The Order of Dawn
Review by Old
I'm nearing the end of my most pleasant gaming surprise this new
year and simply had to pen this review in order to share my enthusiasm.
If you'll forgive the pun, SpellForce, created by the little-know
European developer Phenomic, isin a wordphenomenal.
In a daring approach tried by others, mostly without success, Phenomic
has evolved a blended real-time strategy and role-playing experience,
which they term RPS"Role-Playing Strategy." Accompanying
this novel gameplay approach is a most satisfying and long story,
stunning graphics in a vast world, and a game engine that allows
complete camera movementeven to a third-person "real-world"
perspective. It's hard to believe this is Phenomic's first major
production. Let's chat a bit about the game, hopefully without spoiling
any of your own discoveries.
"Driven by Greed for Divine Power"
In an opening cinematic of which Peter Jackson would be proud,
we are told the tale of thirteen Mages, who, in their vying for
status, have destroyed the land. Shattering all in their path, the
Universe is now comprised of only a few islands, connected by magic
portals. Years later, one of the good Mages, Rohen, attempts to
put the world back together with your help. However, there is also
another Mage hanging aroundthe Dark One, who presents barriers
and obstacles. Your long and arduous quest unfolds within this context.
Although the beautiful 42-page, 5×7-inch manual is clearly
and comprehensively presented, the developers have also included
one of the finest and most complete tutorials I've ever seen. Using
Tahira as your guide, you'll learn the basicscharacter movement,
camera rotation and zoom, building inventory and experience, summoning
heroes to help, NPC conversations, the art of fighting. Initially,
the game and its mechanics can seem a bit overwhelming. But this
fine tutorial, even without the manual, will get you up and running,
as well as adding a dose of encouragement and inspiration to your
SpellForce Is an RPG Because ...
You begin the main campaign by creating a character or choosing
one of the ready-made avatars. Points can be assigned, depending
on the combat orientation of your character, with these areas building
with experience (quests for others and fighting victories) during
the course of the game. There are combat options, schools of magic,
strength, stamina, intelligence, charisma. With the magical path,
for example, over 100 spells are available! There are NPCs to converse
with and merchants to patronize, as well as treasures that are dropped
by defeated creatures and enemies. A quest log, character upgrades,
and inventory are all available at the touch of a button. The game
interface is extremely clear and efficiently laid out.
SpellForce Is an RTS Game Because ...
You need to create an army early in the campaign. Workers are summoned
to build structures for an outpost, in classic RTS fashion (cf.
Warcraft III). You can select and assign groups for various
tasks including, eventually, combat. Settlements will be established
with all of the six different races you encounterhumans, elves,
dwarves (the White side); orcs, trolls, dark elves (the Dark side).
Three basic and four sophisticated raw materials become available.
Specific building plans, needed at particular times, also come your
way. Upgrading and repairing buildings, as well as dealing with
the classic "inactive workers" of RTS games, is also part
and parcel of the RTS aspect of the game. Little pop-up windows,
highlighted by colors, make clear the descriptions of characters
as well as actions available.
Finally, point-and-click fighting, and related movement, is very
reminiscent of RTS games. And you will have a lot of that to do
and enjoy during your 60-plus hours. Phenomic has developed a neat
twist on the typical approach called "Click 'n' Fight."
A simple click on an enemy within range shows all possible actions
that may be performedspells, swordplay, etc. A click on a
specific action is all it takes to complete the attack. From your
avatar fights to large-scale battles, this approach has worked very
nicely, saving considerable time, effort, and even possible premature
death! These battles are particularly enjoyable to observe in the
third-person perspective, where the game world looks more vibrant
and "alive." The included pictures show my battle with
the Minotaur, Gronz, a nasty fellow. Included is a three-quarters
perspective and also a terrifying ground-level third-person view.
This proved to be costly, since Gronz destroyed my camera before
I finally brought him down.
"A Very Special Rune Lies Concealed"
There's so much more that can be said about SpellForce. Interactive
runes and monuments become essential along the wayto activate
heroes, save your game, transport to other land fragments. A Stone
of Souls can be activated to be a fallback stop (save) if your avatar
is defeated in battle. Interesting side quests are presented, but
not all are necessary. A day-and-night cycle adds a great deal to
the total atmosphere. Your created buildings even have lights in
the evening! The musical score is rousing or soft, depending on
the occasion. Voice acting is uneven, perhaps the only weakness
of SpellForce. Multiplayer is very basic, and there's no
skirmish mode. But replayability is certainly an option, with a
different avatar, skills, quests not completed the first time through.
"Destiny AwaitsGo Forward to Adventure!"
Most of you know by now that, if I err in judgment of a game, it
tends to be on the generous side as compared with other reviewers.
I play (all or part of) dozens of games a year, enjoy them, and
am a real sucker for a good game. Having said that, caveat emptor
and all that stuff, I cannot take any other action than to joyously
award SpellForce our coveted Gold Star. I'll be surprised
if it's not up for some 2004 awards about a year from now.
SpellForce seamlessly blends the essences of role-playing
and real-time strategy into a lengthy, grand and glorious campaign.
Lack of skirmish mode and minimal multiplayer are irrelevant when
we have such an enjoyable and epic story in which our avatar plays
a central role.
For many, SpellForce will seem to be "role-playing
light" and real-time strategy at its most primitive level.
However, the blend of the two works so smoothly in the game that
it's amazing it's not been used in this way before. Perhaps the
greatest compliment I can pay is that I rarely thought: "Oh,
here's the RTS part," or "here's an RPG portion."
Rather, I just let the game carry me along, working with whichever
of the two aspects presented itself. These genre features don't
seem "stuck on" SpellForce, but rather are an integral
part of the game. Why hasn't this been done before? And let's hope
Phenomic does it again!
Very few games lead me to my gaming nirvana: "Suspension of
Disbelief." SpellForce enlisted my involvement and playing
dedication with the incredible opening cinematic, the brilliant
tutorial and, ultimately, the absolutely captivating game adventure
itself. Adventure and RPG enthusiasts are encouraged not to be apprehensive
about the RTS aspects. Destiny awaitsgo forward to adventure!
What I Liked Most About SpellForce
- Stunning graphics, colors, game world;
- An involving and large story to follow;
- Seamless blend of RPG and RTS components;
- Wonderful tutorial and excellent manual;
- Effective camera control, including third-person perspective;
- The "Click 'n' Fight" technique is truly admirable;
- Professionally polished, smooth, bug-free.
What I Liked Least (Not Very Much, Really!)
- Multiplayer is dull, but that isn't why I bought it;
- No skirmish mode, but remember it's not pure RTS;
- Voice acting is uneven, but text is available.
Release Date: February 10, 2004
Four Fat Chicks Links
Pentium III 1 GHz (P4 1.8 GHz recommended)
256 MB RAM (512 MB recommended)
32 MB 3D GeForce 2 video card (64 MB GeForce 4 recommended)
DirectX 9.0a compatible sound card
2 GB free hard disk space
Where to Find It
Prices/links current as of 02/10/04
Links provided for informational purposes only.
FFC makes no warranty with regard to any transaction entered into
by any party(ies).