Spellforce: The Order of Dawn

15_1SpellForce: The Order of Dawn is a real-time strategy/role-playing game is set in the familiar world of high fantasy with a colorful visual presentation. Because they were greedy, power-hungry bastards, thirteen magicians summoned fire, rain, hail, and tar pits to overtake the world. They really screwed up, though, leaving behind nothing but a series of floating islands. Totally humiliated, they licked their wounds for a while and then returned to begin being merry all over again. Guess who is tasked to stop them?

In true role-playing game fashion, you’ll create a character with various strengths, specialties, combat and magic abilities. Up to five heroes will help you, but while you can level, they can’t, which seems a bit limiting. The linear campaign mode steers you through various objectives (somehow it isn’t really “mission-based,†though) as your avatar grows stronger and you collect various runes that provide you with the ability to summon heroes and produce different types of workers.

The “rune management†sort of takes the place of the classic real-time strategy tech tree as you raise and expand settlements to build up your army. Thankfully, not a whole lot of micromanagement goes into resource collecting (once you’re set up). Humans, Elves, Dark Elves, Trolls, and Dwarves are the races you can assemble, and each of them has its own badass unit that exercises mega-clout.

5The mouse and keyboard camera controls are versatile, giving you all the perspective you need including the ability to swing the camera right behind your avatar’s shoulder. Zoomed in, the game looks spectacular, but as usual, it’s pretty hard to manage tactical combat that way. The upshot are the hack-and-slash journeys battling hordes of enemies, with intermediate periods of rest and building construction. Tons of statistical detail keep you interested in your character, and the RPG elements are neatly woven into the real-time interface.

After rolling up a character, you hit the landscape running and grow your party by freeing heroes from monuments and securing village real estate. Initially you’ll summon worker drones to mine and process raw resources and construct villages, leading eventually to the assembly of kickass tactical combat troops and technologies. With over 21 huge maps and quests, you can play the game in short spurts or over longer periods of time.

The AI is also well-implemented, scouting ahead and retreating for reinforcements with appropriately frustrating vigorousness. All of it combine into one surprisingly attractive whole. Phenomic gets high marks for busting genre lines without sacrificing playability in Spellforce, and you should probably consider giving it a try.

System Requirements: Pentium III 700 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 32 MB Video, WinXP

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