Iíll assume in writing this review that readers have already played Spellforce, since you need the original RTS/RPG game (The Order of Dawn) to play this addition.
Iím happy to say that this add-on to the excellent Spellforce is as good as the previous instalment, The Breath of Winter (BoW)
, and in some ways surpasses it. One of the gripes I had with BoW was that you couldnít import avatars from the original game, so had to start from scratch with a puny fledgling, which was often annoying. Phenomic have amended this situation with SotP, so you can start off with a mighty level 25-30 avatar; i.e. the one you ended up with at the end of BoW or the original, The Order of Dawn (TOoD)
. Youíre warned from the off that if you choose to import a previously created avatar the game will be set at a more difficult level, but I still found it easier to play than the early levels of BoW, when the deficiencies of my avatar really got on my nerves. With SoTP your avatar can go up to level 50. Then see the fur fly!
Another good thing is that SotP is jam packed with quests and sub quests; thereís a massive amount of things to do. It might only have fourteen levels, but they are nicely fleshed out, and it feels as if the production team have really spent a lot of time on making this add-on a worthy addition to the Spellforce stable. It doesnít feel rushed or spare, as some add-ons can. You can revisit scenarios multiple times to get new quests and surprises, and the decisions you make concerning various interactions with characters affect how your game will progress. I like this, because it means you can play the campaign again and again, importing different pre-saved avatars perhaps, or just making different choices in game.
Presuming you import an avatar from BoW, you start off still encumbered with the Shadowblade, a powerful weapon with downsides. You re-encounter the Masked One, a character who popped up occasionally in BoW, and start off by Ďworkingí for him. Quickly, you discover heís not the best of bosses to have. I canít say much more because of plot-spoiling, but as Spellforce has proved in its previous instalments, first the story goes one way, then it twists and goes another. Youíll sometimes fight alongside allied characters, and sometimes fight alone. Some of the maps involve the building of settlements, while others are played just with you and your rune monument heroes. Pretty much the same formula as before, but with lots of new locations, new rune heroes to acquire, and another blisteringly good soundtrack.
One thing I do still wonder about though is that you acquire lots of spells and equipment of greatly higher level than your avatar. For example, by the tenth map my avatar was level 44. None of his main stats went above 11, yet I was picking up things for stat levels 19 and so on. Even by the end of the game, I still didnít have stats anywhere near those levels. How does anyone ever get that far, since no avatar can go beyond level 50? This is perhaps because I try to give my avatar some fighting skills as well as magic skills. I presume if you ignored either might or magic, you might be able to level up to 19 in some areas, but to me the demands of the game make that unfeasible. You need a fair balance to make your avatar effective. Other players might disagree, and the way a person plays is certainly idiosyncratic. This, of course, is one of Spellforceís strengths. The game unfolds as you choose to play it. Your decisions are critical.
Something that makes SotP different to the previous two instalments of Spellforce are the mass of puzzles you encounter in the tenth level of the Clockwork Crypts. Iím not too sure how successful this is, since I would have got extremely frustrated had I not visited the Spellforce forum and acquired a walkthrough for this level. For example, if you have to solve a puzzle that involves the pushing of 9 levers, in 3 sets of 3, into the right combination, it could take you forever to work it out (and there are 8 of these lever sets too). Thatís one of the easier puzzles. I like the idea, but I do think some clues along the way would have been better. Itís cheating to get a walkthrough, but honestly, how many people would be happy to sit and work through a myriad of combinations to get a door to open or a trap to disappear? So, not too impressed with this part of the game, although I appreciate what the developers were trying to do. I think you should perhaps have to face some almighty fight to get crucial information about each puzzle, but the opportunity should be there. As it stands, it isnít. There is also one part of the map that I just canít get to, with no clues as to why the last unopened door wonít open. I get the feeling that some players will just get bored by this level and give up.
Another thing that I think could have been better is the actual story behind SoTP. Although there are the previously mentioned plot twists, your avatar is generally the victim of others, bound by the rune, ordered about by higher forces, with very little free will. This occurs mainly if you play with a BoW character. Iíve completed the whole game with a BoW avatar and have started again with an avatar imported from TOoD. This time, my avatar isnít being pushed around like a helpless pawn so much Ė yet! I hope that the storyline for Spellforce 2, when it eventually appears, gives all avatars more freedom and flexibility. The story is certainly not one of Spellforceís strongest points and would benefit from slightly more creativity. It's the same old story of good versus evil, and could do with a new twist.
Spellforce is one of my favourite games, so again despite a few gripes, I have to give it a high mark. The hours fly by while you're playing, and I always have to drag myself away from it reluctantly to do things like sleep and eat. Itís doubtful that any game could fulfil all criteria to create your perfect playing experience, and Spellforceís shortfalls are minor, really.