Spellforce 2: Demons of the Past is the last expansion of Spellforce 2: Shadow Wars, a fantasy RPG-RTS hybrid. Continuing from the previous expansion Faith in Destiny, Demons of the Past ties up plot threads and brings Spellforce 2 to an epic conclusion.
As I’m not very familiar with Spellforce canon, I empathized with my Shaikan hero when he said “I wish I understood what was going on.” While it was confusing to be deposited in the middle of the story, Demons of the Past is in many ways a game about answers. Bringing back characters and mysteries from earlier in the story, Demons of the Past resolves questions and clarifies events as it heads towards its ending with a great sense of finality.
Getting down to the nuts and bolts of the game, Spellforce 2: Demons of the Past does the improbable in its fusion of RPG and RTS elements. The player controls their Shaikan, along with up to seven companions gathered along the way, leveling up, choosing equipment, and using powers in battle. Occasionally, though, the player will be given a base and workers, changing the game to resource-gathering and building up armies.
The game pulls this off reasonably well, but while transitions from RPG to RTS are usually very smooth, these two styles never share the stage very well. In a way, both genres suffer from the presence of the other. The RPG elements are unimaginative, and while it’s possible to zoom down to your character’s level, most of the game is spent squinting down from above, trying to make your people attack things while trying to keep your healers from running into the fray.
The RTS elements are solid, at least in base-building aspects, but while controlling your party, there’s no time for micromanagement. Battles are lacking in tactics beyond your soldiers hitting demons and vice versa. Ultimately, neither the depth of RPGs nor the complexity of RTS is allowed the room to develop. It’s difficult enough to manage the helmets, necklaces, and rings of eight party members, and adding a platoon of troops to that responsibility results in less engagement all around.
This is sounding bad, but while gameplay can be a pain, Demons of the Past carries the player through with a strong sense of flow, constantly introducing new environments and situations. Things were rarely boring, and muddy mechanics are made up for by simple yet entertaining objectives.
Events in the story flow smoothly alongside different levels, alternating sections of just controlling your party to large battles and base-building segments. In answer to my distress at today’s games often only resolving conflict with combat, Demons of the Past had many sections where weapons weren’t even drawn, from puzzles to diplomacy. True, walking back and forth across large maps to resolve small problems was a pain, but these efforts made the world of Spellforce not only more believable, but more interesting.
The constant change of scene did a good job in present a large and diverse world to the player while keeping up the game’s pace, smoothly transitioning from one situation to another. One moment, I was destroying a demonic portal to save the gods themselves. Within the space of a few minutes, I was ambling around a marble atrium, wheedling with NPCs to trade numbers for a better spot on a divine waiting list.
Demons of the Past’s environments are generally good-looking, as long as you don’t zoom in too much. A dynamic day-night cycle goes a long way in making your locations believable and livable. Unfortunately, the game’s sound doesn’t do it any favors, with repetitive music, combat barks and sound effects. In short, there’s nothing to be missed from listening to listening to The Lord of the Rings’ soundtrack while playing.
Cutscene dialog is equally stiff and heavy-handed, but your Shaikan seems to know he’s the subject of a lot of stereotype, and will grumble about completing quests and saving the world in a slightly ridiculous but very entertaining manner. Your companions, while slightly daft, somehow pull of serious moments of character development alongside your character. Demons of the Past doesn’t take itself too seriously, and while it has a lot of weighty issues to present, you do come across a group of LARPers in game playing ‘Warcraft of the World’.
Spellforce 2: Demons of the Past has a lot to offer, and while its gameplay elements can be as obtuse and rough as rectangles of corrugated cardboard, the spittle and glue of humor and story hold everything together in a world that is as engaging as it is diverse. Fans of Spellforce will definitely want to shell out twenty dollars for Demons of the Past, a standalone expansion with more than twenty-five hours of gameplay. Fans of RPG or RTS games with time on their hands ought to see this game just for the novelty of it all. Spellforce 2: Demons of the Past has a widespread variety of ideas, and while the execution isn’t always up to standard, it leaves behind the taste of greatness.