I miss real-time strategy games in the mainstream. I know they’re still around, but we haven’t had a title like Warcraft III or Starcraft in a long time—Warcraft III Remastered and Starcraft 2 notwithstanding. One of my fondest real-time strategy memories was playing Warcraft III on a crappy laptop, and one of my favorite campaigns was in the Frozen Throne expansion: “The Founding of Durotar.” Spellforce 3: The Fallen God is probably the closest I’ve come to that, and now I’m wondering why it took me so long to check out the Spellforce series.
Spellforce 3: Fallen God is a standalone expansion to Spellforce 3—which I haven’t played. But that doesn’t seem to matter, since Spellforce 3: Fallen God doesn’t really require prior knowledge to jump into. It’s a real-time strategy game with some role-playing game elements where you play as a Troll clan that is forced from their lands by hunters and disease. You guide a group of hero units through story missions, with base building not a central focus in every mission.
The trolls of Spellforce 3: Fallen God remind me a lot of the Orcs from Warcraft—which is probably obvious. I have to admit, I’m completely new to the Spellforce series, so forgive any ignorance I might have of the lore. What I gathered from my playthrough is this: you’re the new chieftain of the Moonkin tribe, but Instead of brainless, bloodthirsty trolls, the Moonkin trolls are noble—if still a bit bloodthirsty. The game really likes to shape the narrative as noble savages, but keep their sacrificial blood rituals in place. They worship a god called Mugwa—who bestows them with power. You’re not really playing as “the bad guys” despite the troll’s brutish appearance. But playing as the trolls feels appropriately powerful—guiding an army of these giant creatures feels like you’re driving a steamroller over enemy settlements.
I haven’t before played Spellforce’s brand of RTS, but in Spellforce 3: Fallen God the real-time strategy elements are about what you’d expect, with a little twist: the map has control points you have to conquer, and you’re only allowed to build in areas you control. This isn’t unique, but it adds a dynamic sense of urgency to map control with AI opponents. The rest of the real-time strategy bits involve building specific buildings to recruit certain units. Other buildings work to further specialize units. For instance, if you train a vanilla troll grunt, you can send him to the “Hitting Camp” to specialize them in a number of different roles.
One of the things I really appreciate bout Spellforce 3: Fallen God’s brand of real-time strategy is its easing of micromanagement. What I mean by this is the fact that worker units will just automatically gather resources from the world around them. Workers will build structures you place, and complete most other tasks automatically. This doesn’t take away the need to secure resource nodes, but these resource nodes are usually tied somehow to the entire zone. But, if you haven’t captured the zone, you can go in and stealth capture resources. Spellforce 3: Fallen God isn’t the most complex real-time strategy, either. It doesn’t have super complicated tech trees that require memorizing optimal paths. Every upgrade is (mostly) a straight line.
Spellforce has traditionally been a series about mixing role-playing and real-time strategy styles of gameplay. Spellforce 3: Fallen God does this, too—and does it well. There is loot to collect, which you can outfit your characters with. Changing gear often changes your heroes’ appearance—something I don’t encounter much with real-time strategy/role-playing hybrids. Hero units are powerful, and can be revived directly on the battlefield when downed—making them really hard to kill. That’s not to say that you’re impervious, but you’re given a group with pretty good synergy from the start, with a tank, healer and a couple of heavy damage dealers that can take care of enemy encampments by themselves—with the right skills and gear.
I enjoyed the story of Spellforce 3: Fallen God, but it doesn’t really stand out as a reason by itself to play the campaign. I guess my complete unfamiliarity with the Spellforce franchise gave me the impression of just another generic fantasy setting—but Spellforce’s lore shouldn’t be discounted. There has been almost twenty years of Spellforce—with Spellforce 3 releasing in 2017, and another standalone expansion Spellforce 3: Soul Harvest releasing last year. My point is: Spellforce has a surprisingly detailed world—even if it’s one that contains a lot of common fantasy tropes. But Spellforce 3: Fallen God never made me, at any point, pay much attention to its story beyond my current task. Taking place 500 years before the original Spellforce and its cataclysmic shattering of the world, its setting is about as mundane fantasy as there is. Still, the world building is solid—and the character designs are superb.
I absolutely love Spellforce 3: Fallen God’s graphics. They’re not groundbreaking, but they’re an evolution in real-time strategy visuals that I would have expected had Blizzard stayed on its original course. There was a mission relatively early in the campaign that has you repairing a bridge over a chasm, and tropical birds flew overhead giving it an excellent sense of scale. It’s one of the few real-time strategy games that make buildings feel like they’re closer to their correct size, even despite the trolls’ towering size. And that is something I should note: the trolls are huge. At first I thought the camera perspective was a bit whack, because I couldn’t zoom out—but after seeing non-troll units I just realized I was commanding an army of absolute units.
Spellforce 3: Fallen God can be played solo or with up to two friends—either in the campaign mode, the Old-Hallayash scenario—or in skirmish versus modes. When you play with friends through the campaign, you’ll each take control of hero trolls. Friends can also be given permission to control the army as a whole, including gathering resources, training units, building structures, etc-or have that permission taken from them.
In addition to the Fallen God scenario, solo players can also play the Old-Hallayash scenario which is a prequel to Spellforce 3’s main campaign. I was so caught up in the Fallen God campaign that I nearly forgot about the other scenario. In it, you play as the Queen’s Wolf Guard, tasked to recover an artifact before a group of rebel mages get it. You play as humans—which are incredibly tiny compared to the trolls I spent so much time as before—but I never finished this scenario, after the dozen or so hours I spent in Fallen God. If you wanted a taste of the other races in Spellforce 3, you won’t need to buy Spellforce 3 or the other standalone expansion, Spellforce 3: Soul Harvest. You can play humans, elves, and orcs in skirmish mode—though if you want to play as the dark elves or dwarves you’ll have to own Spellforce 3.
Spellforce has always fashioned itself a role-playing game before real-time strategy. It’s really a pretty even hybrid—and that means lots of story, and lots of dialogue. That brings me into my chief complaint about Fallen God–the voice acting and dialogue boxes. Oh man, why do the dialogue boxes have to have a “skip dialogue” button that is small and annoying to click? I wish I could just click through dialogue as I read it, instead of having to chase chat bubbles over various characters’ heads as they speak.
Spellforce 3: Fallen God is a remarkable standalone. You don’t need to have played Spellforce 3 to get what’s happening—though the setting does tend to feel a little generic. But playing as the trolls feels great—you’re big, powerful brutes that can plough through enemies while using hexes and totems to help defeat your foes. I really dig its art style, and Fallen God even manages to be impressive looking from time-to-time. If you want a real-time strategy or role-playing fix, you could do worse than Spellforce 3: Fallen God.
Spellforce 3: Fallen God is available now on Steam.
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