Spellforce 2: Faith in Destiny is the latest game in the long running Spellforce series which started back in late 2003. Just like it's predecessors, Spellforce 2: Faith in Destiny is a combination of real-time strategy and roleplaying. Can the game still feel fresh after 5 previous releases and does it have enough new stuff to make fans of the previous titles once again venture into the perilous lands of Eo, the fantasy world of Spellforce?
The story is your average fantasy 'an ancient evil rises and the only one capable of destroying it is you' crap that is neither gripping nor interesting. I'll just sum it up for you: the story begins when a new threat, abruptly name the Nameless, rises in the world of Eo. To thwart this threat our hero, a Shaikan sworn to protect the world from all evil, sets out to unite the races of Eo in an effort to save the world from destruction and enslavement. In order to achieve this, he must fix the portal system that connects the 4 main islands of the world to be able send armies where they are most needed. During this perilous journey, our hero finds out that the destiny has something in store for him... Feel like you've heard it before? The story is driven by cut-scenes made with the not-so-impressive game engine. Characters just stand there talking and waving hands, some minor NPCs mouths don't even move. Sometimes cut-scenes trigger in the middle of a fight and the enemy keeps attacking your characters while they chat away. Very ridiculous. And of course after the cut-scene it's game over since your characters are dead.
The game can be played as an isometric strategy or in a way that's similar from MMORPGs; directly controlling your avatar from a 3rd person perspective. Playing the game in the 'RPG mode' didn't really feel comfortable so I stick with playing it from the isometric view. Even though you can select how many steps the camera zoom has (either 3 or 8), you can't zoom it very far so you'll never get a good view of your surroundings. Either way you choose to play the game, you travel across lands figting enemies, collecting loot and, eventually, building a base to gather an army big enough to destroy all who stand in your way. You can also get quests from NPCs that reward you with extra experience and items. Most of these quests have you strolling to the other side of the big maps found in the game. Luckily, there are journey stones that can be activated and allow you to quickly travel to another spot on the map. You'll also be able to mount a dragon later in the game, which is the only real new feature when compared to the previous title in the series.
Your avatar isn't alone; most of the time he's accompanied by heroes and companions. Your party gains experience from completing quests and killing groups of enemies scattered across the maps. Sometimes the quest triggers didn't work even though I had the correct object in my inventory. Enough experience and your party gains a level allowing you to distibute a single skill point to your skills which are divided into three categories; Combat, Shaikan and Magic. Combat skills are your basic equipment-related skills; some enable you to use certain types of armor for example. Shaikan skills are related to your character and allow you to wield the power of your people. Magic is also pretty basic; direct damage, heal, support and other familiar spells. To be able to use the higher tier skills, you first need to allocate some points to lower tier skills in the same category. You can also select to allocate the skill points for your heroes but companions use automatic skill point allocation. Overally the skill system is pretty good and allows variety in the way you develop your character.
As I stated before, the game (as any other RPG to date) has loot. Most of the loot consists of weapons and armor but there are also ingredients that can be taken to a smith who can make you new weapons from them. Some of these ingredients are pretty ridiculous, there's even the remains of a destroyed house (!). The equipment in the game have lots of statistics and abilities; armors have basic armor class representing how much damage it protects from but also things like extra hit points, protection from certain types of damage, extra health regeneration and others. It's the same with weapons, they have a basic number representing how much damage they do but also tons of other stuff; extra magical damage, stun, you name it. This makes equipment selection a bit tedious and time consuming. You can also change the equipment for your heroes but companions equipment can't be changed. Excess equipment can be sold to merchants who also sell you new ones.
Once you've spent enough time figuring out the best equipment for your character(s), it's time to put the equipment to the test. Battles in Spellforce 2: Faith in Destiny are fought real time. You select the enemy unit you want to attack with your mouse and your character starts attacking it. Sounds simple? But it isn't. The units are extremely hard to click on making battles a pain in the ass. Luckily (most of the time) your companions and units automatically attack any enemy that's within range. During a battle, you can use your character's skills and spells by clicking on them in the toolbar. All abilities have a cooltime period, during which they can't be used. Using the right abilities in the right spot is the key to victory when exploring a map without an army of units. If you get killed, you have a few minutes to resurrect your character with your hero or it's game over. Same goes for your heroes; your avatar must resurrect them or it's loading time. There's also a building that can be constructed that allows you to resurrect your characters and return them to base.
Usually a campaign mission ends when you build a base and destroy the Nameless base found on the island. Base construction reminds me of Warcraft; you have craftsmen who build structures and harvest the three resources found in the game: stone, silver and Lenya. Stone is used to build structures and upgrade old ones, silver is used to recruit new units from the headquarters and Lenya is used to resurrect your fallen avatar and heroes. There aren't that many different structure types, which is a good thing since it keeps base building simple. There's no limit to where you can place a structure. This came very evident in a skirmish match I played; the enemy AI built it's stonemason in the middle of my base! The resource gathering takes a lot of time and since you can't change the game speed, most of the 20+ hours that you spend in the singleplayer campaign is spent waiting for your craftsmen to collect resources. Have a good book ready if you decide to purchase this game. Once you get the resources flowing in and are satisfied with your base defenses, it's time to start recruiting an army.
There's a limit to how many units you can have and you can increase the number of unit slots by building farms. Each of the 5 factions (Realm, Pact, Clan, Shaikan and Nameless) has different types of units but they are cast from the same mold. You have your basic warriors and long range shooters but also larger (and usually flying) units like dragons. Ultimately (with a fully upgraded headquarters) you can recruit a huge, god-like unit that can destroy an enemy base all by itself. Bigger and better units cost more unit slots so you're faced with a tough decision: should I recruit more weaker units or concentrate on the bigger ones? The units operate much like your avatar and heroes but they only possess automatic skills, like extra fire damage. Units can also be upgraded from their respective buildings but these upgrades only affect new units. If you manage to withstand the relentless attacks by the enemy and have gathered big enough army, it's time to get rid of the Nameless for good.
As I mentioned before, target selection is a bitch, especially when controlling an army. This really gets on your nerves especially when trying to knock down the enemy's big hitter first. You just end up sending an unit of 10 dragons fighting off a single swordsman. Extremely irritating. This problem is circumvented with your own units by the handy group creation toolbar. The enemy is very brutal and I think the beginning difficulty level selection makes no difference whatsoever. I constantly ended up with my base completely destroyed and had to revert back to an older save. With cheap tricks and some trial-and-error (not to mention saving a lot and on different slots) the game is beatable but I don't recommend anyone playing on any other difficulty then the easiest one. Too bad skirmish matches don't even offer the ability to change the difficulty. There's also a Domination game mode available for singleplayer. In Domination, you and your enemies fight over the control of certain key areas in the maps. But because of the ability to build anywhere, these matches are always the same; all players rush to a control point and build it full of defensive towers. This game mode doesn't have any collectable resources and all players start with a set amount of resources. Players can also form teams in the game set-up screen.
After you've had it with the overly difficult AI, it's time to get your ass kicked in multiplayer. The multiplayer has the same game modes as the singleplayer (skirmish and Domination) but there's also Free Game, which is sort of a sandbox for players. No rules, no objectives, just players building their bases and eventually facing off in epic battles. The same thing that bothers with singleplayer is present in multiplayer: players can build practically anywhere. When facing a player who has some experience with the game under his/hers belt, you'll get your arse handed to you in a record time. Not very enjoyable. Unlike most modern games, Spellforce 2: Faith in Destiny supports LAN multiplayer. This is very good news for anyone with a slow internet connection or download limits. Unfortunately this also means that some buccaneers from the Caribbean will also be very pleased, if you get my drift.
There's also a map editor so you can make your own maps to be used in singleplayer skirmishes or multiplayer matches. Too bad the editor crashes like hell so it's practically useless.
The graphics engine is very old, the game uses the same engine as the previous games. This means that the graphics look like they're from the early 00's but on the bright side the game runs on almost any PC today, thanks to the shader model 1.1 minimum requirement. The manual mentiones that the game is playable even with GeForce 4 series cards! Needless to say, my rig ran the game extremely smooth. The game is extremely bugged. Few times after loading an automatic save, the camera was stuck inside a mountain and I had to load a previous save, losing a couple of hours playtime.
Overally the game feels, looks and even plays like it was released 10 years ago. I had to check GD for the release date just to make sure the developers weren't pulling my leg. This combined with the horrible, game stopping bugs and awful difficulty ensure that this game won't be taking up space from my HDD for long. If they get the bugs out and tweak the difficulty a bit, this game deserves 6/10 for a mediocre, old-school RTS/RPG fun. At it's current state, I can't recommend this game for anyone.