Spellforce: Breath of Winter Review

Spellforce gets expanded!

Review by Rob Edmondson
Published 22nd February 2005

Spellforce: Breath of Winter

  • Developer: Phenomic
  • Publisher: JoWooD
  • Release Date: 25th June 2004

The original Spellforce didn’t exactly take off over here in the UK, which is a shame as it was a brave attempt by Phenomic to merge the two genres of real-time strategy and role-playing. It wasn’t exactly bad either, receiving very solid reviews with some analysts even considering it a classic. With the developers always planning for the original to be the first part of a trilogy, respectable sales were hoped for and thankfully the Germans delivered in this department making the game a best-seller over there. So the release of the expansion marks Phenomic’s second attempt to really make Spellforce take off.

In Breath of Winter you again take up the role of a Rune Warrior, though this time in a slightly different quest. Initially you find yourself called upon by the Resistance, a group comprising primarily of former slaves who are fighting to end the existing slave trade. Things all move on very quickly though in an above average story which does contain a few genuine surprises, but I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers. One slight oversight in the story though is that it’s impossible to carry over your avatar from the previous game – as technically they are different characters – and you are forced to level up a weaker character all over again.

If you are reading this review I’ll have to assume you have played “The Order of Dawn” and are aware of the basic gameplay ideas behind the game. With this in mind I will concentrate on what has changed in the expansion for the benefit of the veteran.

The first thing you notice upon firing up the game is how much bigger the gameplay areas are. They’re huge! This means that on average you’ll be spending a lot longer on each map and this is not to the benefit of the game. The reason for this is that the unit cap still remains and you are forced to spread your troops much more thinly. This often means long pauses between battles while you simply move your men from one location to the next and does the game no favours. At least the bindstones remain, ensuring your hero can still move around reasonably quickly.

As you’d expect there are plenty of new monsters, but these differ from the old ones mainly in appearance and you are left thinking at times that they are perhaps the same monsters in a different skin. There is a more interesting development on the equipment side; you are now able to form a complete set of armour with some items giving you additional bonuses.

Also included is a ‘Free play’ mode in which you can choose to take part in various missions, ranging from role-play to strategy-heavy scenarios with up to two friends. You have to create a new avatar in this mode though and with the absence of any story or quests you’ll find this quickly grows repetitive, as you feel no attachment to your character. With the release of a campaign editor to the general public there’s likely to be many better options available online shortly.

Other minor gameplay alterations include the ability to automatically sort your inventory and a handy note on your spells indicating their level. These updates, however, are all included in the recent patch and more useful alterations such as the ability to target creatures behind foliage and an AI update would have been welcome. The AI in particular still has annoying problems with your troops often valiantly charging into battle before you give an order and in the other extreme standing around idly while nearby units are being slaughtered.

Graphically the original Spellforce was ahead of its time and so the lack of a visual update here is not so disappointing. There are a few new tile sets included though, most notably the swamp and snow ones, which offer a pleasant change. With the name “Breath of Winter” one might be worried that almost all of the action takes place in bland snowy scenarios but I can happily say that this is not the case and the environments are as diverse as ever.

Music-wise Breath of Winter surpasses even the first game, which had a great soundtrack of its own, with well timed classical pieces complementing the action. With the tired music often accompanying strategy games nowadays you’ll often find yourself consciously stopping to notice just how good the music is as it walks all over many scores in so called bigger games. It’s a shame the same can’t be said about the voice acting, which at times is laughable. I know this is a translation of a German game but surely they should have dedicated more of the budget to this area.

One strange alteration in the expansion is that now the fog of war darkens completely again, as it was before exploration, if you do not visit for a while. You have to wonder if this was an intended gameplay modification or just an attempt to make the game run slightly smoother, especially as upon reloading a saved game you find that near the entire map is blacked out again despite this not being the case at saving.

I could write on for ages about opportunities the developers had for improving, such as making better use of the day/night cycle or, maybe, giving a bit more personality to the NPC’s, but I fear I heard you yawn, dear reader and so, shall let the given testament that nothing much has changed stand.

Spellforce was something of an overlooked classic and Breath of Winter offers you more of the same but unfortunately no more to tempt you to part with your cash. If you didn’t have enough first-time round then this is a highly recommended buy. However if you sucked every drop of enjoyment out of the last one, then you should perhaps think of passing this one by, as it’s only an average expansion to a great game.

Review Score: 7.4/10

Please note, this review was scored using our old system. For more information please see our review policy.

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