The Spellforce franchise was first produced by JoWood Productions twenty whole years ago with SpellForce: The Order of Dawn. Over the last two decades it has seen several sequels and spin-offs, all building upon its unique blend of RPG and RTS gameplay. Eschewing the deeper mechanics of 4X grand strategy titles like Age of Empires or Civilisation, SpellForce has always been more story-focused, tasking you with raising powerful heroes to command your forces. SpellForce: Conquest of Eo skews the other way, pushing back towards strategy and all but abandoning the RPG elements.
Fans of the franchise may not necessarily see this as a good thing. SpellForce has always stood out from the crowd with its mixing of genres, and Conquest of Eo feels like, well, everything else. It reminded me most of Masters of Magic, an RTS game released at the tail end of 2022. The SpellForce universe has a rich internal lore that this new iteration plumbs for its narrative, but the sense of heroic conquest is mostly absent.
Instead, it casts you as the apprentice of a mage murdered by the Circle, a cadre of powerful sorcerers who have declared themselves judge and jury over all magic-users. Your character is never seen, and you instead control a growing army of minions and heroes to first rebuild your master’s tower and then to spread your influence across the land.
You begin by selecting a class from three choices: Alchemist, Artificer, and Necromancer. This choice determines a great deal, from the kind of spells you can develop to the minions you can summon in the later stages. You can also create a custom mage but you’ll need to choose one of the aforementioned classes as a base. After that you can choose a difficulty, and game zone, which further determines overall difficulty.
As you set out into the world gathering resources, investigating points of interest and defending yourself from attacks by Circle mages and bandits, you’ll need to promote your combat units and claim new areas by constructing Lodges. Combat plays a large part, but you won’t have to worry too much about other elements such as diplomacy or trade. The focus here is on domination above all else, and might is right in Conquest of Eo.
To this end you must research new spells and tactics. The former will populate your grimoire, though you can only have one equipped at a time for the most part. They allow you to heal your units, damage the enemy, or buff your armies in battle. The latter may allow you to create new units or potions (as an Alchemist), or improve your resource gathering speeds.
Combat takes place on a zoomed-in version of the map. You’ll still move in turns, directing your units to attack, defend, or use special abilities while you sit back casting spells here and there and monitoring the fight. There’s something a bit lacklustre about the combat though. It lacks any real sense of impact, and I found myself skipping any battle that promised a heroic or decisive victory. Units that survive a fight will often earn a promotion, but weirdly you can’t replenish depleted squads, so it’s often only a matter of time before you lose them.
I played primarily as an Artificer, but I was waiting for anything to really “wow” me in terms of spells and abilities. You can add things like golems to your ranks that do decent damage in a fight, but it takes a while to unlock them. More interesting are the various Heroes and Apprentices you can add to your ranks, who can be levelled up with specific skills and equipped with armour and gear to boost their stats. This feels much closer to the SpellForce of old and will be more appealing to fans.
Most of the units you hire are variations on monsters or mercenaries, none of which feel particularly inspired. Perhaps playing through as the other classes would yield different results here, but the narrative is unlikely to change much. That said, the narrative as it stands is solid. From your humble beginnings you’ll rise to a position where you truly threaten the Circle’s way of life, and the story you tell is malleable and mostly personal.
As you interact with different locations on the map you’ll open up new side quests and events, some of which will develop into questlines and reward you with allies, new units, or resources. The further you spread your influence, the more potential quests you’ll find, and there’s a huge array of different mini adventures on offer. The only drawback is that almost all of them are some variation on “go here, kill that, and bring this back to us”.
Many of these side concerns also have choices attached, some of which can see you avoid combat altogether or increase the potential rewards. There are moral decision to make that determine the kind of all-powerful overseer you’ll eventually become, and it’s these elements that harken so closely to the SpellForce we know and love. There’s still a theme of fantasy role-playing at the heart of what you’re doing, which long-time aficionados will likely cling to.
SpellForce: Conquest of Eo certainly looks the part, with detailed maps and well-designed units, but it plays its safe in terms of audio and visual design. In fact, playing it safe is kind of the theme here, as very little about Conquest of Eo feels risky or new. Yes, it’s stripped away a lot of what made the franchise unique, but it hasn’t replaced it with anything that feels exciting enough to make up for it. It feels like an entry-level RTS, when this franchise should be -and really could be – swinging for the big leagues now.