by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
King’s new clothes are shiny!
Writing about Spellforce 3 was no easy task after last year’s Gamescom. Developer Grimlore Games had only just switched the game engine and had very little to actually show as a result. This year, I don’t even know where to start - there is so much to tell. What a difference one year can make.
A quick recap. Spellforce 3 is a RTS/RPG hybrid and takes that description very seriously. On the RPG side there are heroes to command and evolve, there is exploration and loot, there are quests and it sports a pretty good dialogue system. Hell, there are even spiders to kill, though I did not spot a basement. On the RTS side, the game has you gathering resources, build bases, recruit units and conquer new territory. What makes me excited about Spellforce 3 is that it doesn’t cut corners - the mechanics on both sides are as detailed and immersive as you would expect from a game in either genre.
A balanced mix of both RPG...
Let me start with the RPG side. The two classes, Fighter and Mage, each have two skill trees that are unique to the class and one that is shared among them. In the latter you will find more common skills that would benefit the character regardless of its class. Each character also has access to a standard range of attributes which augment skills in a logical but sometimes surprising way. You would expect the berserk skill to be more efficient when you assign points to the Strength attribute, for instance, but would you expect the Archer’s armor piercing skill to have a shorter cooldown period if you increase willpower? Upgrading a skill does more than just give it additional oomph - the increase in power will be visualised through its special effects as well.
Exploring the map doesn’t necessarily result in a loot-orgy, but there is enough to find to make things interesting. Armor, weapons, rings and other special items - everything you’d expect to find in an RPG is there. The ability to wear specific armor or wield higher level weapons is tied to the character attributes and the team promises that you’ll notice the difference when you switch to something bigger and better.
...and RTS game mechanics
The map brings me to the RTS side. It is divided into sectors that can be conquered and then controlled. In some, you’ll be able to set up shop: You build a base, gather resources, assign workers to buildings and recruit units that can support you in conquering the rest of the map. Other sectors allow you to produce special units - in the demonstration there was a zombie summoning altar - or give you bonuses to your production. Not all resource types are available in every sector, but if you leave enough workers free they’ll start moving goods to where they are needed.
The game supports up to a 1000 units simultaneously on-screen but to see that you’ll have to play in multiplayer. A realistic number would be between 200 and 300 per side which is high enough to make managing them - along with the maximum of 4 heroes - a bit of a challenge. If you’re worried about too much micromanaging, focussing on passive skills for one or more of your heroes is a good way to alleviate the burden.
Chock full of features
The game is chock full of cool little features that all conspire to keep you playing. I saw burning zombies that lighted up the attackers around them. A mayor of a neutral towns may have a thing or two to say about your enemies and offer to help you with resources if you do right by his village. The dialogue system is smart enough to pause itself while you deal with whatever is happening on the map. Oh, and the dialogue will be fully voiced as well. Truly every aspect of the game is given the same level of tender loving care.
Grimlore Games and THQ Nordic have the ambition to make Spellforce 3 a true hybrid. It’s not an RPG with RTS elements, nor is it the opposite. Even in its unfinished state, the game seems to do everything right and I think it is well underway to meet its goals. It’s so impressive that I had an honest to God “shut up and take my money” moment during the demonstration. I’ve been kind of bored with RTS games for some time, and Action-RPGs are a dime a dozen. With Spellforce 3 being both and neither at the same time, and taking the best of both worlds, I just got more and more excited. I wanted to play.