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SpellForce 2: Demons of the Past

By Azeebo05-02-2014
MrJenssen (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)
SpellForce 2: Demons of the Past

The Defence

Mind Over Matter
Nordic Games
Role Playing, Strategy
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Core 2 Duo 3.2 GHz
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce 560
AMD Radeon HD 6850
2 GB
9 GB

The Case

SpellForce 2: Shadow Wars was originally released back in 2006 and after a seven year dry period with very little in terms of releases, the epic four-part saga finally comes to a close with Demons of the Past. The final expansion. For those who haven’t heard of or played the classic series, SpellForce 2 offers a unique blend of Action-RPG and classic RTS. Kind of the mutant love child spawned from the merging of something like Diablo and Warcraft.

The Trial

You start your epic voyage into the vast unknown in a very basic character creation screen, where you choose your gender and facial appearance before setting off to nab epic loot and do heroic deeds in the name of the Shaikan. This unfortunately is the first sign, of many, that show the game’s age. Character customisation is a big thing in RPGs nowadays, and having next to none of it feels dated. I would have much preferred no options at all and having a more detailed character than a bunch of video game rejects posing as heroes.

Ignore him, he’s just resting.

Ignore him, he’s just resting.

But of course, you are here for the epic tale, the conclusion of the long overdue adventure. The be all and end all. Well...that is not going to happen anytime soon, assuming you can actually follow what is going on with some coherency. The ingame cutscenes are appalling in the opening act. Your character quite literally warps around two different parts of the world talking to dragons, various NPCs and then appears somewhere completely unrelated when it’s all over. It feels rushed, unprofessional and leaves a sour first impression. Luckily everything levels out once you progress a bit, but that opening level is truly jarring.

Since this is the final part of a long running series, there are returning characters for those of you who played the previous instalments. However, newcomers to the series, who chose to begin with this stand-alone title, will likely be completely baffled by the overwhelming number of characters you’re supposed to know from the past. Very little is done to ease you into the world, you’re just dropped in and expected to dance to the developer’s tune the moment you land.

What's worse is just how bland the story actually is. For being the “epic final chapter” to a venerable series, nothing epic actually occurs. Instead of being a grandiose tale, it ends up feeling like you are a delivery man for the realm. You are supposed to be a Shaikan, born from the blood of a dragon, have power over death itself, yet the only thing people seem to do is make you fetch blank bits of paper and run tedious errands to artificially extend the game. Whilst it does pick up pace as you push on, its repetitive nature bogs down the whole narrative.

Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who’s the badassiest of them all?

Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who’s the badassiest of them all?

The story is only half of the game naturally, you still have the famous hybrid gameplay to fall back on, right? Well, yes. And no. Like the story, the gameplay is mindlessly repetitive and, disappointingly, controls like a yacht on land. The RPG segments are average at best, with your avatar and a party of blood-bound followers taking on monsters and collecting loot. It works well enough, but there is very little in terms of rewarding gameplay. Loot drops are pretty darn rare early on, money is oddly scarce and combat is mostly watching badly animated attacks clip through various fantasy enemies. The RTS segments are surprisingly good at first. It takes a classic approach to the genre, very similar to something like Warcraft 3. Building a base feels simple and great. A real nostalgia trip. But nostalgia can only go so far, as the actual large scale combat itself takes “classic” a bit too far. There is no strategy when it comes to commanding armies. You just build the best thing you can over and over, and bum rush the objectives. To help keep things a bit interesting, there are some really cool and unique units you can construct as well. It is always awesome seeing an army of men being led by a massive dragon that literally crushes everything in its path.

What really nails the gameplay however, is the same thing that stopped the story from being enjoyable, and that is the feeling Demons of the Past gives you, of being a delivery man. I am supposed to be a Shaikan! I am over 150 years old, fuelled by the fiery rage of dragons! Why do I have to find somebody’s lost dog? A dog that is, naturally, found in the other side of the whole world? What's more, how do I have time to find this bloody dog when the world is coming an end? Sure it’s an optional side quest, but come on! This is not even the worst offense. A main quest, pivotal to the story progression, has you standing in a line waiting to gain entrance into a city. If I wanted to be given a number and told to wait, I would go to Argos, not play a game.

The visuals give off the same archaic vibe. Massively intrusive UI aside, the game is not pretty. Character models are downright ugly, and when the camera zooms in for the cutscenes, all that “detail” is made ten times worse. The game still works okay, though. The environments in particular look nice, and to explore the varied locations you visit on your journey is surprisingly enjoyable. It is clear that the developers have done a lot to make the old engine look as good as it possibly can, and the inclusion of a day and night cycle helps bring the world to life. But then you hear the game, and that life is immediately extinguished. The voice acting is just downright awful, removing just about any immersion you might have gotten from the game almost instantly.

What do I have to fetch now?

What do I have to fetch now?

When you have finished the main campaign, or when you want to try something different, you can take the game online or against the AI in a couple of modes. First of which is your classic Skirmish. This, for the most part, is the closest thing you are going to get to a traditional RTS. Secondly, you have Domination. Whilst similar to Skirmish, it does add key locations on the map which, as expected, you have to fight over. There is also Free Game, which is a mish mash of the other 2 modes, and is the least strict in terms of how you play. Finally you have Survival, which is exactly what it sounds like. There are two glaring weaknesses to this portion of the game however, the first being that all the issues found in the main game, can be found here. But more importantly, nobody actually plays the game, so finding a party to play with may be more hassle than its worth.

The Verdict

Despite its near endless list of things to dislike about the game, SpellForce 2 is somewhat fun to play in short bursts. It is a nice homage to a time almost long forgotten. If you are a long running fan of the series, then this game is clearly for you, if for the closure alone. But there is no denying the dated nature of the game. Hopefully SpellForce 3 will fix these issues, but as it stands, Demons of the Past is not a game I would recommend picking up any time soon.

Case Review

  • Occasionally Eye-catching: The world sometimes looks great, all things considered.
  • Length: There is a lot of content packed into what is essentially an expansion pack.
  • Average Mechanics: Nothing really stands out.
  • Turn the Volume Down: The voice acting is abysmal.
  • Worst Quests Ever: Finding lost dogs and waiting in line? Really?
  • Repetitive: There is not enough variety to keep you interested for long.
Score: 2.5/5
A disappointing finale to a legendary series.
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