A brief disclaimer before I jump into the heart of this one is in order. When I took on this review, I was told that playing prior Spellforce games wasn’t a requirement – which is good, since I had no prior experience with the games. While technically true, I think a little bit of history with the franchise would have gone a long way in helping me puzzle out what was going on, but I pressed on regardless and took a bite out of Spellforce 2: Demons of the Past.
The first issue I ran into with the game was one that certainly would’ve been helped with some experience. Spellforce 2: Demons of the Past opens with some scenes and near-immediate action that focus on your hero, a member of the Shaikan, ancient warriors forged through a storied blood pact with a dragon. This short trial-by-fire, along with the first several of the in-game tutorials, all focus on your ‘Avatar’, and the power they possess — and, being unaccustomed to the series, I was fooled into thinking that the game was an RPG focusing on the story of this hero I’d created – until I passed the first few quests, and soon enough found myself startlingly unable to progress much beyond there. I spent a few hours dying in new and interesting ways, chasing one side-quest or another; sometimes with a few units at my beck and call, sometimes alone.
After a short time, though, I did manage to press on to another piece of what makes the Spellforce franchise unique – and, suddenly, my problems became clear, and I was able to continue. While it presents early on as an RPG focused on this Shaikan hero, the meat of the game is actually a real-time strategy affair. Soon, I was mining away at my base, collecting silver and stone to expand my buildings and create a force worth driving to the enemy with; the light clicked, and I began enjoying my outings against the undead foes threatening the land, my land.
Once I managed a handle on the type of game I was playing, the experience grew exponentially. Rather than throwing my meager forces out to die on the field in the hopes that my hero would survive, I sat patiently and grew until I could face the looming threat. Rather than tossing about in a land too dangerous to explore, I sent a dragon – a motherfucking dragon! – to breathe flame and destruction upon those who would oppose me. I was no longer the meek, fumbling hero I’d been; I was a vanguard for an army, a shining beacon there to lend my sword-arm to the battles I commanded. And it was awesome.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a whole lot of time to keep at this; I’d wasted too much of my play time feeling my way blindly through the wrong kind of game. However, beyond this initial confusion, there’s a deep storyline (that, I think, would be much enriched by prior experience with the Spellforce franchise), good graphics and sound, and surprisingly fluid tactical methods that manage to bridge the gap between the RPG elements of the Shaikan’s growth and the RTS elements of the army there to support them; all packed up neatly for a mere $19.99 (with a Steam sale price of $17.99 at the time of my writing this) that’s fair and perhaps even a bargain for what’s contained. Custom levels, multiplayer, and a purer RTS Free Play mode round out this offering, meaning there’s more than enough here for dedicated fantasy gamers, RTS fans, and even those of us who more prefer the RPG side of the coin. My initial confusion has given way to optimistic enjoyment, and I can’t wait to have the time to really dig in to what Spellforce 2: Demons of the Past has to offer.
[+Great blend of RPG and RTS elements] [+Rich, detailed graphics] [+Good sound and score] [+Deep single-player campaign and variety of other modes] [-Difficult to adjust to as a newcomer] [-Some awkwardness to controls, especially in large groups]