Every so often you’ll meet someone who has their own unique take on what foods should go together. Here’s mine: soy sauce and french fries. Trust me on this. Find an average Chinese buffet – those tend to have the best fries and also available soy sauce – and give it a shot. You’ll discover that two great tastes can taste great together. That’s also the guiding concept behind SpellForce 3, the latest in the long-running series of RPG-RTS hybrid games.
In a world where magic-users have been oppressed based on their immense power and potential for destruction (think Dragon Age), a rogue mage named Isamo Tahar leads a rebellion against the Empire that’s keeping his people down. Tahar’s child – a son or daughter, though the game strongly prefers referring to the hero as a dude – is rescued from execution by an Imperial general who sounds suspiciously like Geralt of Rivia. Years later, it comes down to that same child, now grown into a leader themselves, to deal with evil magic and cults, fight against a lethal plague, bring armies together and basically do all manner of heroism.
It’s an interesting enough premise that serves the game well, given that SpellForce 3 is a hybrid of RPG and real-time strategy mechanics that feels somewhat unique in practice. The experience is somewhat similar to the hero-focused missions of Warcraft III, where you had several signature characters who served as leaders for more expendable armies. Here, your heroes have RPG-like gear sets and skill trees that you can develop to your liking as the game goes on; in particular, you can customize the child of Tahar to a degree and it makes them feel like your very own hero. It’s an interesting take on both genres and both sides function at least as well as a decent game in their respective classes for the most part.
Success, then, tends to rely on harmonizing both sides of the gameplay. Playing this primarily as an RPG or an RTS can work; powerful heroes can certainly take out groups of enemies alone with proper ability usage and micromanagement, of course, and you can absolutely solve problems by sending in an army. You’ll have the best luck, though, by combining the two, sending in heroes as leaders and support units for powerful armies. Your heroes get a survival boost because they aren’t eating every attack themselves, your armies will hit harder and last longer and both sides will benefit from the presence of the other.
The attention paid to both aspects of this hybrid game are a nice touch and fans of each style will find something to love; there’s resources to harvest and bases to build for your RTSers and dungeons to crawl through for your RPGers, while both sides will appreciate that this is a fairly lengthy adventure with plenty of content.
SpellForce 3 looks and sounds pretty nice as well, though the necessity of a birds-eye view means that it can be tough to pay attention to the more detailed aspects of the characters. Soundwise, well, Geralt of Rivia is in it. He goes by a different name and might even look like a different person, but no, that’s totally the Witcher. I’m sold, suffice to say. Other characters sound decent enough for this sort of setting and the music and sound are all par for the course.
To conclude, let me restate that you really ought to try putting soy sauce on fries sometime. Yes, it might sound strange. Yes, you could be put off before you try it – but you should definitely try it. Much like SpellForce 3, both of these are powerful and effective on their own, but soy sauce and french fries become a truly magnificent force when you put them together.