Reviewed: June 18, 2006
Released: May 8, 2006
Spellforce 2: Shadow Wars is an interesting RPG/RTS hybrid from Publishers Aspyr/Jowood, and developer Phenomic Game Development/Jowood. Jowood is best known for such titles as Neighbors from Hell, and the Arx Fatalis and many more quality games, as both developers and producers.
I recall playing the first SpellForce via demo when it was first released over a year ago, and was pleasantly surprised with its interface, strong graphics, and intriguing storyline. So needless to say, I was rather glad to have the opportunity to dive into its sequel, one that boasted significant improvements.
Spellforce 2 features:
Like most fantasy themed RPGs, you are cast as the savior, to stop the impending doom about to befall your realm. However, in this title, you get an extra hand via your party of heroes (a la Never Winter Nights) along with your own mass of generated troopers.
A lot of the original game's storyline is mixed in here, but with some new players on the field, like the Dragon-blood filled Shaikan, including the hero himself (or herself as the case may be). As you progress in experience, you can spend these points on various attributes, crafting a unique character. For instance, if you wanted to become a hybrid fighter/ranger type-go ahead, put points in blade weapons, heavy armor, while also adding some in ranged weaponry, such as bows and crossbows. Or if you wanted to go with a full-blown mage type, throw all your marbles into magic and watch your enemy tremble against your supernatural fury.
You won’t really feel that specialized until after level 15 or so, so remember to stay patient and know one day, you will own with the best of them. Also, along the way, you can add up to 7 other characters to your party of heroes, and with a bevy of fodder troops in tow, you can really do some damage! You will learn to count on these other heroes almost as much as yourself-so use them wisely.
There are quite a few different quests to tackle, ranging from delivery missions, to all out assaults on massive enemy encampments. And maneuvering these characters is rather simple, just click, drag, and group, with each person’s abilities listed in classic hot bar fashion, for easy access in the thick of combat. Oh...and did I mention you can resurrect your fellow brethren in case they should fall? Just one of the perks of having immortal Dragon blood coursing through your veins, I guess.
Speaking of the RTS element, this aspect might throw some for a loop, but for those who have been around the last several years, the “hero strategy” should be familiar. The difference here, is that your character has much more diversity and control over your respective actions, and often you will have to make up for your comrade’s lack of ability. Beyond just whooping butt, you have to pay attention to resources to build your bases, units and so forth.
There are three main factions: The Realm (Humans, Elves, Dwarves etc), the Clan (Orks, Barbarians, Giants etc) and The Pact, a sinister group of demonic creatures that include gargoyles, the undead and more savage beings. Each side has corresponding unit types, so balance is there, yet each is also unique in their own right.
When you have a massive Titan (the best and most massive unit outside of a hero) on Titan battle-pitting the angelic Lightbringer, against the satanic Ragefire and the ghastly Netherbeast- you will think the world is coming to an end. Beyond these epic units, there are also your standard assortment of cavalry, archers and siege weapons. Knowing the strengths-and weaknesses-of each, is crucial for success.
With that being said, the constant staple of most RTS games rears its ugly head again here in Spellforce 2- just mass up and conquer. By building an overwhelming force, while leaving just enough to defend key points, you can pretty much win every battle, regardless of how smartly you work it. This is one reason I generally boycott many RTS game these days, and opt more for of the cerebral strategy games like Rome: Total War, or Combat Mission.
The A.I. is pretty moronic at times-on both sides. Path finding issues abound, and some units appear to stutter when given rapid commands, not knowing who to engage, and won’t see some enemies until too late. All in all, the RTS portion just falls a bit flat, and can’t compete in today’s market.
Graphically, Spellforce 2 does a pretty good job of presenting the wealth of vibrant locales and architecture of the surroundings. Gorgeous statues and Neo-Classical pillars abound, as well as run down or war torn villages. Even the hustle and bustle of a local market adds another layer of believability that this is a living, breathing, world.
Better yet, the ability to fully zoom, rotate and pan the camera is really welcomed to observe the lovely environments. You really won’t find a richer set of color or textures, and fans of the cartoony-style of WOW will feel right at home here. There is also a fair share of dungeon crawling, but these have their own murkier atmosphere, that contrasts nicely with the open, forested segments.
Character wise, each persona is dripping with detail. Such things as armor, upgraded weapons and more really look distinctive, and add to that “coolness” factor once after you get some phat lewt or gear. And while that bragging factor is less pronounced here than say WOW, your circle of friends or those you play online with, will usually appreciate your plunder.
The many different avatars animate rather well, and some of the designs are plain wicked. I am talking about giant troll-like creatures, winged-gryphons souring majestically above the battlefield, and a powerful wizard unleashing a fury of nature upon his foes.
Further enhancing the visual appeal, are the well-done effects. The aforementioned wizard can really make you go “oooh” and “ahhh” on numerous occasions, and good lord, I have never seen so much blood in a top-down RPG like this-it’s mature after all. Especially worthy of note is the shimmering water effects, quite a surprise for a title like this.
This title utilizes some pretty good sound as well. It has a pleasant soundtrack that can hang with the best of the fantasy genre, also mainly doesn’t annoy-which is one of the first things I look for when reviewing. Also nicely done are the numerous voices from the plethora of NPCs you encounter on your adventure. It’s always nice just to listen, rather than scroll through text after text.
While the above works well, the sound effects leave something to be desired. They often sound a bit subdued or muted, but are pretty varied considering the wide range of unit types they must cover; swords, maces, crossbows, magic users, giant dragons and more-all add up to a cacophony of sound that is usually more hit than miss. Overall, Spellforce 2 performs strongly in the auditory department.
This game has a wealth of replay potential; I will give it that. The main campaign is rather lengthy (60+ hours), and also the free-mode allows for some great depth as well. Beyond this, there is also an awesome co-op mode, where you and several friends can tackle a storyline together. While it isn’t on the scale of Never Winter Nights, this is a very welcome feature; one I wish was present in more games.
Last but not least, throw in wide range of skirmish modes for both single and multiplayer, although the latter may be a little hard to find, as this game doesn’t strike at many to be an online foray. Best just to find local groups of players via forums or even in your own circle of buddies. To summarize: a ton of value here, months and months worth, and no word on expansions either, but I wouldn’t rule any out.
Spellforce 2: Shadow Wars combines the best features of the fantasy RPG and RTS worlds, from strong character development, to massive, resource driven battles-all strewn across gorgeous landscapes. Throw in a wealth of online options-most notably cooperative play-and you have sleeper hit in the making.
Hopefully it can overcome its Euro centric player base, and grow on more players here in the states, because it is worthy of recognition and awards for presenting a solid gaming experience.