Spellforce 2: Demons of the Past: review

Fan service is usually a pretty vulgar affair when it’s mentioned in relation to games, but occasionally you get a game that wants to appease fans without just giving something lewd or perverse. Spellforce 2: Demons of the Past is an attempt to pull together all the loose ends left by the previous three games – or at least as many as possible. It’s obvious that this – despite being a standalone game – is meant to be played after all the others.

With Spellforce 3 on the horizon it does feel like an odd choice for a dolled up Spellforce 2 engine to host all the closure fans need. Especially considering much of the story is just moving between exposition dumps when you meet with multiple characters that have appeared in past games. It could have given the story in a more interesting way of presenting itself, perhaps even by leaving a few things to remain mysteries.

The story revolves around the world of Eo being threatened by the awakening of the god Zazhut and his army of Nameless. The dragon-blooded Shaikan must once again rise up and defeat the forces of evil by working their way around the realm, gathering forces to fight back against the imminent threat.

As a hybrid RTS/RPG game it tries its best to deliver on both fronts and, in its own way, it does. It is based on an almost seven year old game and some of it does feel a little archaic because of this. Both base management and troop management generally feel reasonable, but the layer of RPG mechanics like resistances do make you feel like certain armies have distinct disadvantages during the campaign.

Character levelling is all well and good on your own character, but the inability to properly mould the other characters does lead to some gaining skills that they can never use. One particular character cannot wear armour but can learn a skill requiring it to be equipped. Automatic skill assigning on other characters will also equip these defunct skills, regardless of you being unable to use them. It’s particularly annoying if they level up during a battle and then don’t have correct skills equipped or don’t notice until much later on.

One major issue is the game seems to be riddled with minor bugs or at the very least awkwardly programmed sequences. These cause problems with quest lines being completed correctly – or at least with the outcomes you want them to have. Other issues include lack of information that will lead you to struggle to find out why you aren’t able to build units, though that in particular relates to the final mission.

One character we met joined us on a mission before we met him within the story, leading to him welcoming us to the area a good 10 minutes after we’d been running around questing with him. Another quest involving multiple betrayals caused us to be attacked by someone who we wanted to align with because we didn’t realise we’d betrayed him, despite trying to betray the person who made us betray him. Not necessarily game breaking but still ridiculous and frustrating.

The first few levels are filled with a mix of difficulty and tedium. The extent that you’re forced to roam about the maps is excruciatingly painful. This is only so apparent because you aren’t moving vast armies but just a small group of characters that should have been allowed to travel between journey stones to speed the pacing up. It makes a fair few main quests take longer than they arguably should and it makes sidequests where objectives are never definitive locations frustrating to even attempt to follow through with. Backtracking for sidequests isn’t an issue, if you don’t make returning to the point you left off at a slog to get back to.

The difficulty will turn some people off at the first hurdle; unfortunately even the first level will require skill and patience beyond that of most players. The first half of the level sees you without a proper army, making battle difficult but manageable but the latter half sees hordes of enemies thrown at you, in what seems an endless tide of skeletal foes. You can stunt the tide if you are prepared by having almost the maximum amount of units but the way the game leads you in does in no way prepare you for what’s ahead.

Once you reach around the midpoint of the game and are actually allowed to control and build up an army of your own – it actually feels far more balanced and fun. The puzzles are fewer and further between; and they are by no means as difficult as those present in the first few levels. It actually opens up from that point and bursts forth with an enjoyable game.

Most of the other issues are fixed by that point too. Running around is shortened by more frequent journey stones in more reasonable locations. Heroes don’t feel as feeble as they do in the first few levels, instead acting as small parties able to skirmish against small groups of enemies.

In the end it delivers its promise of tying up loose ends but the way in which it does it, would hardly be exactly the way most fans would wish it to be delivered. Moving between exposition dumps is not how you should be learning about characters that have lived or died. It could have done with the story being more interwoven with quests and levels themselves, with far more exposition thrown into optional sidequests instead.

If you’re after more Spellforce and really, really need those mysteries answered then you’ll likely find something worthwhile but it’s probably not going to be as fulfilling as you might want it to be. It’s also not going to be a place for newcomers to start – the difficulty alone will put people off and the main game and its expansion are far better jumping points.

critical score 6

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Written by Sean P

I enjoy playing games and I enjoy writing things, so I decided to combine the two. I do bits here and there and have a twitter that mainly just announces things I've done as my life revolves around very little that is truly interesting.

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