Demons of the Past is the third and final piece of Spellforce 2, JoWood’s RTS/RPG hybrid released way back in 2006. Fans of the series are no doubt looking forward to this chapter, which offers a conclusion to the story arc that began almost 8 years ago. However newcomers, like myself, will find themselves very much at a loss as to what is actually going on. It’s like joining a conversation halfway through and spending most of it trying to figure out what the hell people are talking about.
And a pretty boring and bland conversation at that. The fantasy setting is becoming increasingly stale in video games, and Spellforce does little to change that. Picking up from where the previous standalone, Faith in Destiny, left off, you play as an Elder of the Shaikan in the land of Eo. The big bad Zazhut is free and out to wreak havoc and chaos on the innocent populus, and it falls to you and your band of merry men to put a stop to this by reaching the Realm of the Gods and enlisting their help.
That’s pretty much the jist of it, and all I could really gather from the opening few hours. The game does a stellar job of firing a huge list of meaningless names and locations at you early on, all in a very boring manner, making it difficult to keep your brain switched on. I’m sure long time players will feel right at home but if this is your first Spellforce title, it might be worth reading back through the previous games’ synopses.
The blend of RTS and RPG elements in this and previous entries is certainly an attractive mix and works, kind of. Neither system is particularly innovative in its own right but when paired up, they compliment each other in some aspects but also end up being a source of frustration. The RTS side is simplified by today’s standards with the usual resources, buildings and units. Workers must gather stone, silver and something called Lenya to produce an army and erect structures. There’s the usual mix of melee, ranged and healing offensive units who themselves can be upgraded with the right prerequisites. Both worker and soldier also need sufficient farmland to be maintained and population caps force you to keep your numbers in check.
The RPG side of the coin is a little more fleshed-out. There is a basic character creator allowing some visual customisation and as the cutscenes use the ingame engine you can see your beautiful creation throughout. In my case however, I ended up making an almost exact clone of the first NPC you deal with in the opening mission which made things confusing to say the least. Still it’s a small negative detail. Your avatar also comes with its own inventory, skill tree and spell set. Loot is dropped from tougher enemies and can also be found around the maps and usually consist of weapons or armour that can be equipped to boost attributes. XP is gained through battle and successfully completing goals which turn to points used in the skill tree. Spells vary from stronger attacks to healing and can be mapped to the hotbar for quick access during battle.
The problem with the two systems is that they are slightly at odds with each other at times. Your hero is usually the strongest unit on the field but if they fall in battle and aren’t revived in time then it’s game over. This leads you to hiding them way at the back out of harm’s way and leaving the grunts to do the work. As well as this, it’s very difficult to micro-manage the heroes in the midst of a large-scale assault. However, the RPG influence does add a little extra to the RTS element by providing side quests and special missions involving just your heroes. These are a nice change and work quite well on their own.
There’s plenty in the single player campaign to keep you busy for a long time and the developer’s claim of 25+ hours of gameplay is pretty close (depending on your play-style of course). But if that’s not enough there are also skirmish missions against the AI as well as survival modes and online play. Survival mode is a new addition to the series and as you would expect involves surviving waves of increasingly difficult attackers. It’s not a bad inclusion but only really for those who still aren’t satisfied after the lengthy campaign.
From a technical standpoint Demons of the Past just about holds up considering it’s still using an engine from 2006 – but only just. It’s a little buggy here and there, and the camera isn’t very intuitive but it manages to hold it together for this last push before the inevitable Spellforce 3.The maps have a decent amount of detail, as do the character models but the animations are little clunky. The sound design is the usual clash of steel, war cries and unit responses against a backdrop of atypical rousing orchestral scores. Not bad but nothing inspired – but kudos to the devs for making the ageing engine passable in this day and age.
VERDICT: Spellforce 2: Demons of the Past is a difficult beast and probably the wrong place to start for those interested in getting into the series. The mature narrative is tough to follow this late on, and the learning curve is certainly steep and not helped by the game’s lack of interest in teaching you the most basic of concepts. The tutorial videos included offer little help, and are simply low quality videos of gameplay with some voice-over explanations. They are boring, unengaging and do a poor job of explaining the advanced game functions. The RPG/RTS mix is both a blessing and a curse offering some unique gameplay but ultimately not worth the trouble it brings.
It’s hard to recommend this game to anyone but die-hard Spellforce fans who no doubt have already picked it up and are more than likely enjoying a return to Eo. Fresh eyes to the series will notice the obvious flaws and signs of ageing much more, so it may be best for the uninitiated to skip this concluding chapter and wait for the next full release.
AVERAGE. The epitome of a 50/50 game, this title will be unspectacular but inoffensive, charmless but amiable. We aren’t condemning a game by scoring it a 5, but we certainly aren’t championing it, either.
Review code provided by publisher.