Spellforce III Reforced does a very commendable job blending two beloved genres together. It takes the complexities of RTS games like Warcraft, Starcraft and others, and blends it with the progression heavy aspects of RPGs. Spellforce III Reforced is a very ambitious title with a lot to prove. This rerelease boasts new game modes, new multiplayer maps, refined gameplay systems and perhaps most important of them all, full gamepad support! You can now play on your PS5 or Xbox controller! But should you?
Many games lend themselves to be played on a controller. Some games are intended to be played on peripherals such as fake guitars, drums, steering wheels, etc. These games excel on those controllers because that was how they were initially designed to be played. Grimlore Games went and did something brave and daring by redesigning their initial control set into a controller. The official PlayStation YouTube channel released a video showcasing how they did all of that. I had actually seen the video months before getting the review code for this game. The video showcases how easy and user friendly the controls are. “Control your hero and entire armies with a mere push of a button,” it says. Sounds great and very streamlined. Having seen this video, I figured I’d have enough speed to hit the ground running. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The way Spellforce III Reforced controls on my PS5 controller is far and away my biggest problem with this game. I can feel the work and effort the developers put into making this feel right. There are lots of onscreen button prompts that tell you what each button does. The issue is each button opens up a menu, and then you often have another button that opens up a menu within the first menu, and then it continues. I find it very difficult to actually do what I’m trying to do because I keep getting lost in the radial menus. Not to mention that I have very poor eyesight and struggle to actually read what’s on my screen. That problem is even further exaggerated by the fact that you cannot adjust text size. That is my biggest pet peeve when it comes to playing video games in 2022. I feel like there needs to be more accessibility options because Spellforce III Reforced has me sorely missing them. Perhaps it wouldn’t be as big of an issue if I played this on a computer with the monitor two feet away from my face, but this is on a TV across the room from me. I really like being able to see what I’m looking at. This is just a plea to every video game developer out there. PLEASE ADD MORE ACCESSIBILITY OPTIONS. I also had some weird audio issues. I’m assuming they can be fixed in a pretty small patch, but out of nowhere the dialogue would sound like it was coming from a fast food drive-thru speaker. This happened literally dozens of times.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of my enjoyment of Spellforce III Reforced has been plagued by the controls and various popup menus. Many things like talking to NPCs, fighting enemies, moving units, building barracks become tedious and hard to navigate with just the X button. I think if I had a keyboard and mouse this would have been a much more enjoyable experience top to bottom. Sometimes it’s better to have access to more buttons. I’d rather have these functions attached to 10-15 different keys on my keyboard than just the one on the controller. Most of the combat and unit management felt less and less rewarding and more like a chore. I also had a lot of trouble differentiating which units were which unless I hovered over them to check or zoomed in really close. The scouts are noticeable because they’re on horseback, but aside from them I had to check almost every time.
Even with all the frustration I had with the controls, I thought the overall presentation was great. I love the writing. There were some parts that genuinely had me laughing. A lot of the acting is great too, particularly from the main cast. The side characters really did feel like side characters. I didn’t find any of them thrilling or captivating like I did with the majority of the major characters. The nice thing about this game’s story is that it serves as a prequel to the first Spellforce. If you’re like me and haven’t played the first Spellforce and were turned off about not knowing any of the plot or history, then you’re in luck! This is where all that stuff originated. You could actually start with this game and not be entirely lost. This isn’t Kingdom Hearts. It doesn’t expect you to know what anybody is talking about. Learning about the world’s rich lore feels rewarding and engaging. I do wish that the character creation and skill trees were a little more fleshed out. I often didn’t really feel like I had a sense of agency with my protagonist. Which is a total shame because the tutorial section has you playing the badass general Setenza Noria, voiced by Doug Cockle. THE Doug Cockle. GERALT OF RIVIA. That is until he is ripped away from you and you are given control of the child of Isamo Tahar, the bad guy. Known simply as Tahar (plus whatever first name you give them) you must figure out what’s behind the mysterious Bloodburn, a plague destroying the kingdom. I won’t go into any more detail… mainly because I find the plot hard to follow, but that’s besides the point. When the story beats hit, they really hit.
One major point that shouldn’t be ignored is how gorgeous Spellforce III Reforced is. It shines on the PS5. The lighting system is gorgeous; shadows of moving clouds as they pass by, roaring fires properly illuminating the surrounding area. It’s all very impressive. You can also have dozens and dozens of units on screen at a time and I’m always impressed to see the amount of shadowed objects. I play a lot of League of Legends on my Macbook Air, so I don’t get to see shadows when I play. I appreciate a nice fuckin’ shadow. The overall fantasy aesthetic is just delicious. Whether it be a deep dark cave that feels like there’s no end in sight, or a beautiful and colourful forested area, the game is brimming with personality. Every settlement you visit and building you enter feels lived in and unique. Having roaming NPCs wander around bustling cities really sets the atmosphere, even if you can’t speak to most of them.
Another excellent part of this rerelease is the new Arena Mode and Journey Mode! My personal favourite being Arena Mode. It’s essentially an endless horde mode. You go until you die. You start out with very shitty gear and get rewarded with better gear and gold the longer you are able to survive. I found myself able to enjoy this mode a lot more because it is pretty mindless up until you get to the higher levels. I didn’t have any frustrations figuring out menus or layouts because Arena Mode allows for a much less overwhelming gameplay loop. The developers stress that even though you can play solo, it’s much more enjoyable with friends. I’ll just have to take their word on it because I wasn’t able to play with anybody else. As someone who used to play a lot of Zombie mode in past Call of Duty installations, I can see myself having a blast playing Arena Mode with friends. Journey Mode is somewhat similar to the main campaign. You are able to create your own hero (from any of the playable races) and you can experience 20+ hours of unique contracts and missions exclusive to Journey Mode. Having a much more open character creation and endless build paths allows for a higher replayability factor. If there’s any reason to come back to Spellforce III Reforced after beating the campaign, this is it.
Spellforce III Reforced on console is a frustrating gem. The great writing, graphics, overall presentation and gameplay modes feel muddied down due to the overly complex controls. Ironically, I found this to be a wildly less streamlined experience, even though everything about the control design is nothing but streamlined. This is a great game here, but my experience with it felt like I was playing Guitar Hero with a steering wheel. I would recommend playing this on a PC if you can. The extra content and included DLCs are a great bonus to an already impressive 40+ hour campaign. I am having a very difficult time recommending this game on console, which is a shame. You absolutely should play this great game… just maybe on a keyboard and mouse.