SpellForce 3 has finally come out. Since this is such a particular game with roots residing deep in the past, I thought a beginner’s guide for the campaign would be something useful for some of the players out there. Let’s have a look at some of SpellForce 3’s complex and unique mechanics:
RPG meets RTS
SpellForce 3 is a blend between two very different genres, RPG and RTS. Back in the day when SpellForce was released some publications called for a new genre, RPS, but that didn’t catch on. However, the idea of strategy games using RPG elements has been retained and has become increasingly popular over the years. But SpellForce 3 is rather different from most games that use this gameplay concept.
SpellForce 3 is actually a party based RPG with dialogues, a few choices & consequences, character progression and loot. Most missions play from a party perspective, but once in a while you’ll take command of a base and the army that comes with it, both expandable through the standard pattern of resource gathering, building and training units. SpellForce 3 inclines more towards the RPG side of gameplay, which can easily exist on its own, while the RTS feels more like a complementary gameplay feature.
Heroes and units
There is an important difference between the units the player leads to battle made by the genres that compose this game. The Heroes are unique, each with their own story, skills, quests and personality. The heroes go through a constant progression based on gear and leveling which makes them invaluable in combat especially since they can’t be killed permanently unless the mission is failed. A party of four heroes is capable of destroying entire armies, however, this does not diminish the necessity of the strategy units.
On the RTS gameplay side are the units which require a base of operations, specific buildings and resources in order to be trained. The units vary in power based on their purpose and resource requirements and are usually disposable.
While the two don’t always work together as there are many missions following only the heroes’ party, during the RTS mode heroes will require the support of the units in order to succeed.
As expected from a game with RPG elements, each hero in SpellForce 3 has a progression of their own. This is split between the item progression which is advanced through looting or trading and the leveling system which is a much more complex endeavor.
The leveling system is nothing out of the ordinary. Experience is gained through combat which helps leveling up at certain thresholds. Each level grants a skill point while attribute points are gained every two levels. Attributes serve as requirements for gear and complement the damage of weapons and abilities while skill points are used to unlock new perks and abilities.
The players have the liberty of choosing three skill trees for the protagonist with the forth, leadership, being a given. All the other heroes come with their own skill trees and a unique skill which is related to their personal story. These skill trees are quite diverse including something as standard as melee, ranged and elementalist or more exotic options like shapeshifter, assassin or dreamweaver.
As with all new RPGs, there is always the fear of messing up a character by taking the wrong skills. But have no fear; SpellForce 3 does give players the means to correct their mistake with the Potion of Fresh Start. This potion is quite expensive but it can be granted as a reward from quests and each new recruited hero comes with one.
It goes without saying that in a game with strategy elements grouping units is a must. SpellForce 3’s grouping system works in a familiar way for strategy players, the combination ctrl + 1-0 can be used to form groups of units. In order to make the heroes control easier, each slot in the heroes’ party has a key assigned which allows selecting it quickly, by default these keys are F1-F4.
During combat things become more challenging as controlling four heroes each with different abilities is not an easy feat. For this matter, SpellForce 3 has a rather neat system of using abilities on the fly besides the assigned keybinds. By default, using the ALT key while targeting an enemy or friendly unit slows down time and opens up a menu that provides useful information about the target’s stats while also serving as a quick way to use abilities on that target. For the friendly targets will prompt a list of all the buffing and healing abilities available, while on the enemies the list will have all the harming abilities ready to unleash hell. This is a really good feature that makes advancing through the game’s highest difficulty much easier, so don’t avoid using it.
A mixed party
While SpellForce 3 allows running with a party composed only of melee or ranged heroes, it’s much better to mix things around. The ideal party composition requires a tank, a healer and two damage dealers. It’s also important to invest skill points into AoE abilities in order to face off the waves of enemies coming during the RTS mode.
The heroes make all the difference, even when having an army by their side, so make sure you party composition doesn’t hinder your progression through the campaign.
It’s almost inevitable that some heroes will die at some point in the campaign since SpellForce 3 is a pretty challenging game (even more so on the highest difficulty). A hero’s death could make a fight more difficult while all heroes dying could mean the end of the quest prompting to load a save file.
There are a few ways to get the heroes back into action. Before actually dying, heroes go into a knocked out state which leaves the player with a window of about 20 seconds to get them back up. At this point another hero can be used to right click on the knocked out hero and go through a channeling process that will revive the latter. A much safer option would be to use a resurrecting spell or item on the knocked out hero. If the time expires, the next choice would be a Godstone. The Godstones are monuments spread all over the map which become available to use pretty early in the story. When a hero dies (for real), they are brought back to life to the nearest Godstone at a cost of one shard. The number of shards available at the start is three and it can be increased by consuming special items. Replenishing the shards is also important; however, this can be done only during the RTS mode as workers are required to pray at the Godstone in order to generate new shards.
The World Map is a great feature showcasing the vast beauty of the Nortander region. The World Map serves a pivotal role in the gameplay allowing players to choose the quests they want to complete first. This feature also provides option as you can go back to the World Map at any point when RTS mode is not active and the progress on the current map is saved. Some side quests will open up new locations on the World Map so don’t forget to check for that.
While the strategy mode doesn’t always leave much room for map exploration, don’t forget or ignore this aspect. In most cases the maps can be explored after the main quests have been completed by revisiting them via the World Map.
Most of the maps in SpellForce 3 are big enough and filled with plenty of things to do. There are creatures to kill, hidden treasures to find and quests to complete. The maps can be composed from multiple parts with adjacent ruins or caves hiding new challenges and rewards behind short loading screens. Don’t rush through the campaign; explore what Nortander has to offer as it will help keeping up with the game’s tight economy.
Don’t hoard the gear
SpellForce 3 has a particular focus for loot. Different types of weapons, armors, jewelry and trinkets with different levels of rarity will drop from enemies or be granted as rewards for completing quests. Because acquiring new gear isn’t something so hard, hoarding items isn’t exactly a good idea. It’s better to save only the upgrades and just a few extra pieces in case new heroes join your cause while selling all the inferior or unneeded gear. Selling items to vendors grants gold which is a currency for heroes that is set aside from the resources used in RTS mode. Gold can be used to buy better gear, potions (buy as many as you can) and new schematics which unlock upgrades for the three races used in RTS mode.
RTS mode, a living system
I talked a lot so far about the RTS mode of SpellForce 3. And while for the most part the strategy component is pretty standard, there is one set of mechanics that works particularly different.
In the RTS mode the players start with a main base around which they can build more. Expanding to new sectors requires the capturing and construction of new outpost. Both the base and the outposts work as hubs and have a number of workers assigned to them and a number of free workers, the latter being increased through upgrades. In order for any construction to function, workers have to be assigned to it. The assigned workers to the hubs serve as carriers of resources from buildings that generated resources (e.g. Logging Cabin, Stoneworks) to their hub. The free workers await the assignment to new buildings. The number of workers available for a sector could be lower than what the sector needs or provides in terms of resources. Managing workers between buildings is crucial in order to have a stable economy.
Another important aspect of this system is how the resources are spent. Each building, recruitment or upgrade has a price in terms of resources. But while the total amount of resources could allow you to pay that costs, the resources have to be available to the sector you want to build/recruit/upgrade in. Carts go from one hub to another taking resources and bringing resources based on these actions. This means that the process of building, recruiting or upgrading doesn’t always start immediately and it can be delayed if the carts are destroyed on their way to the hub.
A lovely but buggy ride
SpellForce 3 has a lot of qualities, but being bug free is not one of them. The game does have a few problems despite the developers ironing out a lot of those encountered in the review build. I recommend saving as often as possible using both quick save and manual save in order to have something to fall back to in case of issues. I’m confident all the problems will be sorted out soon, so if you are afraid of facing some game breaking bugs just wait for a few more patches.
I hope this guide will help with your ventures in the intricate campaign of SpellForce 3. As always, I will try to keep this article up to date and add to it if necessary.
(This article is based on a press copy of the game provided by the developer.)