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Developer:
Phenomic
Publisher: Aspyr
Platform: PC
Release Date: May 05, 2006

by Aaron Slater




SpellForce 2: Shadow Wars is the sequel to the generally well-received SpellForce. While taking from the general successes of the first outings mix of RTS and RPG elements, SpellForce 2 streamlines the system, making it much more accessible, and brings a fresh and enjoyable experience to the PC.


SpellForce 2: Shadow Wars is the story of the world of Eo, which is on the brink of war. It appears that the dark elves are rising up against the many different races that populate the world of Eo, and it has fallen into the hands of the player to unite the many different races against the eminent threat and figure out just what exactly is going on. The world of Eo is a very diverse one, although it is populated with the typical fantasy races, including elves, orcs, trolls, dwarves, and the ilk. For the most part, the races are generally separated from one another, and all have their own politics and history among one another, which creates an interesting political backdrop to the mission of diplomacy the hero initially sets out upon. However, as the game continues, the story really takes off as the adversaries get more diverse and far more detailed, and the environments change from idyllic country cities to vast woods, snowy mountaintops, and much more.


The world of Eo and its inhabitants are all highly detailed. The presentation of this game is very nice, with all of the characters, whether they be the heroes or the multitude of RTS units, being highly detailed and unique. As the game progresses and the player can control troops of different races, it is evident that the design of even the measly foot soldiers was well thought out, as it changes greatly from race to race. The enemies that are fought are also well detailed. Initially, skeletons and wolves will pose a threat, but later on, as the war situation escalates, some truly frightening adversaries will stand in the way. The world itself is also no slouch graphically, with the maps being very detailed and extremely large. Each of the game's individual towns appear different from one another, with different races having different architecture. When building bases, utilizing the RTS elements, the buildings all have a unique look and feel to them depending upon what it is they are producing.


Despite the beautiful world and its intricately adorned populace, it is during combat that the graphics really shine. Arrows fly through the air, fireballs explode, lightning strikes, swords clang, and combatants fall during some of the more epic battles. The battles tend to be very fast paced, and the graphics manage to not only keep up, but masterfully illustrate exactly what is going on in great detail. Although there can be slow-down from time to time when battles get very hectic, the game runs smoothly for the most part, whether zoomed in and traveling down a mountainside path, or with the camera pulled back while an epic battle takes place. On the downside, many of the environments and the inhabitants of them lack originality, as you'll still be fighting through the quaint countryside villages and encountering many of the typical fantasy characters. There is certainly much originality in the locales and enemies as the game progresses, and the usual fantasy trappings are all fully realized graphically, making for a very nice experience, but that does not change that many of the places the player traverses and the people that are met have all been experienced once before. That being said, however, the game still looks absolutely gorgeous.


Aurally, the game is very nice, with some great tracks spread throughout the game. The music most likely will not bother anyone, as the game generally keeps players busy, but even during some of the backtracking the game presents, hearing the soundtrack or the fitting sound effects makes the backtracking seem negligible in comparison to listening to some of the amazing sound work that this game presents. Another very nice feature of this game is the voice acting. Voice acting has pretty much become standard on the PC, especially in RPGs, so it really is not surprising to see a modern release feature it, but the level at which the characters are presented by the voice actors really helps to make Eo seem more real and helps to make the conflict at hand seem much more urgent. All in all, there are no complaints to be had about the audio in SpellForce 2, as the soundtrack, the sound effects, and the voice acting are all commendable efforts at bringing the world of Eo to life.


Great graphics and a pleasant soundtrack can only carry a game so far, however, and gameplay in a title as ambitious as SpellForce 2 can make or break the game. Fortunately, the game deftly handles both the RPG and strategy game mechanics very well. The player will generally control the main character, whom they create at the beginning of the game, and a small party of adventurers known as hero characters. Hero characters are characters that level up, can gain skills through the skill trees (either physical or magic), and can be outfitted with different equipment. They can be controlled in the typical manner of a strategy game, by drawing a box around them with the mouse and clicking where they are to go, what they are to attack, or what they are to activate. The player will receive quests from NPC characters or through events in the game that can be easily accessed from a journal and examined at any time throughout the game, and are then accomplished. If there is a problem with this, it's that equipping and customizing characters rarely feels necessary. There never seems to be much difference in equipping a weapon that does ten or twenty more damage over another that might have a freezing bonus for the most part of the game, and especially in the big battles, the trivial numbers assigned to equipment do little to differentiate. In the end, updating equipment is necessary, but there is very little reason to customize any further than basic upgrades.


The controls for the strategy aspects of the game are a bit more elaborate. Periodically, a mission or a set of quests will require more than just the heroes' strength, and will require the player to create an army and send them into battle to help the heroes. When this occurs, the game really seems to go into full swing, as it becomes very complex, the difficulty tends to be much higher, and the overall experience is more fulfilling. The controls are typical to any strategy game, and although it is a strategy and RPG hybrid, there is quite a bit of diversity in the units. There are several units throughout the entirety of the game, with different armies having different types of troops, but as the game progresses, the types of units the player can command become more powerful, diverse, and generally fun to use. Whether it be the typical soldiers on horseback, or a pack of mystical winged coeds, strategy will be required and fun will be had. The player must also manage resources (three types, all of which can be harvested from the environment), as well as maintain a base. There are defensive structures that can be built, as well as buildings that can be used to increase harvesting skills and create new types of troops. Buildings can be upgraded to increase their efficiency or to create better units, and the controls for all of this are the standard real-time strategy controls that have become a mainstay in the genre, and work perfectly. All things considered, while the RPG and party aspects of the game are fun, it is when the RTS elements of the game come into play that SpellForce 2 really picks up the pace and shows what it is capable of.


SpellForce 2 can, however, be a difficult game to get into, and some pacing issues in the beginning sections of the game may deter players from continuing into it. The initial tutorial level feels painfully slow, and although it is worked well into the storyline and does gradually get more complex, it still feels all too easy. Even the early stages of the game do little to really challenge the player, and it will not be until a few hours in that the game really stops holding the player's hand and offers a straight up challenge. Fortunately, the game picks up the pace and from there on out there are a fare share of interesting storyline twists, epic battles, and incredible landscapes to traverse, that more than make up for the rather slow pace of the opening act.


SpellForce 2 is an ambitious effort, and a definite success. Conveying an interesting story with beautiful graphics, great voice acting, a nice soundtrack, and a tight control scheme, very few flaws are to be found in SpellForce 2. Although it does have some high system requirements and requires a bit of an investment to get to the real heart of the game, once it gets going it rarely lets up and provides an engaging and adventurous trip through a large fantasy world.


Final Grade: 90%


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