SpellForce is an old series, and one that I first started playing as a kid. It was different, engaging, and always stood out thanks to being both an RPG where you got to manage several heroes alongside your personal avatar and an RTS of sorts with base, resource, and unit management. There was quite a pretty big gap between the release SpellForce 2 and 3 too, with the second game in the series dating back to 2006.
Released many years later in 2017, SpellForce 3 took us back in time to explore the origins of the Circle Mages first seen in the original games. It followed the story of the child of a rebel Mage who plunged the Kingdom into a Mage war. Standalone expansion Soul Harvest continues the story with events taking place a couple of years after the end of the Purity War - which is that whole let's start persecuting Mages because of the magic they do thing.
Firing up SpellForce 3: Soul Harvest for the first time is like being reacquainted with an old friend as you’re treated to the first notes of an overall fantastic soundtrack. The campaign is playable in both single player or co-operative, with skirmish modes available against AI and other players. When it comes to SpellForce, it’s the campaign that always stands out and Soul Harvest continues the trend of deep character creation tools where you can swap out different heads, bodies, hair and so forth like those kids from Weird Science. That is, before diving into ability and skill trees of course.
"Firing up SpellForce 3: Soul Harvest for the first time is like being reacquainted with an old friend as you’re treated to the first notes of an overall fantastic soundtrack."
As an RPG SpellForce gives you decent control over your main avatar thanks to being able to choose two core ability trees out of a total of nine. This adds build flexibility and opens the door to replayability down the track. For my playthrough I choose Combat Arts, which is based around melee combat and Evocation for some elemental magic. Because hey, it’s called Spell
force. As the story begins you enter a dream of the character you control, a disgraced General who has lost their memory after an incident in which their entire unit was wiped out. Amnesia: The RPG Go To Thing. But, the dream serves as both a tutorial and introduction to the new storyline as you, the General, seek to learn what happened.
As a standalone expansion the base game is not needed to play or even understand the story that has come before - which is highlighted by the engaging tutorial. In addition to setting up the major themes and plot it also covers the basics of SpellForce, including unit control and base management. You’re given control over a human outpost in which you have to build-up, start training some units, and then defeat a nearby Orc base. For fans of the series, both old and new, it’s a great little sequence to get back into the swing of things.
One of the first major changes for the series is a streamlining of how you cast hero skills and other quick-casts. Instead of being limited to six slots you now have several configurable bars that are bound to the function-keys. Although that may sound more complex, in execution it’s a lot friendlier to use in combat. The next major change comes with the RTS side of SpellForce, the parts where you need a base and army to defeat a large enemy force. Zones of control now share a single resource pool and no longer need wagons to transport materials between them. This speeds up gameplay considerably as you no longer have to wait for some wood to make it all the way across the map.
The fantasy world of SpellForce is one filled with conflict, various factions and races, and in Soul Harvest you get to choose between Humans, Dwarves, and Dark Elves. Each offering up a different feel. Dwarves have strong individual units and defence while their main outpost building can be upgraded so that most of the economy and military-oriented buildings can be based in the starting zone. They can also construct Tunnels which can be built in a zone you control with an exit being placed elsewhere on the map, providing instant travel between large areas. The original Fast Travel.
"As a standalone expansion the base game is not needed to play or even understand the story that has come before - which is highlighted by engaging tutorial."
Dark Elves are offensive based with a unique resource collected from dead units, both yours or from the bodies of slain enemies. This places an emphasis on an aggressive playstyle in order to get access to higher-tier units. That said, Dark Elves also have access to cheap spammable units. Humans have been updated with new units and buildings this time around too, and play as an in-between of the three.
The RPG side has you maintaining several hero units in addition to custom hero units called Mercenaries. Progression is fairly standard for this type of fantasy world, with regular levelling leading to more ability and attribute points to spend. Gear, or loot, is here too and with my main melee meets spellcaster build this eventually led to wielding massive two-handed weapons whilst wearing heavy armour and casting magical buffs to nearby friendly units. It’s worth noting that in terms of currency the RPG and RTS side feature separate resources though there’s cross-pollination with what you can spend your hero’s Gold on.
One aspect where the series keeps things somewhat friendly is that death won’t be the end for your heroes. If they happen to fall in battle a countdown and red bar appear, where if you aren’t fast enough to revive they’ll end up being resurrected at the nearest Godstone.
The world of SpellForce is also one associated with rich lore and engaging stories, meaning that if you’re a fan of fantasy RPGs or classic computer role-playing then this comes highly recommended. Environments are beautifully rendered too, offering up vistas that are worth taking the time to sit back and admire.
"One aspect where the series keeps things somewhat friendly is that death won’t be the end for your heroes."
Overall production values are great with all dialogue having accompanying voice acting and when talking to NPCs you’re often presented with several dialogue choices - many of which expand the world’s lore and current events. With several quality of life and mechanic upgrades from SpellForce 3, Soul Harvest is an enjoyable experience that scratches both the RPG and RTS itch. A blend that still feels unique to this series, and one that continues to impress all these years later.