forget that. You're usually given a map with fairly limited resources and have to build a economy and army from that. Your enemy, however, gets "spawn points" where enemies magically appear at set intervals. This leads to the following scenarios:
1) You manage to build adequate defenses, and the enemy will dash themselves against them constantly while you rack up experience for kills earned (even if the avatar is on the other side of the map and not participating in any way, s/he'll gain XP for any kill made by your side)
2) You will not manage to build adequate defenses, but your army can take on groups of the enemy. This usually results in the loss of units, which, as resources get tight, are harder and harder to replace. Meanwhile, the enemy get to respawn afresh, meaning sooner or later your army will be defeated and there'll be a clear path to your town.
3) You won't get either an adequate army or adequate defenses, and the enemy will pour forth and destroy you almost immediately (this happens on one or two maps).
4) (This one's the kicker) If you don't activate a race monument on a given map, enemy spawn points will not turn on! Meaning, you (and your heroes, should they be available) can go around and destroy the enemy. Since you all respawn, but they don't, this is a sure-fire way to beat some otherwise recalcitrant maps. In fact, I've taken to doing this as my main strategy most of the time now. It's tedious, but it works.
Spellforce might be a bold attempt at fusing two genres of games, but, while it's not a miserable failure, it's by no means a success. While the two halves of the game seamlessly fit together, they're just too mediocre to produce more than an average game.
As I mentioned in my "mini-review" in the Games forum, I normally don't take games in for a refund, but that's what I'll be doing with this one. In my opinion, it has little to no replay value.
On a scale of 0 to 10 I'd give it a 6, or on the weird CG "school grade" system, a C. Barely passes.
EDIT: I had written this review while in the middle of the last map in the game. After spening an hour and a half using the nitpick (4) method above to destroy all the enemies on the map (without dying once, I might add) I finished the map, and was greeted with the WORST. ENDING. EVER. Even worse than games which just display credits, this one was anti-climactic, pointless, and incomprehensible!
So, I'm revising the above score to 5, or D+. FAILURE. Avoid at all costs. I hope EB gives me some decent credit for it.