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SpellForce: The Order of Dawn
Developer: Phenomic Publisher: Encore Software Category: StrategyRelease date: 10 February 2004Official site  
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SpellForce: The Order of Dawn Review

Let's start by asking ourselves what are the genres most associated with computer games. Let's see... There are three: action/shooters, strategy and RPG. What if I told you that there is a game that combines in a marvelous way both the strategy and RPG genre. It's name is SpellForce, and it was produced by the germans working at Phenomic. It's a game that achieved what others tried, mixing the RPG and strategy in one game. I don't say that it's the best one, but it's sure one of them. And this is why I'm going to tell you something about it. And for those that will have the will and courage to enter in his world, I say "May the SpellForce be with you, young gamers.".

The story is realized in the RPG style Ė the eternal battle between Good And Evil, but there is a special element, which was exploited to the maximum in SpellForce Ė the dependence of the whole story to the so-called ďAncient RunesĒ Ė magic stones. In the introductory movie we learn about the discovery of the Old Fire, the convocation of the ďCircle of the ThirteenĒ, the bloody war that followed for the absolute power and the survival of two magicians Ė Rohen and the ďDark OneĒ.

The action of the game starts eight years after the end of the war, at a Rune Monument, where the great magician Rohen brings to life a ďRune WarriorĒ, none other that the main character, a warrior which serves the Good, to which Rohen gives the rune that was used to create him and gives him this way the liberty to control his own destiny.

The story creates the idea that this warrior will also decide the fate of the world, but till there is a long way to go, a road full of surprises.

Like any other respectable RPG, SpellForce gives you the possibility of customizing the character by choosing from sixty possible skins and several attributes, but you can also begin with a pre-made character: Shadow Mage, Fire Warrior or Ranger.

At the beginning of the game, it is preferable to customize your character. You have to distribute twenty points to the seven statistics: strength, life, dexterity, agility, intelligence, wisdom and charisma. Like in few RPG, there are also a few characteristics like the weapon speed, casting and recasting time, elemental resistance Ö so, when you level up, you can increase the statistics, your specialty and also choose new specialties. So you can be a powerful magician, a mighty warrior or between them. Anyway, you have to be something to be feared by your enemies.

There are the bindstones, some kind of magical stones who have two properties: they are used for auto saving and also for transportation. Detailing a bit, in every map there are a couple of bindstones. When you activate them, you can teleport between the already activated bindstones, thus providing you with a faster mean of transportation. Still, there is a catch: when you teleport on different maps, you lose all you gathered. When you die, there are two possibilities: you can respawn at the last activated bindstone and lose some of your experience and you can also load your last save. But sometimes that happened long time ago, so what to do?

There are two types of runes and also two types of monuments: race monument and hero monument, so at the first one you can create the peasants and troops of that race, at the other you can create your rune warriors. The races that you will encounter in SF are: humans, elves, dwarfs, orcs, trolls and dark elves.

The rune that creates the units has a certain level, so the higher the level is, the better the units are, gaining more health, speed or, for the heroes, a higher experience level, more specialties, magic and abilities.

The first units that you can create at a monument are the peasants, which can collect resources available to all races: wood, stone, iron and food, and also the magical ones : lenya, aria and moonsilver. Every building can host up to five workers that become artisans. You can construct buildings that double some of your materials income so you can do it. The bad thing is that some of the workers do not work when the resources tend to become low, but in the right-up corner there is an icon that allows you to select the ones that stay and send them back to work. Of course, that doesn't mean that the artisans that stay can be selected with these method. When the base is big it is very useful. The food is a very important resource because with it you can increase the number of workers and troops, up to eighty troops and fifty workers.

After you had gathered some resources itís time to make an army, because lifeís not easy, and the enemy is always watching. Therefore, you have to construct military buildings, then military troops, easy and heavy infantry, healers and mages. The stronger the troops created, the more resources you need for creating them. You can increase some of your troopsí abilities, but this costs resources, sometimes quite many. But itís worth it because now your troops will be better armed or armored or even have more and better spells.

The speed with which your troops are created depends on the hero rune power. If this drops, the creation speed decreases. But donít worry, because in time he regains it. And if you build a food store, your troops will heal, even if this costs you some food, so we come to food again.

So what about the titans? What titans? Well, they are the one and only, because you can create only one as an upgrade at the Large Headquarters, but he is as powerful as twenty menís. When you see one on the battlefield Ö RageFire, the orc titan, a fire demon with two massive axes, the iron titan from the dwarves with a long beard and a powerful hammer, the humanís griffon, a majestic bird, and the list can continue, but Iíll leave you the pleasure to find all six of them, and to test them. But I wonít let them go till I mention that they use magic as well. Why? Because they are titans. The elvish titan has a magic shield that affects all his kind, the troll titan has a poisonous magic, the orc titan slows his enemies and so on Ö.

The battle in SpellForce is not at a very large scale, but at a medium one. You can control up to eighty troops, which can form one group. When all this army marches, the game drops to about ten fps. Itís not a bad thing, because you can maneuver them in a better way. The problem is in their behavior. When thereís a battle, only the troops that are near the enemy engage him, so the rear ones just stay put and let their companions to kick or to be kicked. What a nice view Ö . So, to compensate that, we have to give them specific orders who to attack, or to move them in the middle of the battle, so they can see the enemies and engage them. This will increase the number of losses, but at least you use all your army.

One problem that regards the battle is the buildings attack. Your troops fire arrows at them, or chop them with the swords, but hey, they start to burn? Maybe because of the sparks? It doesnít matter, as long as the fire effect is so nice. The more they are destroyed, the more fire and thicker raises. And when they collapse, smoke and dust surrounds it.

But hey, what about those runes we have? We can summon heroes too? Yes dear, we can call powerful heroes, heroes that can turn the tide of the battle. Sometimes they are better then our hero, so nothing but good news. The thing is that they donít receive experience like us, so they canít gain in level. However, you can give them items, so you can raise their attributes in one way. If they die, you can summon them from the hero Monument.

That would be almost that we could talk about heroes, so letís get back to the inventory. Itís large, itís very well structured, and itís fun. Itís so big that you can put every item you find during the game. Then it will mean that we will be broke, so donít worry about a small inventory or where to put that nice item you got. The inventory itís split in six tabs: Hero information, items, spells, runes, plans, quests items and quests. Every thing in the inventory has tool-tips that help the player.

Letís talk about every tab we have in it. The information tab itís all about attributes, specialization levels, different things that we already talked about itís there. Item inventory says it all. Now with the new patches, we have sort ability. Way to go Phenomic. The spells can be written in a book so big then itís easy to lose in it. You can memorize up to ten spells, if you know where you put it. Runes are split in two: heroes runes, which allows you to put, remove and switch between the available hero runes. The same with the race runes. Donít forget, the higher the level, the better. Also, you have here the building plans and units for every race. Quest items itís easy. They are here because you donít want to sell a quest item, donít you? And finally, the quests. The active ones and the solved ones are all here. Each one with their info, which I might say are very well done. Therefore, all you have to do is to read what it says, and the quest is done.

With over twenty-seven maps and over one hundred hours to play, SpellForce promise to keep us many hours in front of the computer. However, this time depends on every person approach of the game. If you like to amass big armies, then it will take you some time, but if you prefer to make an small army and attack on an early stage, then, depending on the situation it will be wiser or not. So, with over thirty types of monster like goblins, dragons, phantoms, orcs, demons, mercenaries and the list may continue, the variation is at his home. For every enemy taken down, you receive experience, and sometimes items that can be equipped or not, depending on the requirements. These items can be picked by any troops you command, making this task a little bit easier, not like in most of the games when only the main character could do that.

Letís talk about the graphics. But what it is to talk when everything is so beautiful? The Krass engine did his job. With very detailed textured, filtering and effects that put our video cards to pressure, SpellForce itís a nice view. No more static vegetation, no more those nasty trees, now the bushes, trees and plants are vivid, going with the wind. The rise and thee fall of the sun creates shadows that looks so nice, the lakes are full with fishes which can be taken as food, the wind is blowing make the whole nature to tremble. And what a beautiful sunset, where all the land is going darker, the torches and lamps in the city are starting to be lighted, all this creates a beautiful atmosphere.

However, all this comes with a price. Without a real computer, you wonít be able to taste the real SpellForce, so without a Radeon9600 or a FX5700, the details will be lowered, so the effect is gone in some way.

The sound and the music fit perfect in the game, and they are well done. The wind blowing, the clash of the battle, everything is OK. Even the ďStay with me menĒ or ďWe are surroundedĒ, even when you are fighting alone is a pleasure to hear.

We arrive to multiplayer, because everyone wants to taste it along with some friends. The heroes you choose are predefined, have 25-experience level, so they canít be changed. All you have to do is to occupy one or two monuments and to be the only player who will control them, because itís all about supremacy. The last man stands.

All I have to say itís that I hope that Phenomic will prepare a sequel, because the end of the game itís very unexpected, so we will wait and see. Meanwhile, donít just stand there and hurry to the shop and buy a copy, because this a must-have game. SpellForce is the perfect combination between the classic RPG and RTS style.

Graphics: 92
Nice graphic, with everything you want for this kind of game. And if you have a high-end computer, with details at maximum, it's a marvelous sight. With anisotropic at 8x, I was amazed what detailed it everything. And with the latest patches, everything itís OK.

Gameplay: 90
A very active game, and it keeps you under pressure all the time, in some cases, it would be welcomed an active pause. So, I canít complain. Maybe a better end for the game, but we have to see the sequel, if there will be any.

Sound: 90
With a very beautiful music, with changes depending the context, and with sounds very diverse, everything puts you in the right atmosphere. Over all, a nice job.

Resources: 82
For what it offers, the system specifications are ok, but not many have high-end computers. And a couple of bugs that required patches. Maybe if the specifications would be a little lower Ö. On my PC, witch would be a medium one, it had runned ok at 800*600, and medium details. Of course you miss some of the pleasure doing this, so this is why I give this low note.

Final score: 90

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SpellForce: The Order of Dawn gamebox

System Requirements
CPU: 1000 MHz, Video: 32 Mb, Memory: 256 Mb, HDD space: 2 Gb, SO: Windows 98 or better
Posted by PixelRage [Monday, 23 February 2004 - 00:14]

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