Spellforce: The Order of Dawn is an ambitious project that attempts to mix two different genres. The high fantasy RPG and the Warcraft 3 style RTS, while putting a twist into the gameplay that will have the fans of 3rd person action/adventures like Dungeon Siege drooling lakes of liquid that could fill the pit of despair (located just past the stairs and down the hole, you can't miss it, just pull the lever marked: Don't pull this.)
It's been tried before, but this time I really do think that the developers are on to a winner, because Spellforce allows you to experience the action from 3rd person, as your main avatar. Zooming the camera in really close will win you a traditional view that is offset just behind the avatar, where the cursor or WASD keys can be used to navigate the rather expansive and gorgeous looking environments.
Using the nice and simple, click and fight system, Spellforce allows you to designate a target in the game, see all the actions that can be performed and select one at will. Cast a spell, chop it to bits with a sword or interact in a number of ways. So now you can get the avatar's eye view of the battle, just like you would in a 3rd person action/adventure/rpg - this adds an extra dimension to the gameplay and provides another level of immersion. You can have up to 5 additional heroes that can accompany you on your travels, using items and equipping inventory just like you do.
I don't intend to go too deep into the game this preview, but rest assured there will be a full 'hands on' review when the time comes, since I was a big fan of Warcraft 3 and I liked Dungeon Siege. In addition to the 3rd person elements you also have a complete RTS system in place, capturing monuments in the game allows you to build workers, if you have the correct runes. When I say build, I really mean summon in game terms, as you put the rune into the runeboard - bringing to you a worker or two, then you may start constructing the bare bones of your base.
There's the usual wood, metal, stone, magical essence and food resources to consider when you're establishing a foothold, get a hero monument and if you have hero runes, you may also summon heroes to aid you in battle. They are like your avatar; they have their own skills, equipment and powers. There are various buildings that can aid you in the gathering of resources, these can be garrisoned with up to five specialists in their particular field, as time goes on they develop into seasoned veterans at their craft. Hunting animals, chopping wood, fishing and other tasks. It's obvious from this build of the game that there's a solid RTS element behind the entire fantasy story and flash, it works well and the graphics for the various units/buildings vary from being nice to utterly gorgeous.
It also features a very worthwhile tutorial that not only teaches you the basics of the Spellforce game, but also the RTS side later on. I recommend that you play this tutorial and learn all there is to know. There are numerous sides to use in Spellforce and the MP wasn't active in the build that Games Xtreme have, I eagerly await a build or the retail so that I can get to grips with the whole game, since from this build it looks nice, plays relatively well - a few gameplay glitches here and there, and runs at a fair whack on my machine. 1.8 ghz Athlon with 512mb RAM and a TI4800SE from Gainward (GF4).
It also allows you to customise your avatar, male/female, hair and clothes etc. In that way it's reminiscent of the previously mentioned game Dungeon Siege and works very well, but as this is a preview, I'll leave all that to the full review of the game, where I'm going to go into detail on how it all works, because I can guarantee it will change some until it goes GOLD. The developers have time yet and the game can certainly use a little more polishing, there are side quests and characters to interact with, so in that way it feels more like a traditional RPG, I have high hopes for this one though, the large scale battles and special effects are suitably eye catching and the whole feel of the game is shaping up nicely. The models and animation are pretty well set now and could use a few more tweaks here and there, but on the whole there's a variety of very nicely made units in the game.
This could be the first game to successfully blend the two genres into one, but as they say - the proof of the pudding is in the eating and I can't wait to devour the main course on this game.
Provisionally for those interested in a score, we're looking at the 70-80% band already for this game, it could go higher due to the MP element which sounds truly great.