SpellForce 3 Reforced is a combination of two genres: RPG and RTS. You have your own character and usually a few others in your party as you do the usual fantasy adventuring, but then you’ll also have some village building and enemy conquering to contend with from time to time. Add into the mix an intriguing storyline with a large cast in the fantasy setting of Eo and you’ve got yourself a surprisingly endearing game.
Let’s not dance around things here, RPG and RTS games are both separately known for their complexity, the two genres generally requiring large amounts of time to really appreciate. In SpellForce 3, though, they lose some of that complexity through the way they’ve been combined. The final result is less overwhelming during gameplay than you might expect. Your characters have a few skill trees to choose abilities from and attributes to assign, but there’s no feats or secondary abilities like lockpicking or stealth to worry about. It’s a slimline RPG, with a similarly lightened strategy game on top.
You’ll regularly be given control of a village’s defences so you can take out a nearby force of Orcs or similar and suddenly you’ve got resources, buildings, and armies to manage as well. This plays out like Age of Empires lite as you place woodcutter’s huts and mines to gather resources, build a barracks and form an army to squash your foe. It’s just deep enough to feel involved without feeling like too much to handle on top of the adventuring, especially since most of your adventuring will be done whilst you’re not managing a town at all.
Whilst the strategy game is lighter, it’s got a mechanic or two that you might not expect. Specifically, the map is split into sectors which you can capture to add to your territory and expand your borders. There you can build an outpost that allows you to gather resources from the nearby area and perhaps even build another barracks at this new spot that’s much closer to the enemy encampment. You’ll want to expand for this reason and because the resources in each sector are limited and you need to continue ramping up production. It’s difficult to train soldiers when you’ve got no food.
The strategy aspect of the game is actually a little easy to overcome, with most problems being solved by training a bigger army and charging the enemy base. You can use hero and unit abilities to get you through quicker, and I was partial to complementing my force with a handful of zombies summoned by a spell I unlocked, but you’ll always be fine if you’ve got the biggest force. Your enemy is usually content to only hassle your outposts a little whilst you build it up, too. The combination of these two genres, both a little easier and simpler than they would be otherwise, forms into a really enjoyable game.
It also helps that the story is well written and interesting, beginning with an investigation into a magical plague that mages can hear coming in the form of a song and slowly spinning out from there. Eo is a fantasy world that isn’t quite unique, but has been very well realised both lore-wise and graphically, so it’s a pleasure to lose yourself inside. The campaign is also fully voice-acted with some well known voice actors to boot. Having the voice of Doug Cockle – that’s Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher – really helps with some of the lengthier conversations.
I enjoy that the game doesn’t bend over backwards for the player as well – at one point I tried to let a thief get away with half the food he’d stolen for this father, but was admonished by another character who was higher up from me, who took them all back anyway. Other games like to contrive ways to give players choices their character shouldn’t have access to and it felt like a nice touch to have that subverted.
Unfortunately it’s not all good news. SpellForce 3 originally released as a PC game in 2017, and has since been expanded and enhanced for the SpellForce 3 Reforced update and release, but this is still a console port of an atypical RPG-RTS blend and there is plenty of controller-based awkwardness to fend off. It’s nothing that will ruin the game, but it’s definitely there and gets progressively more intrusive as you level up and unlock more skills to choose between and get a bigger party of characters to handle.
There was also a visual bug I’ve encountered as well, where a flickering light would keep appearing on the screen, like a misplaced effect. It wasn’t that obtrusive the first couple of times I encountered it, but one time it seemed to be closer to the screen and blocking things from view. I just wiggled the camera around to get around it, but still, these bugs shouldn’t be there. Other than that, controlling the camera can be a little weird and navigating between your party whilst they’re exploring and getting back to your base to build something feels very slow with a controller, whereas with a mouse you’d just click the mini-map.