SpellForce 2: Demons of the Past is the third and final expansion pack to Nordic Game’s SpellForce 2: Shadow Wars. Continuing on from past expansions Dragon Storm and Faith in Destiny, Demons of the Past delivers more of the same, and while it has a few drawbacks in terms of mechanics.I say more of the same in the sense of it being positively fun and a fitting installment to the series.
Greeted promptly by the main menu we are given a fairly straight forward choice of options. Play online , configure your PC options, or go onto the single-player features. The first of which is a campaign mode where the core of the game’s content takes place. The second mode available to experience is the Skirmish mode. Here the player is pitted directly against the computer in a more traditional RTS manner.
"Experiencing Demons of the Past online or across a LAN is entirely down to the player's preference. As someone who plays games to get away from actual people I found myself largely void of this section."
The third choice of game is a Domination mode, this plays similar to Skirmish mode but has the player battling over a chosen location placed on the game’s map, which the game’s mission and goals are focused upon. Free Game is the fourth mode available and works out as a mixture of the other game modes, although be it in a less strict manner. The fifth and final mode is Survival and although the title speaks for itself, it adds a certain quality to the game that allows it to feel like a more complete and well valued packaged.
A set of tutorials is also present and while there’s no denying its usecase it doesn’t accomplish anything in teaching you something new that you wouldn’t know from playing a past RPG, assuming you’re familiar to the genre. The game’s mechanics are relatively easy to pick up from just generally playing the game and going in with a clear head, and it’s this friendly nature to it that makes it appealing where most people often carry the idea of steep learning curve or intimidation towards games of this type.
Experiencing Demons of the Past online or across a LAN is entirely down to the player’s preference. As someone who plays games to get away from actual people I found myself largely void of this section. Whether or not people choose to engage with it or not is down to their social comfort. Playing online is more of the same to what’s available in the single portion of the game, only with the addition of human interaction. Say what you will but I prefer my fantasy battles within the realm of…well fantasy.
"There's nothing worse than spending the time and effort in character progression and player-to-character connection, only to have it pulled from you upon the failure of a mission."
Moving the online portion of the game to one side as the main content of the game is in its single-player campaign. The game although primarily being an RTS incorporates RPG elements such as customizing and leveling up your character, this proves to be a conflicting irritation with the RTS structures of the game. Should your character face death during battle the system will call a game over. While I agree that the presence of perma-death is largely absent from the majority of today’s games, and they would do well to include it not to mention a real challenge and sense of difficulty. Demons of the Past has the right idea but fails to implement it correctly.
There’s nothing worse than spending the time and effort in character progression and player-to-character connection, only to have it pulled from you upon the failure of a mission. Some may argue that you should think and play more strategic and become a better overall player, but I say this, if that’s truly the case why add a character progression implementation in the first place? Games with character progression and leveling up work on a principle of connection and interaction from the player to the character. The last thing you want to do is have the feeling that you’re babysitting your character rather than immersing yourself as them or alongside them.
Back over to the RTS side of the game the controls and gameplay are much of the norm of how most real-time strategy games plays out. You assign your units to engage the enemy and how well things turn out is down to your strategy and choices. Using a quest book the player can keep track and progress with the story. What’s nifty is that it works and manages to keep things simple and highly relevant to the current situation. Like most games of an RPG nature there’s a skill tree feature which is used to build up the stats of your character. This is done by earning skill points as you play.
"As Demons of the Past gives the impression that it relies heavily on its story line and knowledge of the series, this is one key component that may repel newcomers."
There are also optional side missions alongside the main campaign, and this is where the two genres of both RPG and RTS meet each other once again. I couldn’t help but feel that these where just thrown into the game but as its an expansion pack, and was undoubtedly fun I couldn’t complain. More reasoning and depth to to them would have been nice, but the puzzling nature of where my attention should be placed in what felt like two games in one rather than two combined genres of game was enough.
This is where the RPG elements of the game don’t transition smoothly as it feels like your sense of direction as well as your focus is being split into two different paths. There’s also a third-person point of view in the game alongside the traditional birds-eye point of view from RTS games, but as the controls or gameplay do not blend in well with this view of the game it’s worth sticking to the view from above. You can see the game’s attempt to blend in two styles of gameplay here, but it doesn’t do well to accomplish it.
As Demons of the Past gives the impression that it relies heavily on its story line and knowledge of the series, this is one key component that may repel newcomers. It may infact persuade players to get on board and dwell into past games, but as the current game is fairly dated in its aesthetics I really can’t see that happening. The use of its story being the reason for its play doesn’t sync up well in its attempt to mix two different genres, and while other games have dabbled in this technique before be it a perfect combination or utter misery, Demons of the Past feels as if it’s trapped between a rock and a hard place.
"Why should I invest the time to care, build, and connect with the character if he or she is subject to perma-death? Why not go directly hands-on with delivering a full RTS in which I'm just handing out orders from a strategic standpoint?"
Being that Demons of the Past is a game with a story to it there’s a sense of irony to be held here as the opening cut-scene of the game delivered in a visual sense, but left me in mystery as the audio was subject to a muted glitch. It was a lovely silent movie full of colour, mythical heroes, and from what I could only imagine was a cry of war.
Going into the game from the perspective of a newbie I failed to see the purpose in its use of RPG elements of placing a heavily focused story, although that’s only by its impression, into a game that does well as just an RTS. Give me a hero, a villain, and a terrorized land, and I would have been satisfied in dragging my units and battling hordes of skeletons. The need for character dialog and a false reason to play felt so alien and unneeded. It’s in this false sense of character progression coming from its RPG component that failed to go down smoothly with me playing from the perspective of someone just trying to engage in RTS.
No doubt past series veterans may disagree with my feedback here but this relates directly back to the aspect of character connection. Why should I invest the time to care, build, and connect with the character if he or she is subject to perma-death? Why not go directly hands-on with delivering a full RTS in which I’m just handing out orders from a strategic standpoint?
"Demons of the Past presents itself in a fairly friendly nature although it being confusing at times, and that's from start to whenever you finish, but that doesn't mean the game isn't challenging at times."
As SpellForce 2: DOTP is an expansion to the original it should be mentioned that graphically it’s clearly showing its age. While for most games this often is used in the perspective of being something negative, it doesn’t apply here. The game may not set any records or such or have you demanding more of a treat for your eyes, it’s still a fairly good looking game. The game is built on the same engine as the original and if you’ve been a long time player of the series, it may be worth mentioning but not questioning. Demons of the Past isn’t out to push the limits of your hardware and with that being said I can’t think of any game’s of this genre that have. The character models appear dated, environment details are minimal, and the game presents an irritating shimmering on objects that anti-aliasing doesn’t do much to fix.
However the case may be these small negative aspects of the game can be looked at from a secondary point of view, which is largely down to what you would expect from an expansion of an eight year old game. Demons of the Past presents itself in a fairly friendly nature although it being confusing at times, and that’s from start to whenever you finish, but that doesn’t mean the game isn’t challenging at times. Nevertheless the visual aspects of the game are well designed and accomplish its mission in bringing itself to life and engaging you within its world. Grass textures are flat and brickwork is purely 2D but these small nitpicks are not enough to sway you away from it, as once you start playing it’s easy to forget.
While some like myself and those who are fond of the series will not see this as a bother. Those fairly recent with RTS and RPGs of the modern day may or may not find this off-putting, it’s a tough call. With the amount of emphasis that’s placed on the visual components of games these days, it seems that gamers are more fussed by technological standards and get mixed up with own expectations of a game, and confuse that with how well a game should succeed in actually functioning and playing.
Ultimately, If 20 hour plus game is what you’re looking for then there’s plenty of RPGs and RTS games out there to choose from. With that being said Demons of the Past doesn’t bring anything new to the table other than enjoyable fan service.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
As I stated in the beginning SpellForce 2: Demons of the Past is a fitting finale, and there's no doubt fans of the series will enjoy seeing it through.
Conflicting genres trying to co-exist in one game is a tricky task to dabble in, and Demons of the Past seems to falls into a love or hate category from the perspective of who's actually playing it.
SpellForce 2: Demons of the Past fails to bring anything new to the table.
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