by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Weíve been writing about SpellForce 3ís progress for a couple of years now and the game is nearing completion. The beta that began in May has produced a lot of good feedback for the developers and a short singleplayer beta is currently being considered before ending the beta somewhere next month.
This yearís Gamescom demonstration of the RPG-RTS hybrid focused solely on the singleplayer side of the game. We got to see the gameís huge campaign map which was divided into a good number of smaller regions. Each region comes with its own mission and you get to pick missions in any order you like. More interestingly, you can return to a region multiple times. Chances are that it will have developed on its own, influenced by your actions during your earlier visit.
Some of these missions can be dealt with swiftly. Slaying a nest of venomous medusas in defence of an under siege town can be done without too many sidesteps for instance. The townspeople will love you forever but donít run off with your prize too quickly. If you fail to explore you might miss mini-quests and perhaps even a few story elements that are hidden in the region. You may also want to claim the region as your own. This can be done by building a regional HQ and recruiting a few workers to expand your base. Once developed, the region will start contributing to your effort on a global level.
On the RPG side of the equation we got to see a bit more of the character skill trees. Characters start out with a blank sheet. It is up to the player to choose three skill trees for each of their characters and you can mix and match without any restrictions. Itís entirely feasible to create a mage elementalist that can perform admirably as a forward tank. In fact, you can do some pretty cool stuff if you mix skills from different skill trees. Hmm, I can see a black magic infused war hammer in my future alreadyÖ
Almost every line of dialogue in the game is spoken and there is a fair bit of that to go around. Itís not just storyline elements that have been voiced. Your characters will comment on their surroundings and jest with each other throughout the game as well. Cities Ė some of which defy the imagination when it comes to size Ė are teeming with people and some of the city maps may take several hours to complete. And thatís not taking interior maps in the shape of dungeons and large buildings into account.
If it all sounds a bit much to deal with on your own, donít fret Ė the entire singleplayer campaign can be played in co-op with up to three players. Any role, say base building, that is not filled by a human player can be assigned to an AI player instead. SpellForce 3 uses a portal system, similar to the one in Divinity, to get around the map fast. All you need to do is discover the portal locations and you can move your party Ė heck, even your entire army from one location to another in the blink of an eye.
SpellForce 3 impressed me with the amount of freedom that players have in how they play the game. You can befriend locals or steal their land from under them, you can dive into the gameís extensive basebuilding options or try and complete missions with only your main characters instead. In the example of the sieging medusas, a magic fence is all that keeps them at bay but the fence needs regular donations to keep it going. You can either feed it or use all those resources to build up your army. Thereís no wrong way as long as you secure the victory.
SpellForce 3ís blending of RPG and RTS has really come together over the last year and Iím hoping that the singleplayer beta that is in the cards does indeed happen. If it does, I may disappear for a week or so. Donít call the authorities if I go missing.