SpellForce 3 is a real time strategy game (RTS) that follows the basic RTS formula: you'll command units, ordering their skills to be used at specific times, capturing territories and building bases. The control scheme is the typical classic RTS setup: you can select units one at a time, or in a group by dragging and selecting all of them. A right click will tell them where to go, and there are also specific key-strokes to issue specific orders.
Story & Flow
There are several stories in the SpellForce 3 campaign. The one available at the time of this review was called the Soul Harvest, where an army commander is trying to settle the nightmares of his past failures in an ever changing dreamscape.
You'll begin by selecting your race, either Refugees, Orcs and Elves. The Human race is probably the most balanced and in addition to being the most straightforward (in my opinion), probably have the best bang for your buck out of all the top tier units, with badasses like the Paladin charging in and kicking serious ass for you. Orcs are the most aggressive/physical of the races, focusing mainly on melee attacks, which reminded me somewhat of the Orcs in Warcraft 3. They get off to a fast start, so if you like to charge in fast or rush, these are probably the guys for you. Elves are more defensive-minded, and of course have effective long range units, capable of doing a lot of damage from a distance, but suffer from a lack of solid high end options to bring in force.
You have the option to create your character from the ground up, and not just cosmetically, although you are able to choose your gender and other features. More importantly, you'll choose your character's class skills and attributes (dexterity, strength, willpower intelligence and constitution). Several skills with class trees are available to you, but if you just want to get going, you can select a pre-made class with a specific set, although I wouldn't recommend it. It's all pretty standard, with your skills coming in recognizable flavors (spells, auras and passive) and if you're familiar with RTS games, you will be right at home with Spellforce 3.
As an RTS, Spellforce 3 has the usual base builder aspects as well. You collect resources to raise buildings and create units, which you then use to explore, attack enemy bases, or complete objectives. During fights, you can quickly give units basic commands such as follow, attack, defend and so on. In terms of actually building and collecting resources, you have standard RTS workers that can gather resources from their "sector", but if you want to collect resources outside of your domain, you'll have to conquer them first, whereupon you'll get yourself some new workers. Generally this is accomplished by just building a structure there, but if an enemy controls the area, you have to get rid of them first.
One thing I appreciated was the ability to press the spacebar during cutscenes in order to fast forward through them, because unfortunately, the dialogue can drag a bit at times. The game can feel very slow with a lot of informational front-loading, which, unfortunately, they sort of have to do in order to make sure people who haven't played the previous games are up to speed. For players new to the RTS genre (or those who either already know the story or don't care) this can hinder their experience and cause you to feel overwhelmed. Add to that a ton of hot-keys to learn right off the bat for quick access to windows and commands and a ton of reading as well, it all can kind of blow right past you. It would have been nice to have things parceled out a bit better.
Depending on your playstyle and patience, it also would have been nice to have a way to speed up time in the campaign. At times, it can feel like it's taking forever to gather resources and construct buildings and units, and things can drag on a bit as you build up what you need to progress. Granted, I am not an avid fan of the genre, but I am familiar with it and I'm used to RTS' games, having played the classics and some of the more recent offerings, so I feel confident saying that it can just seem tedious at times. I wish there would have been a 2x speed up button, or something similar.
Something else that came up a lot in game was the problem of units getting caught and stuck on things on the map. Several times I had to move units back and then tell them to march again so they'd step around another unit or obstacle, which occasionally caused an issue in battle. The camera movement can be a little tricky as well, as you can move the perspective with the arrow keys or by dragging your mouse to the edge of the screen, which took me a bit to master, although I got the hang of after a little while.
If you don't want to play the campaign, there are also skirmish battles with a versus mode, custom rules, and solo battles. You can make custom characters that you can use to enter into co-op play with friends, or even recruit them as mercenaries in your own games, which was a nice touch that I found pretty cool.
Graphics & Sound
In terms of the look, sound and feel, Spellforce 3 is beautifully rendered. Character animations are well put together, and set pieces look varied and interestingly designed. The buildings that you create are also well made and look majestic or foreboding, appropriately. The characters are well voiced, each having a unique and well paced feel about them. The music is extremely atmospheric, producing a haunting backdrop to a desolate tale. The overall narrative makes me feel like I'm taking part of a grand epic that's more than just words on a page, which was very effective.