SpellForce II: Demons of the Past is the final chapter in the SpellForce II video game saga. The game is an RPG/Strategy hybrid that is a standalone expansion pack to the SpellForce II video game from a few years back. Because of this, the game has some design sensibilities that may not hold up today, but how does this affect our enjoyment of the game? Read on to find out.
SpellForce II: Demons of the Past continues on after the events of the previous entry in the series and carries along the same elements that players would expect from playing the previous games. It is quite clear that this particular iteration was designed to resembled the same games that players would be familiar with as they have used the same engine and assets as in previous games during the creation of this sequel.
As a player that had never played a SpellForce game before, we found that it was quite difficult to get into. Initially, we were a little thrown off by the dated visuals, but we remembered that this is essentially an expansion pack to a game that has been on the market for a while, so the use of the same engine actually makes a bit of sense given the circumstance. However, we found it odd that the game (we assume) picks up right after the events of the previous game but with a new quest and a new character that may or may not have been your previous character, but certainly behaves as though they should be.
One of the things that we picked up early on was that this game seems to be fully voiced, in that every major character that has a speaking role, indeed has a significant voice over component. One of the things we don’t like about RPG’s these days is that every RPG seems to must need a fully voiced conversation for all of the NPCs. This is a bit bizarre because a lot of players can read pretty quickly and may have finished reading the line before the voice over has even reached half-way. This was certainly true for us, so we found ourselves skipping ahead more often than not, rendering at least 50% of the spoken lines to be skipped.
What was frustrating with SpellForce II: Demons of the Past is that prior to purchasing it, you’re told that the original SpellForce II is not required to play, and while this is true, the expansion makes no attempts at easing you into the game. While the game does have a manual file, somewhere, there is nothing in the game to really assist in you working out how to play. It leads with the assumption that you’ve played the previous entries and are familiar with how things work already.
This makes the game quite punishing in as early as the first mission. At one point, you’re tasked with storming to this lighthouse, and along the way are a bunch of wild monsters to grind on to get XP, items and gold. However, your army consists entirely of grunt units picked up off the streets of a nearby town, meaning they suck pretty bad and are weak. What the game doesn’t tell you at this point in the game is that these are the only units available to you, so if you lose them grinding, you’re pretty much screwed for the assault. There are a few instances like this within the game where if you screw up, you’ll have to reload a save file. There is no recovering. Some gamers will consider this a good thing, but often times, it’s a while before you even realise that you’ve hit an unwinable wall, and an hour of your time has been wasted.
As previously mentioned, SpellForce games are a kind of RPG and Real-Time Strategy hybrid where the player will play as a lead hero character that acts as the center of the story, while also commanding armies of units in campaign battles, but also completing objectives that seem more befitting of an RPG. If you’ve previously played games like Warcraft III, you can expect something similar here to a degree. However, the RPG elements seem a bit stronger within this game.
This is because there is a kind of persistence with your party across the game. For instance, you level up your party, choose skills for your party and even vend items and grind rarer loot from enemies. It’s these RPG elements that handle how your characters feel in battle, and switching between units and fully geared heroes within battles to combine learned abilities through leveling can be integral to your success on the field.
The storyline itself is your typical fantasy fair, with the player having to chase down some otherwordly being that even makes dragons look like bad. Of course, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the story gives the player a purpose to play, a background setting to put the gameplay into motion. Ultimately, it feels like the plot serves to present the gameplay, rather than the gameplay existing to hurry along the plot. Which is a good thing in our books.
Despite a small number of design flaws and a steep learning curve for new players, SpellForce II: Demons Of The Past is a pretty enjoyable game for players that would like stronger RPG elements in their strategy games. The storyline is engaging and the game is actually a challenge. While the dated engine and visuals may put off newcomers to the series, this sequel is certainly interesting enough to get players to check out the previous entries.