STAFF REVIEW of SpellForce III Reforced (Xbox One)

Wednesday, June 22, 2022.
by Adam Dileva

SpellForce III Reforced Box art RTS games generally don’t appear on console very often as they are generally difficult to convert to being the same experience with only a controller versus a mouse and keyboard. Spellforce III released back in 2017 on PC, blending an RPG and RTS experience together in an interesting way. Five years later and now Spellforce III has finally come to consoles. Blending gameplay that reminded me of a Baldur’s Gate mixed in with an RTS Experience, Spellforce III: Reforced, developed by Grimlore Games, has made the jump to console and controller, but RTS games generally are challenging to play on console due to the limited buttons. So how does Spellforce III feel on a controller you ask? Well, after a handful of hours of trial, error and frustration, eventually the awkward button combinations sink in and will become second nature.

The campaign tells the story of Tahar and a deadly plague spreading across the land simply known as ‘Bloodburn’. During the prologue you’ll meet the main cast of characters, but the stand out is Sentenza Noria who is voiced by none other than the legendary Doug Cockle (Geralt – The Witcher). Rondar Lacine, leader of The Purity of Light, blames mages for the source of all this misfortune, so it's up to you to find out what’s actually causing this deadly plague, but also how to solve it, though of course there’s more to be unearthed and revealed the deeper and closer you get to the truth.

A prequel to Spellforce: The Order of Dawn, you can expect a massive 30ish hour or so campaign, fully voiced which is impressive, there’s even a co-op campaign you can play alongside friends, though with some caveats I’ll delve into shortly. As for the story itself, I quite enjoyed it, as its writing was done quite well and the cast of main characters were distinct and memorable. The story kept me engaged and had enough twists to stay interesting along the way.

So what’s new in this Reforced edition if you’ve played the original PC version you ask? Well there’s a laundry list that you can look up, but here’s some of the main points other than the obvious now being available on console:

-Improved “Burning Blood” Campaign
-Improved RTS mechanics and reworked RTS faction (Humans, Orcs and Elves) designs, introduced in the expansions Fallen God & Soul Harvest
-Updated Skilltrees with new spell mechanics introduced in the expansions
-Improved Questflow
-Improved loot distribution for a smoother progression
-Added and improved unique artefact puzzles
-Visually and functionally enhanced user crafting
-RTS AI Balance overhaul
-Complete rework of the hub for minimizing downtimes
-Fixed all campaign and quest logic issues of the 40+ hours long campaign
-Improved Coop Mode
-Visually and functionally enhanced User Interface used in the expansions
-Full Gamepad Support for controls and UI
-New Game Modes:
-A new skirmish map “Bitter Canyon” set in a mountainous environment
-Journey Mode: An additional game mode similar to the original SpellForce’s “Free Game Mode”, providing more than 20 hours of unique content and a lot of replay value. Can be played in Coop!
-Journey Skirmish: Play PvP skirmish matches against other players with your Journey heroes
-Arena Mode: An additional endless game mode where you start with a fresh character, fight against waves of monsters, buy items and spells from merchants to compete with other players in the leaderboards including the possibility to play this mode in Coop.

You begin playing Tahar by first customizing and creating your character, choosing gender and skill trees, essentially building the exact class you want. Over the course of your journey you’ll meet a cast of characters, most written and voiced quite well where I actually started to care about them. You’ll need to manage yours and their inventories, from weapons, armor and more. This is where the RPG half of the gameplay comes in, managing inventories, skills and more, playing much like a Diablo or Baldur’s Gate while exploring the current map. Skill trees are simple, allowing you to put points into specific skills or passive bonuses, building your characters exactly how you want. Weapons and armor don’t come very quick though and the majority outside of a few special pieces or store bought are slight sidegrades instead of massive upgrades.

Where Spellforce III comes into its own, for better and worse, is when you reach certain missions where the RTS elements take over completely. Like many RTS, you’ll need to manage resources, construct buildings, make more troops, all while exploring and expanding the map while also defending your base. To even begin you’ll need to construct buildings and assign workers to find wood, stone and food. Thankfully they’ll automatically go find the nearest nodes within the area you’ve captured, slowly filling your banked resources. Of course building anything takes your precious resources, as does making new units for your army, and doing so well will require you to explore the map and capture other regions and nodes so you can expand and build even further.

As you progress in certain missions and maps you’ll find blueprints along the way, allowing you to build higher tier buildings, units and upgrades. While there have been a few RTS games that have transitioned to console decently, these sections were the most frustrating and longest time commitments. Not totally a fault of the PC to controller scheme shift, I think this is partly due to mechanics and design as well. You have the ability to select all units on screen, only choose your heroes, or even section off units into different groups as to switch between so you can divide and conquer, but this is cumbersome at best with the controller. I generally found it easiest to build my army as large as I could and simply steamroll to my objectives. Did this always work, no, but was less frustrating than trying to simultaneously give commands to different units while also having to retreat to defend my base. It felt at times as though he CPU was cheating, making units way faster than I could at an unlimited rate, making these RTS sections feel like a chore and slog to get through, killing my momentum and desire to continue at times.

Combat is simple, telling whatever units you have highlighted to go or attack somewhere with a button press. Want your units and heroes to attack a specific target though? Good luck. It’s as if they attack a general area of the unit you clicked, as I can’t tell you how many times I had my units slowly picked off one by one because they wouldn’t go and kill the rogue archer or mage firing from afar no matter how many times I clicked it. Instead they thought it was better to attack the building that was closer. Plus, trying to even try to target individual units is a pain in huge and chaotic battles, even while zoomed in.

Campaign is where you’ll most likely spend the majority of your time at first, maybe even the online co-op campaign, but there’s a handful of other modes too for those that want more. Journey Mode has you building a new character how you like, taking on numerous missions on specialty maps. This seems to add quite a bit of replayability as it’s not as linear as the campaign. Skirmish mode is what you’d expect, being able to go head to head against other players online that would be just like old classical PC gaming skirmishes. Arena mode is another inclusion where you fight against waves of monsters and buy items from merchants, essentially a bragging leaderboard.

This is where I would normally delve into how all the multiplayer and co-op works for each mode, but unfortunately at the time of this writing the online is completely broken and unusable. Servers were giving errors when you try to join someone’s game online, co-op or any mode, so unfortunately it launched in a broken state. From what I can gather though, it seems that the co-op campaign, the mode I wanted to play most with a fellow staff writer, has some caveats. For example, your campaign is a solo affair, so friends can’t simply join. You need to actually create a co-op campaign if you want to play alongside a friend, yet you can’t start this mode solo, so you can see where I wasn’t able to test this at all. From my understanding it seems as though that your friend joining is simply there to help you, not really making their own progress. That’s a tall ask for a 30+ hour campaign for someone to get nothing back other than gratitude.

Spellforce III: Reforced has some beautiful aesthetics and visuals you’d expect from a classic style RPG along the lines of Diablo and Baldur’s Gate. While the character models and up close details might not be all that impressive, zoomed out and taking in the environments and landscapes can be quite a treat. The music is fantastic on the other hand, completely fitting for the high fantasy setting, though hearing “base is under attack” a hundred times in the RTS missions can be quite an annoyance.

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from Spellforce III: Reforced simply due to a RPG/RTS hybrid coming to console has some serious hurdles when transitioning keyboard and mouse to a controller. Is it a perfect experience, no, it actually takes a good few hours of fighting the controls to get a natural hang of it, but it does eventually become easier to understand. Once you can get over the clumsy controller commands and figure the best way to complete the RTS sections, Spellforce III: Reforced can be a pleasant surprise that you’ll have a hard time putting down, probably even more so once the online components actually function.

**Spellforce III: Reforced was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.8 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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