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Spellforce: The Order of Dawn

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  Reviewed by Andy Grieser
March 17, 2004
Real-Time Strategy
Spellforce: The Order of Dawn is part of what I see as a great new trend in RTS gaming: the incorporation of role-playing elements. We're talking hardcore RPG elements here. Bushels of stats to tweak and paper-doll inventory manipulation. It gives your traditional unit rush a bit of added spice.

The world of Spellforce is your basic Tolkeinian universe, with elves and dwarves and orcs and their attendant problems. Eight years before the story begins, a group of mages got together for whatever reason and durn near destroyed the world. Continents were split into small islands and most of the mages appeared to have been killed. Of course, these mages were a bit hardier than you'd think, because now at least one of the bad ones is setting out to take over the world.

A good surviving mage, Rohen, wakes up your character, a legendary Rune Warrior. This is a neat concept: The Rune Warriors are kept in suspended animation in little stones and when killed, they return to the stones to be raised again and again. You can have up to five of these warriors tagging along from time to time, though unlike your character, their stats cannot be upgraded.

Spellforce actually does a good job of balancing the traditional RPG gameplay (find this item, kill this enemy) with traditional RTS gameplay (throw waves of soldiers at this enemy base). Some levels don't involve building up armies at all, while others keep RPG storylines at a minimum in favor of fast and furious army action. It's a gameplay device that could easily fail, but works very well here.

The RTS part of the game involves finding a monument for a certain race on each island and placing the corresponding rune. The rest is conventional: Builders gather resources which can be used to build different structures which can be used to gather more resources or, of course, build soldiers. While each race has superficially unique structures, they're mostly analogous across the board.

In a nice touch, the island are joined by portals and "bindstones," the latter of which resurrect the player character and allow you to instantly jump between islands. That means quests often span a number of islands, and some quests given early may not be completable until later. It's also nice that quests aren't always available from the start. After liberating one island, it's worth it to go back and see who on previous islands might have work for you. As mentioned above, wait until the island is clear, or you may find yourself building a new army from scratch.

The game's biggest problem comes in translation, in two parts. First, the voice acting ranged from okay to hideous. Even the okay acting got tedious: I started shouting at my computer every time my hero cried "It's an ambush!" - as I flanked an enemy force or attacked from the front. Only once so far have I actually been ambushed while playing Spellforce.

Second, whoever translated the subtitles needed a good editor: Aside from the usual rampant typos we've unfortunately come to expect in all games, we get lack of consistency. At one point, "orcs" was spelled differently (the original, then "Orcs" and then "orks") in three consecutive lines of dialogue. Other subtitles were apparently forgotten, as they were left in the original German.

Graphics are good, though a rotate option is sorely needed: Important dropped items are often hidden behind landscape features like trees. Your avatar and his Rune Warrior companions change appearance based on what's equipped, which is always nice to see.

I have to admit, I love Spellforce. I hope it does well, and I hope I see more games like it in the genre as a whole and from Phenomic in specific. I eagerly await the coming Breath of Winter add-on. Fans of both roleplaying games and real-time strategy titles would be well advised to give Spellforce a look.

(Click to Enlarge)

Minimum Requirements...
Pentium 3 1 GHZ; 256 MB RAM; 16x CD-ROM; 32 MB video card; 2 GB free hard drive space.


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