While at a THQ Nordic event in London recently, Gamereactor got to try Grimlore Games' Spellforce 3, and during our time with the game, in which we were plunged into a section partway through the story, we noticed a number of things, most clear of which was that this wasn't just an isometric RPG as we know them to be.
A big part of this is how the game blends both RPG and RTS elements. Grimlore Games themselves explained this to us, saying: "Our philosophy from the start was that both elements shouldn't be on their own, but rather should support each other in a natural way. We also wanted to offer systems with more depth than in the previous SpellForce titles. That's why we came up with the in-direct worker mechanic feature that takes away the time that is normally spent on micromanaging workers, to allow more time for the exploration side of the RPG gameplay. On the RPG side we created a special skill tree that full focuses on supporting your economy or armies with abilities from your heroes."
How does this work though? On the RPG side of things, it's very much a case of controlling a party of heroes, much like in any other game of its kind. We were thrown into the story without much context, but our immediate task was to talk to a leader of refugees who then told us to clear a path for the refugees to move through. We went on our merry way to slay monsters and bandits along the trail, before reporting back for duty.
In the demo we played, we got to talk to a variety of characters, all of which gave us a lot of information via dialogue boxes (there's no voice acting), and the game allowed us a lot of dialogue options to respond with as well. The section we played showed far more of the storytelling aspect of the game as opposed to combat, then, and so this definitely seems to be aiming at the old-school RPG fans out there.
The RTS elements came into play when we started talking to the armies that showed up, and discovering outposts as we walked around the map, setting them up at regular intervals to 'dominate' the land. Explaining the concept of outposts a little bit more, Grimlore said: "Every sector has just a limited set of resources. In order to harvest more resources you will need to expand. Instead of a free expanding system that lets you build anywhere, we designed a sector system where you first have to conquer a sector with your heroes before being able to use its resources and build buildings there. When you conquer a sector you start off with a basic outpost that only gives you three workers. By upgrading that you get more workers. Resources need to be local so you will always need a transportation connection to your other sectors to get supplies that you need to build structures. Moreover, the more sectors you control the bigger armies you can recruit."
Again, we only set up very small outposts during our time with the game, but when we did so, and started our journey with the refugees through this land we had just dominated, a rival army challenged our outposts and captured some for themselves, leading to a sticky situation where the individual battles we were facing took a backseat and the game started to feel more like a strategy game like Total War. It was no longer about brute force and talking, but was now about a grandiose clash of armies.
We expect these kinds of things can be avoided by the choices the players can make in the game. "There are multiple choice dialogues that change aspects of the story," Grimlore explained. "Also, there are often multiple ways to solve things. Even your hero party can be put together by yourself and the player factions need to be unlocked before they can support you. Besides that, there is also the choices on a character level like the abilities and equipment you are using." Choice is therefore key in Spellforce 3 then, and much like in other nostalgia-inspired RPGs such as Torment: Tides of Numenera, this is very likely to result in ways to avoid conflict, if you'd rather keep the blood off of your hands and keep your party safe and sound.
If you do end up fighting alongside your allies on the battlefield, though, you'll have plenty of options, as there are a number of fantasy-themed weapons in the game, and spells to use both on friends and enemies alike as well. Equipment builds into this too, and you'll have to allocate resources depending on who needs it most in your party.
With this interesting fusion of RTS and RPG, coupled with a campaign that is meant to last for around 30 hours, we're excited to see more of Spellforce 3 and explore these elements in a bit more depth. Base-building, for instance, is different for each player, and we can imagine playing the game in co-op will also provide a different flavour to the game, so there shouldn't be any shortage of ways to occupy yourself.