Growing up with games like Command and Conquer and Starcraft, I had the unfortunate privilege of watching the RTS genre decline. We went from having 3-4 RTS releases per year to having virtually none, and while I was incredibly sad at the time, I’m now capable of looking back and realizing exactly why that happened.
All I can say is holy crap, that was a long time coming, wasn’t it? So what does this mean exactly? Why is it that the genre declined? Well, to put it as simply as possible, the genre stagnated and it just wasn’t realistic. First, you had the global resources, which meant you could grab resources on the other side of the map and use them immediately, and then you had the infamous spam war.
Let’s be perfectly honest here, nearly every RTS eventually boiled down to one thing: spamming your opponent with as many units as possible. Despite all of the cool tech trees and the neat looking buildings, eventually, it came down to who could click their build button faster, and who could send the most troops at the enemy base. That might have worked really well in the 90s, but by the mid 2000s it just wasn’t fun anymore. Something had to change and, with Spellforce 3, we’re finally seeing that change.
Enter Spellforce 3 – The Ultimate RTS Contender
Like the previous two entries in the Spellforce series, the third takes the ‘let’s be different’ concept and runs with it. The first thing I’m going to talk about is how it’s more of a hybrid game, and then I’ll move on to how they fixed the resource problem.
If you’ve played the previous games in the series then you already know that it’s an RTS/RPG hybrid. To put it as simply as possible, the game allows you to play in standard RTS mode, but if you have a hero in play then you can take control of them as if you were playing a standard RPG. Unfortunately, I have a bit of a problem with this, which we’ll get to in a moment.
I didn’t get to play the campaign because it wasn’t available in the Beta, but if the main game is going to be anything like the previous Spellforce games, then there will be several RTS missions interlaced with basic isometric RPG missions instead of cutscenes. In other words, you get to play out the cutscenes, but you do need to level up your heroes to make sure that they’re able to withstand the coming battles. Yes, it’s an RPG and you need to do that.
Now we get to the part that I have a problem with, and it’s the camera angles. You can zoom in and you can rotate, but you can’t actually switch to third person mode. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of isometric RPGs out there, but if you’re going to give someone keyboard control (WSAD) over a hero, shouldn’t you let them explore in third person? You would think, and as I played the beta I thought that I was surely mistaken, until I checked a few forums and came across this statement from one of the developers:
“The 3rd person perspective was one of the toughest decisions we had to take right at the beginning. While we all agreed the 3rd person perspective was a cool feature in SF1 and SF2 we also came to the conclusion that a simply eye-candy as in SF1 and SF2 would work. As it was stated here already players would have expected to have more controls over essential gameplay features. So our thoughts on that were that we either have to expand that feature which would have meant to either make 2 or 3 games in one or go a completely different direction in terms of genre and base gameplay mechanics or just don’t do this feature. We thought that building up on the formula of an RPG/RTS hybrid with a top down perspective is more important and therefore we decided to not do a 3rd person camera because doing it in SF1/SF2 wouldn’t be enough nowadays and doing more of that would dilute our focus.” – Reinhard Pollice, Executive Producer, THQ Nordic
It seems that our third person camera will not be returning and the story of the game is set centuries before the events of the first two. That said, I guess we can pretend that third person view wasn’t invented until hundreds of years later?
It’s a Different Type of RTS
One of the things that I mentioned early on in the article was the global resource model that most RTS tend to use. In Spellforce 3 you’re going to have local resources, which means you can expect to collect resources for your home base and then expand to outposts and collect resources there. You can transfer resources from one place to another, but you can’t magically access them just because you have them. Sounds annoying, right? Too bad, that’s how real life works. Apart from that, the game works pretty much like any other run of the mill RTS. Except you cannot directly control any of your workers; you have a set number of them, you can see them, and the more you have assigned to a specific building the more efficiently that building is going to run. It’s a pretty simple concept.
There is one other major factor that sets Spellforce 3 apart from any other RTS on the market, and that would be the way combat works. Let’s take the skirmish mode as an example; the map is filled with monsters that need to be taken out before they ravage your bases and outposts, but it’s very difficult to take them out with standard units. Instead, you need to make sure that heroes are attached to your units and that you’re equipped to take on whatever they’re going to deal with. For example, is the enemy vulnerable to fire? If so, then it would be a good idea to bring a fire-wielding hero. It’s a pretty simple concept, actually, but it makes strategy in Spellforce 3 that much more important. To put it quite simply, this is a thinking person’s RTS, and if you try to rush into it with the typical spam techniques that we’ve been seeing since the dawn of the RTS, you’re going to get creamed, plain and simple.
A World to Explore
There is so much more to Spellforce 3 than practically any other RTS out there, and one of the things that really sets it apart is the living world that you play in. Yes, it’s a map, and you’re playing an RTS, but it feels like an actual world. There’s wildlife, there are real dangers, and there are even day/night cycles that appear hauntingly realistic. During the nighttime, you’ll have a hard time seeing your units and surprise attacks are going to be far more common. You’ll breathe a sigh of relief as the first rays of sunlight break through the night and start to illuminate the world around you – at least for a little while. I just wish that they had opted for that third person element because that would have made the world even MORE fun to explore. Hey, we can’t have everything, right?
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to really play online so I couldn’t tell you much about connectivity or how well it went as far as resources are concerned. The problem was that not many people were playing the Spellforce 3 beta.,The only way to play the multiplayer Beta was to start a LAN game against a computer opponent. It went okay, but I’d really like to see how it holds up when you take it online against another player. Even more so, I’d like to try that campaign, but we’re going to have to wait until December to even think about that. All in all, I’d like to think it’s a great game and a decent step forward for RTS games, assuming they keep up the momentum for the full release.
It’s a little bit different from your standard RTS but the learning curve isn’t so steep that you aren’t going to be able to get into it. You won’t be able to spam elite units and hope for the best, but if you have sufficient RPG knowledge, you should be able to out maneuver your opponents without a problem – unless they’re doing the same thing.
The game itself isn’t that much different from the previous Spellforce titles, but it’s light years ahead of other RTS’s in terms of realism in both economy and the map layout.
There isn’t much to say here, other than it looks good, it sounds good, and it’s very immersive. You know, other than the lack of third person, which I’m never, ever going to shut up about.
I got a free beta code so I didn’t spend a ton of money on it, but for those who love Spellforce, and for those who want something a little different on the RTS front, it’s going to be worth the $50 that you’ll ultimately spend on it. Let’s just hope the multiplayer picks up a bit. Then again, with most RTS titles, you have to hope a friend has the same game anyway.
Is this a game I would buy? It absolutely is. It looks like a lot of fun, it’s probably going to BE a lot of fun, especially when we’re able to jump into the campaign. Of course, I’m still going to be whining and complaining about the lack of a third person camera, but if the game is good enough, maybe I’ll forget after a few missions.
+ Great graphics
+ Realistic economy
+ Realistic maps
-No third person view for heroes
-Some maps are a little cramped
Related: Online RTS, Preview, Spellforce 3, Steam, Strategy, THQ Nordic