SpellForce 3 is an interesting (and excellent) mix of both real-time strategy with role-playing elements sown throughout. Set in a war-torn world, you are literally at the center of unfolding events as the son of the leader who brought civil war. Forced into a type of exile, you're sent on a quest to help the kingdom find a cure for a mysterious disease. Along the way, expect to encounter royals, nobles, Orcs, Elves, and other fantastical beasts as you trek around the world.
The game's two central tenets, as I've mentioned, are RTS and RPG gameplay. The strategy portion is a bit modernized, cutting the map into sections you must capture with outposts while also introducing several resource elements for you to manage. The resources themselves include wood, stone, metal (which requires refinement) and then a special resource that can be race specific (Orcs gather Black Ash versus humans gathering Arya). Altogether, you must manage your burgeoning "mapire" (map + empire) across its many sectors to ensure you have a steady influx of materials for your warmongering. The trick here as well is to keep an eye on your available sector resources (which are finite) and understand that getting your iron from that BFE sector to your barracks is going to take slightly longer than you might realize. This makes the resource management element a key challenge if you want to stay in the fight long enough to survive.
Aside from gathering and managing your resources, you'll also be handling your base construction. This is one of the elements of the game I rather liked as it forced me to be conscious of my base decisions. Each sector is governed by the outpost you place; these outposts (and your central hub) carry with them a number of workers that are also a form of resource. As you build new resource gathering buildings or training yards, it will "consume" workers unless you reassign them elsewhere or pull them off that building. If you don't have workers assigned to a building, it either doesn't function or functions at a fraction of the normal rate. In order to combat this, you can you raise your outpost's level by upgrading it, granting more workers. But hey, that requires resources! See where I'm going here? The game needs you to micromanage early on, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It creates a challenge for you to focus not only on the combat at hand, but also on maintaining a functioning economy to support your war efforts. I enjoyed the division here because it created a nice, efficient way to keep me engaged in both pieces of the RTS.
Speaking of the other piece, the combat of the game is kind of akin to your general RTS affair, but with some flair added in. Your units are generated at either your race-specific barracks building or at another specialized building (remember to staff them!). Units range in type from siege weapons (or trolls) to cavalry or even basic recruits, all with their own strengths and weaknesses like a giant, bloody game of Rock Paper Scissors. Crafting an effective army means you'll need to essentially keep yourself diversified to combat any threat that comes your way. Otherwise, you might get mowed down by a bunch of cavalry because you forgot pikemen. The flair comes in the style of your hero units. Both in multiplayer and singleplayer, you're allotted a group of heroes that all come with their own specialized abilities and styles. Archers, mages, melee, mixtures of some, whatever you can imagine practically, but they do somewhat fall along fantasy norms (not a bad thing). Along with their abilities and skills, hero units also have special moves to use mid-battle or even potions they can take to prolong their lives. If they end up dying, it's possible to revive them with another hero quickly and if not that, revive them from special God Stones located around the map. Careful though, you can only do it so many times.
Here's where the main meat of the RPG elements show their beautiful heads. The heroes are incredibly customizable to your playstyle. Sure, some are going to be a bit rigid in the sense of "oh, hey, he's a mage, I'm pretty sure he's going to only cast magic." That's A-Okay! As you murder your way across the continent, your party will gain experience (and gold) that work towards leveling up your hero party. After leveling, you'll be able to maximize your characters' potentials. Each hero does have a series of skill trees for you to spend ability points on, furthering enhancing their abilities or granting them new ones entirely. It's also possible at certain levels to spend skill points to increase their innate skills like Constitution, Strength, etc. Aside from that, the gold earned can be spent at shops to gain new weapons, armors, potions, or even blueprints (for base stuff) further increasing your character's customization. And if you're really dedicated to having your mage play a melee beserker, if you can dump enough points into his strength and constitution to sufficiently wield that two-handed hammer, then, by all means, have a go at it.
Aside from the character development, the game's singleplayer also features a robust storyline. While some RTS games have had the ability for you to choose your next mission which may affect the outcome of a later one, SpellForce 3 literally offers you the world map with locations to visit. It's also like playing a scaled down, RTS version of Dragon Age. And it's pretty awesome. Each area can have a series of available sidequests or main quests to complete, plus things do change over time. I came back to one map I had previously cleared, only to find it swarming with soldiers and a little town gated off. The progression here is great, and it's neat to see the game's world evolve over time.
The game also boasts a pretty significant looking multiplayer. While the map choice is limited, I'm also a fan of comp stomps (AI vs human players that's generally more of a human stomp) and there's an interesting mode that can actually put multiple people on the same race with control over different aspects. One can control heroes, another the regular units, and one the base management. While I have not had a chance to try it, it opens up a new gaming avenue where players are forced to work together to achieve their goal of winning. I look forward to spending some more time in the skirmish mode, especially if there are more maps in the future.
While I don't have a ton of negatives to say about the game, there's still a few things to be mindful of. Several times I ran into scenarios where I couldn't initially access a chest on the map, forcing me to spin the camera around before I finally found an angle that worked. In that same vein, I did have a few characters get stuck at odd times, mostly requiring I click around to get them out of whatever hole they apparently fell into. As more of a learning tip as well, using the MMB to cycle around the map gives you easier access to the hotkeys for hero abilities, but be careful not to push the camera by too fast. With how large some of the maps can be, you'll lose your orientation easily.
SpellForce 3 is a pretty fantastic game, but it's also pretty large and potentially overwhelming. That's not to say it doesn't create an excellent challenge, but there is quite a bit to pick up and run with for people new to the RTS genre. I feel that given some time, most can become quite adept and will thoroughly enjoy the game. And at the least, the game has some beautiful graphics to admire while you're slaughtering some crazy beast or an enemy army.Note: SpellForce 3 was reviewed on PC. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.