Blending the style of RPG and RTS games, SpellForce 3: Soul Harvest offers an engaging yet clunky fusion of genres.
Taking from the RPG side, SpellForce’s story and characters entertain with solid writing. The RTS elements of the game scratch that strategy itch with a variety of unit types and interesting combat.
In the intermingling of these elements, however, the two genres tend to clash. Either an RTS interrupts a great isometric character RPG, or the RPG simplifies the in-depth strategic combat. SpellForce 3: Soul Harvest suffers from an identity crisis.
SpellForce 3: Soul Harvest tends to overwhelm at first glance. Ambitiously deep mechanics mean Soul Harvest doesn’t teach the player much by playing.
With so many options at your disposal, reading a book about the gameplay feels like a prerequisite to understanding what the hell is going on. The in-game tutorial at the beginning does an okay job of introducing the player to the controls and systems, but the game assumes prior experience with both cRPGs and RTS games.
The nightmarishly cluttered user interface doesn’t give any hints as to what important actions the player should remember. This makes controlling your character feel like a chore before eventually getting used to the lay of the land.
Part RPG, Part RTS
On the RPG side, SpellForce 3: Soul Harvest throws a lot of information at the player. Stats, damage types, resistances, abilities, names, places, and lore all assault the player from the jump. Once you have a few hours under your belt, the game feels a bit more manageable, but getting to that point requires patience and an open wiki page.
Combat during the RPG sections feels like getting behind the wheel of a 747 after only reading the safety pamphlet. Enemies prove to be a major threat from the very beginning, quickly murdering any party that bites off more than it can chew. The fast pace of combat requires the player to study their spells and hotkeys before battle, otherwise lowly dwarfs decimate an unsuspecting group. Due to the camera perspective and visual style, there’s extra difficulty in determining exactly who is attacking who and with what.
Soul Harvest also introduces RTS aspects without much context, assuming either RTS experience or knowledge of previous games. Once again, the perspective and realistic visual style don’t do much to emphasize important units or actions to the uninitiated. To be fair, once these mechanics click, they form a totally serviceable RTS. The steep learning curve just makes getting to that point a challenge.
Switching between these two play styles provides for a very distinct whiplash. Just when the RPG combat starts to gel or the story becomes interesting, the game will start an RTS section. Just when the player gets the hang of micromanaging their units, the game goes back to the more straightforward RPG. There’s not really a sense of cohesion with the two game styles. Rather, they feel like two different games the player switches between.
Any great RPG needs a good story, and thankfully SpellForce 3: Soul Harvest delivers. Interesting characters and choices keep the player engaged in the realm of Nortander. The game features a fully voiced story campaign, with solid performances bringing life to the world. The story plays out in classic Dungeons and Dragons style, with quests and characters that offer real choices and dilemmas.
Soul Harvest manages to tell an epic tale of kingdoms and war, while also focusing on the more personal story of the main character. A disgraced general, your character returns to Nortander after years away from home. The queen tasks you with leadership, appointing you the new head of the army. From there, the player unravels a plot involving dwarves, dark elves, and the fate of the realm.
The writing, especially in dialogue, stands out as particularly engaging. Backed by a great cast of voice actors, the RPG elements work very well. Quests offer interesting stories and characters to explore. Dialogue options provide a sense of roleplaying not often found in modern RPGs. Usually the need to record voiceover limits the possible options for dialogue and branching paths, but Soul Harvest manages to avoid those pitfalls gracefully.
For immersion, a good fantasy world needs good world design. SpellForce 3: Soul Harvest stands out with beautiful environments that transport you to another world. The lighting and detail found in these maps astound. From luscious forests to dwarven mines, the world of SpellForce looks beautiful. Sometimes the intricate details mask important gameplay objects, but it’s a worthwhile trade off.
Conversely, the character models don’t have the highest fidelity, significantly less so than the maps. However, the zoomed-out camera hides that flaw well enough. This allows a large number of units to fit on screen. Even with full armies, I didn’t notice a considerable performance drop.
If you’re a fan of cRPG and RTS games, the strange pairing of peanut butter and anchovies that is SpellForce 3: Soul Harvest might hit just the right spot for you.
For me, the experience was a little jarring. I would have preferred one genre or the other to take the spotlight rather than clash.
If you can get past the gameplay whiplash, there’s treasure to be found. A solid story filled with interesting characters propels the campaign, with great voice acting to complete the package. If this sounds like your cup of tea, pick it up on Steam today.