Spellforce 2: Scale Problems

One of the more foundational problems I had with Spellforce 2's plot, particularly when contrasting it with the plots from the original Spellforce's three campaigns, was that the writing didn't fit the scale of the gameplay.

In the original Spellforce, you were a Rune Warrior, which meant you were an undying soldier who was made to lead armies that you flash-fabricate in the field in a hilariously short period of time, said armies themselves made of soldiers that don't stay properly dead because you just keep rebuilding them from a Monument. On most maps, you show up to find that an army is besieging people whose forces are too few to fend off the attack, people are relieved that a Rune Warrior has arrived to save them, and you manufacture your RTS army to crush the enemy. The few RPG maps where you don't make an army usually are written as more small-scale problem solving; here's a bandit, he's making trouble, could you go kill him. Something a typical fantasy adventuring party of individual could plausibly handle without needing an army.

In Spellforce 2, you're a Shaikan, which means you're fairly undying (Though less than a Rune Warrior), including that your fellow Characters With Names And Faces are conveniently all basically undying as well. This is narratively convenient for providing a core adventuring party that's out to save the world and can suffer in-gameplay casualties without them automatically equating to a mission failure or simply being accepted as a break from the narrative. Unfortunately, it provides no explanation for the RTS component of Spellforce 2, and with no inbuilt explanation available Spellforce 2 ends up falling back on having you recruit local military forces on each and every RTS map.

This creates fairly severe problems with the narrative. In Spellforce 1, we had an inbuilt explanation for why you are able to magic up an army and stomp everyone flat even though they had the home field advantage. In Spellforce 2, you're merely commandeering existing military assets in the area, and then apparently using them way more effectively than the locals were -with not a single suggestion on the part of the narrative that the player character is meant to be some kind of cunning strategic genius to even try to justify this. And in fact frequently you show up when the locals are on the back foot and then you turn things around... somehow.

There's layers of problems here. A major setting element in Spellforce 2's lore is that Shaikan are mistrusted at best and more likely hated, yet your character keeps being put in charge of whatever military they stumble upon, often for no real reason. This rather undermines the whole 'my character's people suffer from serious discrimination' notion. There's also a drop in believability on the tech tree mechanics; Spellforce 1 never explicitly addresses how Plans work, but the basic fact that you need Plans for units and buildings is straightforward as a justification for why you delve deeper into a race's tech tree as you advance through the campaign. In Spellforce 2, however, you unlock tech access by doing things like convincing a local band of Barbarians to help you fight local enemies... and without any kind of explanation or justification, this means that any future missions in which you're leading the Clans will have access to Barbarians, too, even though the local Barbarians explicitly didn't follow you off their island.

The RTS mechanics, too, go from 'this is more or less literally accurate to how Rune Warriors work' to the usual RTS issue of 'don't think too hard about how this can't possibly be an in-universe depiction of military activity, it's just a video game'. That's a huge drop in immersion, and Spellforce 2 has a nasty habit of calling your attention to it, with some things you do in RTS maps being treated as if they took weeks and other things being treated as if they were a blitzing assault that took 1-3 days -both of which, as a player, took the same hour of play.

The whole thing is frustrating and is a major contributor to why I was disappointed by the story, and seems rooted in a deeper issue of Spellforce 2 having simply not been written as an RPG/RTS hybrid. In a lot of ways, it comes across to me like the people behind Spellforce 2 didn't really want to make a sequel to Spellforce 1, they wanted to make an RPG and maybe they even wanted it to be set in the Spellforce setting but the whole RTS/RPG hybrid aspect of Spellforce was included purely because people would expect it rather than because the developers really wanted to do anything with it. And honestly, I'm skeptical of even that; the core narrative of Spellforce 2's first campaign barely connects to established Spellforce lore/story beats, and what connections there are tend to be undermined by things like 'yeah that returning Dark Elf character was always basically Drizzt Do'Urden anyway'. If you're going to make one of your relatively major characters a blatant expy from another setting instead of an actual Spellforce unique... you could've just made an original setting with another blatant expy.

Generally? Spellforce 2 was at its best, narratively, when you were doing RPG sequences where the gameplay scale actually fit the narrative scale. The RTS sequences were very consistently giant narrative problems. Which was a problem since something like 90% of the game's maps were RTS maps in whole or in large part.

And the sense the developers really just wanted to make an RPG instead of an RTS/RPG hybrid was... frustrating, given that obviously a Spellforce player would be hoping for more Spellforce goodness.


  1. I never could take the name Craig seriously for a Dark Elf, at least Drizzt hits the right note

    1. Maybe it sounds more exotic in German?

      But now that you mention it, his name is weirdly ordinary. Even considering they pronounce it closer to 'cray' than to 'craig'.

    2. Looking forward to seeing Ted the Orc in Spellforce 4 (if I ever get around to getting 3 even)


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