It isn’t often you get to play a game that feels authentically like it was made 8 years ago. While it may be a bit of an exaggeration to describe Spellforce 2: Demons of the Past in such a way, it also isn’t very far off. The original Spellforce 2 came out back in 2006 and has since seen two expansions. With Demons of the Past, we are not only getting a standalone expansion in the series that doesn’t require owning previous iterations, but we are also finally seeing the end of the Spellforce 2 story – all based in that same engine from 2006.
In gaming, some things age incredibly well and stand the test of time, then there are other things that don’t. Unfortunately, Demons of the Past falls more in line with the latte category. Developed by Mind Over Matter in Hungary and published/programmed by Nordic Games, the conclusion to this ever-expanding saga finally wraps things up with a nice bow on top. The events within also pave the way for the inevitable next numbered entry in the franchise: Spellforce 3.
The series has always been unique in that it is very much a hybrid of both RPG mechanics and RTS gameplay. There are a wide range of game modes from campaign, skirmish and online multiplayer, all the way to wave-based survival maps and free-play quest modes. What Demons of the Past may lack in polish and overall quality, it more than makes up for in sheer breadth of content available.
Even though the game is based on that old engine, it isn’t all bad. They made some nice improvements with upgraded resolution support, better lighting, shaders and the whole shebang of features on that checkmark list all PC game developers reference when setting up an options’ menu. Even still these minor additions don’t make up for the fact that the game just doesn’t look or play like it released in early 2014.
I can forgive minor things like bugs and hiccups here and there (which there are plenty of) but some things feel inexcusable. The game crashed on me a couple times, which should not happen in an engine this “tested”. Demons of the Past also has some of the worst path-finding I’ve seen in a game, with NPCs often taking horrible routes to destinations unless I click them every step of the way. Every time an event such as “completing a quest” or “autosaving” occurs, it would chug horribly for several seconds until the dialogue popup box went away.
Graphically, many areas simply looked blurry and unfinished in the environment, along with stiff and blocky character models that would look more appropriate in a late-generation Nintendo 64 game. Voice acting is about what I expected, although still underwhelming and the overall writing makes it very difficult to be engaged if you have zero previous knowledge of the series. Clearly you should have played one of the past entries, as there are several, but the appeal of releasing a standalone expansion like this is bringing in even more new gamers. This is significantly harder to do when the comfort curve in the campaign is so high.
Thankfully, the actual mechanics of the game are so easy to grasp that anyone remotely familiar with the RTS genre could quickly pick up and play this game without hassle. With such variety of content and mechanics, you will often find yourself mixing methods of gameplay that can, at times, feel quite exciting. As I take a quest from an NPC, sift through some dialogue trees to find out information, and organize my party of heroes, I see flashes of D&D games such as Baldur’s Gate. Once I battle through some small groups of enemies, pick up loot, level up and re-equip my characters, I sniff the influence of Diablo 2. Eventually, I rescue a village and they send some soldiers to fight by my side and I train archers at a local camp while my forces gather resources to improve our base – I’m reminded of Warcraft II.