SpellForce 2: Faith in Destiny|
After more than half a decade, the standalone second expansion to SpellForce 2: Shadow Wars is finally out. SpellForce 2: Faith in Destiny throws the player headfirst into an experience that I can only hope makes more sense if you've brushed up on the other entries in the SpellForce series in the last couple years. Story aside, though, the meat of the game is in the combination of RPG and RTS, merged together into a single game, jacking both trades, though not quite mastering either.
At the start of the game, you're given the choice of heads for your male protagonist, allowed to name him (The correct choice, of course, is to select the head with spiky blonde hair and name him Goku), and then sent into the pre-rendered-and-polygonal world. The game looks and sounds like it came from the late aughts, which understandable considering its pedigree, but still compares unfavorably to most games released nowadays.
The gameplay, despite its genre combinations, is pretty standard. You click to move your hero and send them to attack, level them up and equip new gear and powers, and produce troops to back you up in fights. It's all pretty basic, but a variety of small problems make the tried and true formula feel like a bit of a chore. Units are slow to start walking, and will often have trouble pathing to distant areas if they need to round a few corners. To equip abilities, you need to drag them to the spell bar in your spellbook and not the spell bar you cast from. There's not much feedback from units once combat starts, leading to situations where units die and you don't know until the fight is over one way or the other.
Still, if you're willing to acclimatize, despite the game's technical faults, there's a good amount to dig your teeth into. The game hearkens back to the peasants-and-resources RTSs of yesteryear, which is a strong dose of nostalgia for gamers who came up with them, and maybe an interesting change of pace for gamers who got into RTSs more recently, and the game's skirmish mode cuts away the RPG elements to focus entirely on the old-school RTS experience, which is a great addition.
There's not a lot of complication in the units you can control, and they seem to be around largely to shift the weight of numbers. The real meat comes in the heroes. While you can build your avatar's stats, going between magic, melee, and Shaikan abilities which combine the two, you don't get much leeway and often end up becoming a generalist. Meanwhile, your heroes end up weaker than you, but much more specialized, going down interesting paths and changing the ways that you fight to accommodate their strengths.
Without going into any details, SpellForce's story ranges from bland to confusing. It might be that I've come into the series late and didn't get to pick up its jargon or backstory, but for a game that can serve as an introduction to new players, it's too bad that terms like Shaikan are thrown around without being explained straight off, and characters have knowledge of what's going on that new players will lack. When the plot is comprehensible, it treads well-trodden ground.
Really, for as long as it's been in development, I feel that SpellForce 2: Faith in Destiny could have benefitted from more time in development. While there's an interesting game in there, with the addictive hook of character improvement, the clunky interface, slow controls, and other obstacles make it hard to get into the game's guts. Still, for players willing to deal with it, there's some good stuff to be found in SpellForce 2: Faith in Destiny.