Spellforce Open Beta Weekend Impressions

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I try to keep abreast of what awaits me in the field of strategy games, but I miss them much more often than I would like. Fortunately, “cataclaw”, an RTS player I met through our mutual appreciation for the Company of Heroes series, pointed out to me last week that Spellforce 3, an RTS/RPG hybrid, had an open beta version on GOG last weekend (November 24-27, 2017, for those who may read this in the future).

I had never heard of the series, but I was intrigued by the concept. Was this game in the style of WarCraft 3 or action Realms? I had no idea what to expect, but I was interested in the concept and the art direction. The following are my impressions of the few hours I was able to give to the game last weekend.

Gameplay

Spellforce 3 was a bit more difficult for me than the average RTS. This is not a problem in itself, but it led to a bit of Frustration when I jumped straight into a skirmish game in the hope of finding my way, quickly hitting the walls of my false assumptions over and over again. The transition to the campaign allowed me to work a little more slowly in the mechanics of the game.

In Spellforce, players manage a number of different types of entities. Players can have up to 3 heroes, much like WarCraft 3, but each faction has a larger stable than in Blizzard’s game (there may be references to WarCraft 3 in this article, but the games are much more different than they are similar. The heroes each have their own technology tree, the players assigning points to sfinishs and statistics at alternating levels: thus, when the hero reaches level 2, a sfinish point is assigned to him, and when he reaches level 3, a stat point is assigned to him.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that all the heroes have the same level, which eliminates the challenge in WarCraft 3 of leveling each hero individually (sometimes quite a challenge for the second and third heroes you add). Of course, this leads to performance spikes when the heroes are updated in the game, but I found this largely positive in the context of Spellforce.

Heroic technology trees can be quite long. The human heroes of the campaign had lining technology trees that required unlocking some abilities before others, although they offered a large

number of potential leveling paths and end states. Orc heroes have clusters of technologies designed more freely and without requirements beyond the final ability of each hero, which is not available until the hero level of the Group exceeds a minimum threshold. I haven’t had a chance to see if the progression of the campaign heroes’ technology is reflected in the multiplayer, and I don’t have screenshots of how the elves handled the progression of the heroes’ sfinishs. Ah, good.

Interestingly, heroes may have more active abilities than they can use simultaneously. Although heroes can have 5, 6 or more active abilities, they can only use 3 abilities or items at a time. Similar to World of Warcraft, heroes have a number of profiles that can be configured to switch between sfinish and item sets and exchange sfinishs. It seemed a bit tricky to me and didn’t do much for me personally, although I feel an intention behind it.

The research tree is divided into 3 discrete stages that loosely correspond to the age system of Age of Empires, each stage giving access to about 4 to 6 different types of structures and about as many types Of units. The game has 5 resources: Wood, Stone, food, iron and sticks. Iron and Sticks need 2 buildings to operate: one to process the pipe resource and another to convert the pipe resource into one that can be used to pay for units.

This seems like a lot, and at first I was really unhappy that there were a lot of resources in an RTS: I had the impression that managing the workers who manage the resources would be a logistical nightmare. My internal preference for resources is 2 or 3: I feel uncomfortable with the idea of managing 4 or more resource revenue streams at once (although, of course, Age of Empires is a great example of a game that manages many more resources). Side note: although I haven’t played Rise of Nations or Rise of Legends much, I feel vague similarities with those games and Spellforce 3, although it’s hard to put my finger on it because none of the franchises are the ones I know closely.

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