Console players have gone the last 20 years without being able to enjoy the SpellForce games on their machines… Well, officially anyway. But now those days are over with a remaster of SpellForce 3 – dubbed Reforced – making its way to current gen and last gen machines. This is a perfect time to introduce the series to console players, too, as SpellForce 3 is a prequel of sorts to the other games. SpellForce features an interesting mix of real time strategy and fantasy RPG elements to make what proves to be a peculiar yet mostly well-handled concoction.
"SpellForce features an interesting mix of real time strategy and fantasy RPG elements to make what proves to be a peculiar yet mostly well-handled concoction."
Oddly enough, despite the series embarking on this winning strategy for 20 some odd years, it has yet to really face a worthy competitor in its genre by most standards. That doesn’t mean the series has been resting on its laurels though, as each and every entry has moved the needle forward in some way, shape, or form. Enter Reforced, a remaster and reworked port of 2017’s SpellForce 3 that feels thorough and comprehensive. There are some inevitable growing pains that arise from cramming such a PC-centric experience onto a console with the comparatively limited freedom that a controller can facilitate compared to a keyboard and mouse, but even still it does a pretty good job of delivering about as console-friendly an experience as could be expected given the constraints of the situation.
SpellForce is a game that needs little to no introduction to fans of the series or either of the genre’s it most predominantly lives in. As a hybrid of sorts, it leans into the most recognizable elements of RTS games and classic RPGs, and functionally it works well in SpellForce 3 most of the time. It can give you a bit of whiplash, though, as you go from controlling your party during resource gathering, managing your abilities, and engaging in small skirmishes all the way over to large-scale real time strategy war scenarios where you are defending your camp from an enemy onslaught or attacking a large army with well-planned multi-pronged approach.
It manages to juggle both sides of the experience well, but at the same time it never quite feels like it blends those two hemispheres together well enough to encourage a consistent mindset from the player. Just as you’re getting into a rhythm in one way, SpellForce 3 has a way of abruptly uprooting your flow and forcing you to slip into another one. Depending on the player, this might feel more like a consistent injection of variety than a rude disruption, but to me, it more often than not felt like the latter.
"As a hybrid of sorts, it leans into the most recognizable elements of RTS games and classic RPGs, and functionally it works well in SpellForce 3 most of the time."
More importantly though, it does justice to both gameplay philosophies well enough despite perhaps sacrificing a bit of depth in both areas in order to pull them together in this way. There aren’t a ton of abilities to master, nor are there very many ways to use them like in most RPGs of today. Similarly, there aren’t a lot of subroutines to assign to party members or much of a way to side-step the monotony of repetition and busywork that other, more singularly focused RTS games have iterated upon. So while the blend of its ideas are balanced well, each side of the experience does pay a price for that.
To its credit, SpellForce 3 has been reworked in some significant ways to make it more palatable for the console space. Tweaks and rebalances to the game’s loot, quests, and how skill trees are managed will all feel much more familiar to console players in Reforced than they would have in the original version. It’s also nice to know that the game’s two DLC expansions are also made available in one big purchase separately or together in the complete edition if you want to go that route. You also have several ways to enjoy the game from the main campaign, to skirmishes and journeys, which let you play through custom scenarios that you create a character for and choose the map and objective for. This is also going to allow online co-op by the way. And of course, you can jump into other games, assuming the networking features are up, which for me, they were not. I was able to jump into my own custom games though.
All in all, the PS5 does a good job of running the game. I rarely ran into any visual hitches and other than being unable to use any of the network features, everything seems to be functioning as it should. With how complex situations can get with battles unfolding, workers building and demolishing structures, and training soldiers while story elements are unfolding, I was a bit surprised to see even the mighty PS5 keep everything running smoothly throughout my time with the game. Not that I was particularly worried about the PS5 not being able to do so, but with the detailed graphics of SpellForce 3, at least when compared to other similar games, it’s good to know the PS5 isn’t having much – if any – trouble with it.
"While the PS5 version that I reviewed here certainly does a good job delivering the multi-faceted nature of SpellForce 3 on a computational level, I did find myself befuddled and overwhelmed a bit too often trying to manage it all with joysticks and the limited selection of buttons of modern controllers."
While the PS5 version that I reviewed here certainly does a good job delivering the multi-faceted nature of SpellForce 3 on a computational level, I did find myself befuddled and overwhelmed a bit too often trying to manage it all with joysticks and the limited selection of buttons of modern controllers. That’s not an indictment of the game or this version of it, mind you, as I can’t think of any better way to arrange everything on the controller, but it is quite a handful to keep control of, literally and figuratively.
Both shoulder buttons and triggers are taken up with selection wheels, and simply looking around the level is arduous on the DualSense compared to the simplicity of flicking a mouse around. This isn’t helped by the game’s rather small text and cramped UI, but again, this is sort of the price of admission as far as I can tell. Reorganizing a game like this for a console experience probably felt like an endless, unwinnable game of Tetris for the developer. That said, if unwieldy interfaces and menus that make you squint to understand are third rails for you, then I strongly urge you to tread lightly with SpellForce 3 Reforced.
Unfortunately, I can’t come up with very much praise for the game’s sound design. Some of the music does succeed in establishing a familiar dark fantasy mood, but outside of that most of what you’ll hear are cookie-cutter sound effects that you could almost certainly find in any number of low-budget RPGs, and voice acting almost always existing somewhere between mediocre and outright dull. Nothing sounds bad or out of place, but as somebody who is always ready to give credit to a well-executed sound design, I was a little shocked at how consistently unremarkable it all is in SpellForce 3 Reforced.
"SpellForce 3 Reforced is likely to succeed to those it’s aimed at, and maybe even go a bit further as its basic elements are somewhat friendly compared to other RTS games in the console space."
SpellForce 3 Reforced is likely to succeed to those it’s aimed at, and maybe even go a bit further as its basic elements are somewhat friendly compared to other RTS games in the console space. The crowded interface and bewildering controls don’t really feel justified considering the game’s comparable lack of general depth, but depending on how much the story sucks you in or how quickly you get addicted to the admittedly well-crafted systems, that may or may not bother you long-term. There are better RTSs and better RPGs out there on console right now than SpellForce 3, but not a whole lot. And almost none that take this particular path across both. All-in-all, it’s an admirable effort in most ways. Reforced has plenty of content, and does its best to present it in a digestible way. How much it clicks with you will largely depend on your personal ability to acclimate to the few areas where it does get in its own way.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Great graphics; Solid story; Generous amount of content.
Generic sound design; Somewhat shallow RPG elements; Steep learning curve.