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Bugs and Other Technical Issues
For a while I considered using "oof" as the only word for this section of the review, or perhaps channeling The Shining and repeating "oof" over and over again, but then I decided that you might want something more descriptive if not necessarily more accurate. So here goes.
From what I can tell -- and this is complete conjecture on my part -- SpellForce III didn't receive any sort of professional beta testing at any time during its development. Grimlore Games has simply relied on the bug reports from people playing the game -- whether from the free beta weekend before its release, or from the live guinea pigs playing it now. As a result, Grimlore quickly learned about a bunch of bugs -- bugs they should have known about earlier -- and released a bunch of patches -- about one a day over the game's first two weeks -- to compensate. Some people might point to the patches and say they're proof that Grimlore is dedicated to providing a quality product. My view is that they desperately didn't want anybody asking for refunds. Plus, they wanted to make sure that the game could even be finished.
Anyway, skills were broken, quests were broken, and dialogue was broken. I got lucky during my playthrough. Since I tend to play games slower than others -- or perhaps "in a more thoughtful way" is a better descriptor -- by the time I got to certain places in the campaign, many game-breaking bugs had already been fixed. But even so, about 10% of the quests I received ended up breaking, and the problem was always something dumb. For example, one of the final quests involves looting a treasure room, but there's a door along the way that doesn't open when you click on it, so you can't go through. How could a bug that simple make it into a game's final release? And how could it possibly still be there three weeks later? Those are questions you might ask a lot while playing SpellForce III.
Or how about this for ineptitude? The dialogue is a mess. I lost count of how many times I had conversations where the subtitles didn't match the spoken words, where you got stuck in an infinite loop and couldn't advance a quest, where you weren't given an exit option and simply had to walk away from an NPC to break off the conversation, where a conversation prematurely ended and you had to start over, or an NPC repeated quest dialogue after the quest was complete. If you're a developer and simple dialogue coding is beyond you, then forget about creating an RPG/RTS hybrid.
Do you want more? The maps are so dark that it's tough to tell where you've explored, and you're not allowed to do any annotating. The loading times are excruciatingly long, especially since you're forced to listen to a narrator drone on about the map area you're in. Enemies always attack you in a straight line from their town hall to yours, so you always know where they're going to be. The camera is designed so poorly that sometimes it can't show you where you are and has to jitterbug around to some other location. And characters sometimes have trouble with pathfinding, so if you click on a location about an inch away, they decide to wander over to the other side of the map and back. Oof, oof, and more oof.
Somewhere deep in the current version of SpellForce III, there's a potentially fun game waiting to emerge. It's just a matter of whether Grimlore Games can cut away enough bugs and sculpt the balance enough so the good game can find a way to the surface. Right now, even after a dozen patches, SpellForce III still has lots of problems -- too many problems, really -- but it works, and it might provide some enjoyment for fans of real-time strategy and role-playing games. But I'd recommend waiting for another month or two, and for a few more patches, and probably for a price drop, before trying it out.
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