The final installment in the SpellForce 2 saga – but has it taken too long?
Well, it has taken more than seven years for the story to reach its conclusion in JoWooD’s SpellForce 2. With this final installment, Demons of the Past, which has been developed by Mind Over Matter Games and published by Nordic Games, the epic fantasy story will come to an end, no doubt pleasing the patient fans of the series. But does this standalone expansion have anything to offer for those who have never set foot in the land of Eo?
Well, an easy to follow story it does not. The developers have taken the stand that anyone playing this standalone expansion will have already played the previous installments, and thus don’t worry too much about explanation. The game picks up directly after the events in the previous standalone expansion, Faith In Destiny, and then rumbles along with plenty of reference to events and characters that new players will simply not know. While this fan service is great for the fans, it leaves gaping holes that are just too complicated for the new players to fill.
The story is that the player takes on the role of a Shaikan, those with Dragon’s blood, and are charged with saving the world from the evil Zazhut. There are Gods and Dragons involved somewhere along the way, but basically you are the chosen one and must save the world from eternal darkness, like you do.
The problem with the story is not only the wealth of lore that new players will not have access to, but also that the pacing seems a little off for such an epic, and concluding, adventure. The story progresses slowly in the early hours of the game, although picks up the pace nicely later on, but some of the quests upon which the player will embark just don’t feel as though they fit with such an epic undertaking. Admittedly, some of these are side quests, but even a few of the main quests give the feeling that saving the world is just not that important.
However confusing the storyline is, the main appeal for new players will be the promised combination of RPG and RTS gameplay, and it is here that Demons of the Past performs quite well, albeit in a retro style.
The RTS elements are classic to say the least. The player will have to create workers to gather resources, allowing them to build structures that will grant them various different units to defend their settlement or go off looking for objectives and destroying enemy units. In itself, the RTS elements are really great fun, unleashing a wave of nostalgia for anyone who enjoyed games such as Warcraft 3 or Cossacks back in the day.
That being said, even old hands at the classic RTS games will find themselves not being given much time to enjoy the nostalgic gameplay, as the AI is quite competent and will waste no time in gathering an impressive army to lay waste to any plans that the player might have had. In fact, the game overall leans towards the difficult side, which may be another nod towards the longtime players of the series.
The RPG side of the game offers a similar sense of nostalgia, with the character and companions fighting monsters and collecting loot in an old school Diablo style. And it is old school, with many of the elements that we have come to expect in action RPGs missing, such as a highly customisable character or ample loot (at least in the early game). This gameplay is enjoyable, but it drags and is too repetitive for what is such a large game.
Taken individually, the two different gameplay styles work, but are just too old to appeal to the modern fans of either genre. But by combining the two styles, Demons of the Past actually works quite well. There is enough variety to keep the player interested as they invest their time.
Which may well be enough to convince new players to start the SpellForce 2 adventure, if it were not for the way the game looks. The problem with the visuals is, as with the rest of the game, that they are dated. Congratulations to the developers for making such an old engine look as good as they have, but the cut scenes are disappointing and the character animations really don’t look good. The environments are nice and varied, but still feel as though they have been ripped from a game in the murky past of PC gaming. Even the unimpressive voice acting and limited orchestral score give age to the game.
Which is a real shame for what is the concluding chapter of a long running series. The fans will likely let all of this pass, but there really is very little here to bring in the new gamers. Still, the upside is that with the conclusion of SpellForce 2, maybe we will be seeing SpellForce 3 bring the series up to date and entice new fans into its community.
Although the games’ main focus is the mighty campaign, players who can’t enough will be pleased to know that there are some competitive modes to play around with, either online against real players or against the games’ unforgiving AI. Skirmish, Domination and Free Game offer competitive RTS action with some very minor differences that have been seen before. But the newly added Survival mode, which offers classic “survive against wave after wave of increasingly difficult enemies”, is quite refreshing and pretty good fun in short bursts.
SpellForce 2: Demons of the Past wraps up the long running series in a somewhat disappointing way. This is a game that has been made for the fans, with very little designed to bring new players in. If you are a SpellForce 2 fan, then you have probably already bought Demons of the Past. If you have never played SpellForce 2, and really want to, then it may be best to start earlier in the series and work your way up.