Spellforce 2: Demons Of The Past (computer game review).

This is the stand-alone conclusion to the popular ‘Spellforce’ game series. You are an Elder of the Shaikan, a mighty warrior whose destiny is to search the world of Eo to defeat Zazhut. Where the game differs from similar fantasy titles is the real time strategy elements which you use to create soldiers and other units. The goal of the quest is to kill undead and demonic baddies intent on making life difficult for the residents of Eo.

The game play itself is unusual and possibly unique. Much of the time it follows a fairly standard role playing game where you explore an unfolding world map fighting bad guys. You have the option of getting non-player characters or NPCs to join you. These may be tanked-up fighters, magic users, ranged fighters or characters whose abilities combine elements of the three types. Initially, you are limited to one NPC but, as your abilities level up, you may add more. As you explore, you are given quests by various NPCs. These quests may be exploration-based or you may have to find a specific item. This is where the game has the characteristics of a classic RPG.

Spellforce 2: Demons Of The Past (computer game review).
Spellforce 2: Demons Of The Past (computer game review).

Periodically, the game play undertakes a dramatic change. You find yourself in an area with resources to gather and workers to control. In the centre of this area is your headquarters building. Your workers may be ordered to gather stone for building and silver to buy soldier units. Surrounding your developing buildings and growing army, usually lurking in the dark unexplored areas, are the massed baddies. Their incursions increase as the game’s night falls. This aspect of the game seems to rely on rapid resource acquisitions and building up your troop numbers. This aspect is comparable to classic real-time strategy games. This unique aspect of the game is its fundamental flaw.

In the strange world of management gurus, there exists the word synergy. This is defined as the sum of two different things being greater than the separate components. So 2+2 seems to equal 5. This game seems to describe the exact opposite. The two disparate components of ‘Spellforce’ produce something which never feels like it gets into gear.

In real life terms, it is like a having a poker night at home but between games the players have a round of hide and seek. In PC game terms, it would be like playing ‘Grand Theft Auto’, driving to a football ground and suddenly finding yourself playing ‘Football Manager 2014’.

It was hard not to continually compare aspects of this game to other similar titles. I found myself unconsciously comparing it to ‘Baldur’s Gate’ while questing and ‘Command And Conquer’ while resource gathering. In both cases, ‘Spellforce 2’ comes out badly. The problems start early on with the very long introduction. The voice acting was spectacular in its Dick Van Dyke-level accent murdering. Skipping through was the easiest way to go.

My next stumbling block was the user interface. I found it very counter-intuitive. Examples of this include the clunky skills tree and the process of building new structures. When building, you click on the headquarters building, see what building options are available and what resources you need, then you click out of this and find a worker, click on him and instruct him to build the building. I continuously clicked on the headquarters display trying to start the process. I accept that it was my error but three clicks seem easier than five.

Possibly the strangest factor to me was the permanence of your non-player character selection. Specifically, in the free paying mode, there is an area filled with NPCs for you to choose a companion. Once you pick one, that’s it. If it doesn’t work out, you have to quit the game and restart. I am not sure how hard the coding for firing a companion would have been but many other games seem to have it.

In practical terms, the hardware requirements to play the game seem disproportionately high. My highish spec 8Gig RAM, 2×1Gig geForce graphics and quad-core processor laptop’s graphics card struggled a bit and made the game unplayable. To put this in context, my laptop happily played Skyrim in 1920×1080 resolution with all the effects on high settings. This prompted me to sort the desktop gaming PC I had been slowly assembling. Even here there were issues, an out-of-date sound card driver caused the game to crash during the opening movie. The lesson here is check your hardware compatibility before attempting to play.

Factoring in the frustrations listed above, I didn’t get anywhere as far with the game as I would have liked. These failings are in part down to technical and hardware problems but even with an ideal system and more gameplay, I don’t feel my experience would be much different. If a book doesn’t grab your attention within the first few chapters it probably won’t after the next few. Games work in the same way, some aspect has to fire you up.

There were some positive points. The graphics at times are spectacular, even allowing for the age of the source material. The richness of the games history is evident. Possibly the hard learning curve is based on an assumption that everyone is an old hand at the game, almost certainly the largest group of players will be. Through the initial game and five expansions a large and loyal fan base has grown and is a sure fire market for this game. A larger audience will be hard to find.

Andy Bollan

January 2014

(PC Game: pub: Nordic Games and Mind Over Matter Studios. Download from Steam/physical: £17.99 (UK). ASIN: B00F4N0U3K)

check out website: www.spellforce.com/


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