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SpellForce: The Order of Dawn PC CD-ROM

Published by JoWooD
Developed by Phenomic Game Development
Released - Out Now
Price : £29.99

Fantasy games have always been very popular amongst gamers. In general fantasy games tend to be either strategy games or role-playing games but regardless of the genre the appeal of fantasy games seems to be limitless. Imagine a fantasy game that gave you two genres in one. Of course there have been such games in the past but they have usually been at best, mediocre. SpellForce promises to be very different though. Combining RPG with RTS may seem like an odd mix, and quite a bloated one too, but the gameplay hangs together well and the different elements don't feel at odds with each other at all. Phenomic claims this is a RPS (role-playing strategy) game and it really could be the first title in a new genre.

The game begins in true RPG fashion with the creation of your character. After a rather dramatic cutscene you'll be placed in the prologue where you'll control Tahira, not your created character. You can opt to skip the prologue (during the creation of your character) but for the first time it's not advisable as it teaches you how to make use of the runes you find and many other basic concepts that will prove invaluable to you. The prologue has a point where you can either step through a portal to finish the game or carry on and learn advance techniques. Again I would suggest carrying on or at least saving the game before you go through the portal (portals are important in SpellForce as they allow your units to travel from one world to another), so that you can go back if you want to. The prologue acts as a very lengthy tutorial but enables you to get up and running with the game without having to read the manual.

With the prologue out of the way way you'll begin the game proper. Your character, known in the game as your avatar, will be greeted by Rohen but alarming news from a messenger means that Rohen is called away and you'll have to make your own way to Greyfell. On the way there though you're confronted by a character simply known as The Dark One and he suspends your avatar while he talks to the messenger who had earlier spoken to Rohen. It turns out that this messenger is a traitor (and has lead Rohen into a trap) and as The Dark One heads off, he tells the messenger to kill your avatar. Your avatar makes light work of the messenger though and meets Randolf Lighthand. You tell Lighthand that you need to get to Rohen as soon as possible. Lighthand tells you that the fastest route is under siege and to break through you'll need an army. This is where the RTS element comes in and you'll have to create your own army, gathering resources in the process too, and then head off to try and save Rohen.

Whilst you're in control of your avatar, or other heroes (you can control 5 heroes in addition to your avatar), it feels like you're playing a game similar to Dungeon Siege and you can even swing the camera behind your avatar and use the 'WASD' keys to manoeuvre them rather than clicking on the right mouse button if you want to. The RPG elements are not comprehensive by any means but they are enough to keep things interesting. Your avatar and heroes will gain experience, level up, gain extra abilities and you can even kit them out in armour and weapons. Your avatar and heroes can also be used to battle alongside your regular military units too. Whilst you're controlling your military units the game feels like a RTS. You can set formations and group your units although I was disappointed to see that you couldn't set their behaviour (the stand, attack, pursue options that you see in most modern RTS games). The units are a mix of melee, ranged and magical and whilst there isn't as comprehensive a collection of units as you would find in a game such as Age of Empires II for example, they are certainly sufficient.

Runes and monuments are essential to your success in SpellForce. There are two kinds of runes: hero runes and worker runes. You'll find runes that will enable you to invoke heroes at Hero monuments (up to 5 heroes can accompany your avatar). You'll also find runes for human workers, and other races too, that will allow you to build workers and military units from the appropriate monuments. A human worker rune for instance, will allow you to activate a human monument to create a human worker. You can also create units of other races too, if you find the rune and monument for them. Creating workers doesn't cost resources, only rune power. Military units do cost resources though, so you'll have to collect resources like you do in most RTS games.

The game has seven resources, wood, stone, iron, moonsilver, aria, lenya and food. Aria, lenya and moonsilver (only usable by elves) are only found in specific locations, so if you find these resources it's best to guard them jealously. When you first begin to gather resources your workers will just return the resources to the monument but as soon as you acquire enough resources you can build a woodcutter's hut, quarry, mine hunting lodge etc. (each race has their own specific buildings). These buildings help your workers to become artisans and production is increased. Initially you'll only be able to create a certain amount of buildings but as you find building plans and unit plans, you'll be able to build other buildings and more advanced units.

The multiplayer side of the game seems like an after thought and it simply allows you to play a skirmish battle against human opposition. You get to choose a fully developed avatar which helps to keep all players on a level footing. The quality of the multiplayer game (which can be played over a LAN or the Internet) seems poor in comparison to the single player campaign. Games can be played by 2-8 players (the map restricts the number that can play), which isn't too bad. I'm surprised a skirmish mode against the AI wasn't included though. Sadly there is little replay value for someone who doesn't want to play the multiplayer side of the game once they are finished with the campaign.

Graphically SpellForce looks good. You'll need a high end PC to be able to turn all the details up to the maximum but even on the default settings it looks as good as most games in either the RPG or RTS genre. Camera control is also good and as well as the standard 3D RTS type camera, which allows you to zoom in and rotate around, you can also place the camera behind your avatar or hero and control them via the 'WASD' keys, which gives the game a more immersive feel. What I would say about the camera though is that by default it's set to 'auto north', in other words if you rotate the map it will snap back to its original position much like in Warcraft III. Personally I found this a pain but thankfully you can turn this off, if you want to. A full day and night cycle is also included and your buildings all have lights for when it gets dark.

SpellForce is fine for deaf gamers. The game begins with a dramatic cutscene, rather impressive it is too, that isn't subtitled but this seems to be an exception as all dialogues and tutorial messages within the game are subtitled. All information such as the quests are shown in text too and you'll even be informed in text when you have additional information added to your quest log. Unit confirmations (the verbal responses from your workers when you give them an order for example) are not shown in text but this isn't really a problem. There are a fair amount of conversations during the game and these are all shown in text. Sometimes you get to choose an answer to a question but the interactivity is a lot less than you would find in a full blown RPG.

Games that attempt to combine genres don't usually result in the game being worthwhile with the different elements being so dumbed down that fans of either genre are disappointed. Whilst SpellForce has streamlined RPG and RTS elements, they are sufficiently fleshed out to avoid this problem and the end result is impressive. There are one or two things that could have done better. It would have been good to be able to set the behaviour of your military units so that they do exactly as you want them too. It would have been good to have been able to play skirmish games against the AI too, to add longevity to the game. Also out of the box the game was a little unstable but the first patch seems to have cured this problem and since patching, I've had no problems. If you like both the RPG and RTS genres you should definitely give SpellForce a go. It contains just enough features of both genres to keep you happy and the end result is an experience like no other game.

Overall Game Rating: 8.5/10
SpellForce is a genre combination that shouldn't be missed. A lack lustre multiplayer game and lack of a skirmish mode doesn't help the replay value though.

Deaf Gamers comment:
There are no real problems for deaf gamers.