SpellForce 3: Reforced Review | Do Not Underestimate the Re-force

SpellForce 3: Reforced Review

Let me just get this out of the way: if you are a SpellForce fan and are looking for a review that compares SpellForce 3 on consoles to its PC predecessors, then this is not what you’re looking for. Not only have I not played other games in the SpellForce series but I have also never played a game with this unique genre mixture. If you’re in the same boat as me, however, and are wondering if you can jump into Reforced without prior credentials, then I am not only happy to say that you can, but I would also go out of my way to recommend that you do.

Despite being the third game in the series, SpellForce 3 is actually a prequel to the first game, SpellForce: The Order of Dawn and tells the story of the son of Isamo Tahar, an evil mage that started a rebellion against the crown. After a lengthy prologue introduces you to the controls, the main campaign picks up eight years later, skipping over the Mage Wars that followed, as Tahar Jr works with the famed Wolf Guard to deal with Bloodburn, a disease that has been killing people in a nearby town. As the truth unravels and your investigation continues, you find that there's a lot more to the mysterious disease than meets the eye. (Or should I say ear?) You lead Tahar and his friends to go on RPG-style missions that require you to explore a given area, take out groups of enemies, and complete objectives, as well as RTS-style ones where you have to lead an army of warriors to battle for dominance of specific regions.

Right from the get-go, the game weaves different storylines together and it lives up to its RPG characteristics by making them complex and (mostly) meaningful. On that note, I guess we can tackle this game as an RPG first. Like I said, dialogue choices feel meaningful and it is always nice to see something you went out of your way to experience come back (however subtle) in a conversation much later. I liked how deep the game felt and small touches like having history narrated on the loading screens allowed me to take in bite-sized chunks of lore as I played without feeling overwhelmed or like I needed to read a history textbook beforehand. This is all to say, the game is at its best when you're twenty hours in and are no longer simply trying to understand character names but more so focused on who lives, who dies, and who is allying with who. The evolution and demise of certain characters, some of which rests in Tahar's hands, made me put down my controller several times as I contemplated what is to be done.

SpellForce 3: Reforced Gameplay

SpellForce 3 has good-but-not-great character customization options at the start along with further character build variety added through in-game skill trees. This allows you to unlock special abilities for your heroes that can be used in combat via one of the game's many radial menus. The game also has full voice acting which both helps and hurts the RPG experience in my opinion. The voice acting is really solid all around and it made me want to go through all the available dialogue options and hear what other characters had to say. On the other hand, Tahar's dialogues are delivered in a seemingly deliberate way that makes role-playing as certain types of characters hard. If you're someone who plays RPGs in a more vanilla form, then that isn't a problem for you.

When it comes to the RTS mechanics, it all made sense to me as a newcomer, but I did find it hard to manage the armies effectively, which made me shamelessly lower the difficulty to prevent myself from getting too frustrated. On the other hand, experienced RTS players will likely find the mechanics in the game to be underwhelming. It's all about perspective. The adaptation of PC controls to the controller was a point of much speculation in the community leading up to the console release, and, yes, while it is a bit overwhelming at times, I think it is the best that can be done with the controller. A lot of actions, particularly in the RTS sections, require the use of multiple buttons, and it's easy in the early hours to fumble your moves. Luckily the game has a "restart" option in the pause menu that loads the last save with ease, a feature that I wish was also extended for quicksaving. (Writer's Note: save scumming is key here!)

There's a variety of side quests for you to tackle as well. Recently, I had gotten into the habit of playing side quests only when I needed a break from the main storyline. (See: my review for Just Cause 3.) But thanks to the aforementioned solid performances from the voice cast and the game's choice of auto-playing dialogues when you are near side quest characters worked together to lure me into doing side quests entirely out of curiosity. There I was in Everlight, making my way to find a golem with a soul when I hear a woman begging her husband to listen to her. When he refuses, she storms off. My interest was piqued already so I approached him, only to find out he was a mage smuggler and that there's a messed-up vigilante running around the city that kidnapped two of his clients. My golem hunt was now replaced by a quest to stop a mage-hating Batman and his disciples. And the side quest goes even more intriguing from there, largely thanks to that voice acting I talked about. (For those wondering, I did return to the golem quest and it was also just as good.)

SpellForce 3: Reforced Next-Gen Review

Next comes the sound. Have I already mentioned the game has great voice acting? Yes? Okay, then let's skip the to music. The soundtrack in SpellForce 3 is excellent. It has just the right amount of chanting to feel epic and it fills you with a wonderful sense of curiosity as you travel around Eo. Like seemingly every epic fantasy score after 2001, it borrows from Lord of the Rings, but in a way that works well for its own world. I actually wrote this review while listening to the score, and it may or may not have influenced how much I like the game from an auditory perspective alone. Click here to listen to it for yourself as you you read. Regarding design, the game has proximity-based sound design, meaning you don't hear much other than character dialogue when you're zoomed out, but push in and the world starts to feel a bit more alive. You can hear woodcutters chopping away at wood, swords clashing in the heat of battle, and other small auditory details that round out the sound palette.

As for the visuals, SpellForce 3: Reforced can look great at times with a lot of detail packed into some of the game's large environments. When you zoom in, to listen to the sounds of battle perhaps, you may notice some unusual overlap in effects or some not-so-high-resolution textures, but with the speed at which the game moves and with a lack of real-time pausing, you won't have much time to notice those. While the game's graphics stand well on their own, it is the pairing of the visuals with good presentation that makes it better. It doesn't ever look like a AAA game, even on the Xbox Series X where I played it, but what this team of 40 developers has done is quite impressive. I really put my film degree to good use here as I panned across and around the game's maps as my heroes traveled on their quests. Assuming you aren't doing 360s above the map as you try to find the next objective, the game is really atmospheric. Yes, the voice acting is good, and so is the music, and the graphics are fine, I've said all that, but when you walk into the Creator's Guild and hear the sound of people walking around the hall, voices echoing as you speak, music welling in the background, it brings the game to life. It's at times like that, when everything comes together, that the game is at its most intense, badass, and memorable.

The transfer to console isn't entirely flawless on a technical front, however, because the game does have some unfortunate hiccups. Towards the start of my journey, after the prologue, I came across a bug that seemed to be triggered by having the character screen open before a cutscene. This led to two crashes, the first of which made me lose enough progress to scare me into saving every few minutes on my own for the remainder of my time with the game. The next notable glitch is in The Lost City, where certain areas can cause weird lighting effects or make the camera to look into nothing as you simply move your camera around. I came across a similar lighting bug when in the character menu too. The last one worth reporting has to do with the group select option. The game allows you to group certain heroes and soldiers together to re-select them later, and for some odd reason, the fourth group in my list stretched endlessly on my screen and never ended up recalling the selections I saved. None of these were game-breaking per se, though I'd imagine I would feel different if the crash that made me lose progress happened at a more pivotal point in the story.

SpellForce 3: Reforced Console Review

I cannot end this review from an informative standpoint without talking about one final thing. You see, as SpellForce 3 made the jump to console, it brought with it some extra content. There are two additional DLCs called Soul Harvest and Fallen God. These are both purchasable pieces of content that THQ Nordic claims will each give you an extra 20+ hour campaign. I have not played these and before you run off to pick them up after beating the main campaign, you should first explore the two other modes that the game comes packaged with. First, is Arena Mode, which is best described as a rogue-like horde mode where you fight against endless waves of enemies and try to beat other player's scores. The second is Journey Mode, which lets you create your own hero, now with any of the six available races, and lets you play through another 20+ hours of content, including PvP skirmishes.

Lastly, I can't end this review from a personal standpoint without talking about how much I enjoyed this game. As a newcomer to this genre remix, I did have some worries about starting SpellForce 3, and despite some frustrations and quirks, I am very glad that I chose to play it anyways. More so than the gameplay, which I did grow to learn and appreciate, the story is what pushed me forward. I liked meeting new characters and seeing them grow over the runtime of the game. Eo is an interesting backdrop for all of this and the political, racial, and economical tensions that seem so high throughout the land added a level of depth that I found to be effective. Due to all this, I found myself sinking hours upon hours into the game without even noticing. Getting involved with the drama, be it in the main quest or a side one, and not wanting to put down the controller.

Which is all to say, if you are new to the SpellForce series and are wondering if you can jump in at the third entry, yes, you absolutely can. SpellForce 3 is an impressive and immersive game to play. The story is engaging and additional modes pad out the potential playtime even further. The Reforced version does a fine job at making it all accessible to console players, but playing a game of this genre will feel a bit awkward on the controller no matter how you bind it. The game can be daunting, in size and complexity for new players, but the game also gives you ample reasons to keep pushing forward. Don't feel scared to lower the difficulty until you get a hang of the game because this will vastly improve your enjoyment in the long run. SpellForce 3: Reforced is out now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. A review code for the Xbox was provided by the publisher. Click here to watch me play through the prologue.

SpellForce 3: Reforced | 8 | Great

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