By: Casey Curran
Despite the large number of Western RPGs on the market, there always seems to be some with a more traditional take on the genre. Most offer combat reminiscent of an action game or shooter, while a few have a more strategy-focused take, similar to games like Baldur’s Gate and the first two Fallout entries. SpellForce 2: Demons of the Past is a game that harkens back to these types of games, with an interesting twist of turn-based strategy segments. Unfortunately, a few issues make this RPG a little lackluster.
SpellForce 2 runs a standard point-and-click interface familiar to anyone who has played a WRPG made before Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Everything single action is done by clicking, from moving to selecting attacks. What brings this approach down the most is the lack of hotkeys.
This makes activating special powers a lot more tedious as you have to bring the mouse down to the key bar then click your target. This is only made worse by how the angles of the game either make enemies small and hard to target or gives a less-than-ideal view of the battlefield. Another bizarre design choice is how left clicking an item brings up a description automatically. This always forces you to drag over your party members after, which can get pretty tedious.
While having an interface similar to games made 10 years ago is not inherently bad, having graphics from that era is a lot less acceptable. SpellForce 2 looks very basic and bland, with a boring color palette that does nothing to help its graphics. Many retro throwback games have been able to overcome this; the difference is those games look retro, SpellForce 2 looks old. The game’s incredibly long load times (about as long as the initial load time for The Last of Us and GTA V) make this a very low payoff for such a long wait.
Voice acting is okay by video game standards, meaning it is passable at best. If you have not played the last game, however, this will not matter much as the story does a poor job of providing context to those who have not played the first game. I was lost through most of the opening of the story.
Demons of the Past is about as mixed of a bag as games come. Its greatest strength is definitely its leveling system. There is a good variety of skills to pick, each of which is balanced pretty well and fun to play in its own right. The game even takes an interesting approach where the party shares skill points, offering a unique freedom in how you approach leveling up. While it does offer a greater potential to shoot yourself in the foot, the extra depth it provides far outweighs this shortcoming.
In terms of combat, the control issues mentioned above seriously hurt the experience. However, the core mechanics are fairly fun, offering a good variety of options. The game is also well balanced based on what difficulty you select, so you can be challenged just about the right amount no matter what your skill level. This is not enough to overcome how tedious the interface is, but the core combat is still good. The game itself will last around 10-12 hours, which may seem short for an RPG, but given the budget price this is a fairly good amount of content.
Real-time strategy portions are also offered to mix things up. Do not expect a Starcraft level of depth, however, as these are as bare bones as RTS gets. I was able to beat every challenge on my first try just by gathering resources and building the most obvious of units until I had enough to send them for an attack. There was no planning of surprise attacks or adjusting to tricky A.I. patterns, which made these do nothing more than break up the RPG segments. Multiplayer is offered for these segments, but the options are too limited for this to be something to invest many hours into.
SpellForce 2: Demons of the Past is not terrible, but its merits just barely outweigh its faults. Because of this, the game is just good enough to be playable, but not good enough to stay compelling the whole way through.