Alright, I can finally cross off 4X strategy games off my gaming blind-spot. I can’t say I’ve actively avoided them but I do prefer strategy to be more real time and, preferably involve some kind of power fantasy. Spellforce: Conquest of Eo certainly provides the fantasy part. Taking place across a vast land of magic and conflict, Owned by Gravity have certainly delivered an interesting introduction to the genre.
The premise puts you in the shoes of a mage out for vengeance. Your apprentice has been slain by a group called The Circle and the campaign tasks you with toppling the shadowy sorcerers. As a simple motivation, it’s fine. The overall goal of these games is to expand and dominate the other players on the map. All those points in between are where Spellforce: Conquest of Eo tends to shine.
Whilst the premise can be paper thin, there’s a lot of writing used to flesh out the universe. Admittedly, I’m fresh to the Spellforce franchise but there’s a sense of a world already in motion. Most quests seem to hold some world-building and it does result in something that is occasionally compelling to read. The random nature of these quests does help imply of a much larger narrative and should help keep campaigns fresh.
In the overworld, it’s a pretty swift experience. The typical hex grid displays where units can be moved to and, over time you can gain more stacks to cover more ground. Out in the world, random events will populate which can be as simple as a conversation or as confrontational as a battle. There’s a nice weight to them and how you conduct yourself will impact your standing with towns and other mages.
There is an awful lot to discover and the random side-quests pop in at regular intervals. Each stack contains a handful of units and these can be bolstered by acquiring apprentices. These are powerful units that can act as support (as well as direct damage dealers) to the subordinates. To begin with, you have just the one but these can be encountered as you progress through the campaign.
Exploration can feel rewarding with mines to plunder, crops to harvest and materials to gather. This plays into crafting but there’s also a need for gold to improve your mage’s tower. Little micro-managements like tweaking which resources take priority helps make turns feel very active. There is downtime but given the fog of war, I was never truly sure if trouble was round the corner.
It feels dynamic although the methods of expansion are not exactly well explained. For example, Allfire nodes can be cleaned to give you additional territory. I had a hard time finding out how to accomplish what, on the face of it, felt like a simple task. Combat is given a playable tutorial but, when it comes to the world map, training is very much on the job. There’s a plethora of text tutorials even they feel like they miss all the crucial steps. As a result, certain tasks can feel alien to me, even when I think I’ve got all the requirements.
Handedly, the difficulty of the campaign can be tweaked from the outset. It allows for experienced players to crank it up or tailor it to what they’re after. Given the clumsy teaching tools, lowering things down to story mode levels of challenge does give players a means to ease themselves in. Alternatively, you could decide to alter starting location to get right in the thick of things. It feels flexible and should accommodate a wide range of players.
Battles are often short and fairly straight forward. Like the overworld, it’s turn-based with your units alternating opportunities to position themselves on the board. Typically, I would let the opposing force come to me but most areas have cover and alleys you can usually utilise. There’s nothing I’d consider that complex about it. As your units gain more combat abilities, your options expand. Nerfing foes, healing ailing heroes and playing the usual numbers game all seems to be part and parcel of the experience.
It’s not too deep but it is preferable to auto-resolving scraps. Whilst that may be the quicker option, handling the fights by yourself tends to result in more favourable outcomes. As you enter a battle, your army strength and your chances of victory are displayed which can give you pause for thought. Fleeing is an option although key boss battles are inescapable. They’re encounters you really have to commit to. I do have a small quibble about how the game transitions from the overworld to combat. It requires a load and that can disrupt the pacing.
Visually, it’s more function over flourish. The world map has a lovely detail to it and zooming in and out can feel mostly smooth. It’s a varied landscape that does allow each area to feel distinct. Aside from the initial load to start the campaign, there’s no halts to the game and it helps maintain a fluid and dynamic sense of pacing. I enjoy the character models and their portraits. Whilst they maintain a standard fantasy look, there’s colour and charm to them that is decently animated.
Music tends to feel largely subdued. I can’t recall much of it but it does tend to slink into the background as standard fantasy fare. At least notifications like completing room construction or harvesting plants come with a flourish. There’s a lot of information to convey to the player and I do find it mostly gets that right.
For someone not well versed in the genre, Spellforce: Conquest of Eo does seem like a decent entry point at a reasonable price. There is a lot to juggle but exploration feels exciting and rewarding. Visually, it feels functional without being too flashy but things do falter when it comes time to teach new mechanics. I’ve enjoyed it, despite the issues with pacing and onboarding.
+ The world feels large and expansive.
+ Quests feel well written.
+ Customisable campaign.
- Load times in and out of battles can slow the pace down.
- No multiplayer campaign.
- Auto-resolving battles often leaves you with lesser outcomes.