While a good game, Spellforce 2 suffers from bad localization, and some of the same pitfalls as Dawn of War II.
Fast-forward to 2007, I was looking for an RTS RPG like Warcraft III almost was, and fell upon Spellforce. My first reaction wasn't good. The writing seemed to be mediocre, and horribly acted. The dialogue plays out like Neverwinter Nights or Dragon Age Origins, but with the main character voiced. It would have been nice, as I love RPGs to remember that Dialogue and Story are just as important as Progression and Customization, but again, the writing was mediocre and the acting was horrible. A note on this at the end.
The only thing that kept me going was the character customization system. The loot and items were structured like Diablo. There's tons of them, with tons of effects, and what you see in your inventory is the same as what appears on your character. The skills/talents were my favorite, though. There were two main trees: Magic, and Combat. Each tree had two sub-trees, Magic had Divine and World, and Combat had Heavy and Light. These were further subdivided into two more subclasses, Light and dark for Divine, Illusion and Elemental for World, Shields and Two-Handers for Heavy Combat, and Dual Wielding and Bows for light combat. Each of these had three skill specializations basically determining which weapon or flavor of magic the character wanted to specialize in. The way it was structured, you had to branch out at least slightly in between levels to progress up your main tree, so having a spellsword build, or a paladin build, was extremely viable. This was deep, interesting, and held my interest long enough to block out the other pitfalls.
The next part that was pretty great was the gameplay choices. First of all, it did not remove base-building. There is a simplified version of it that you have to do for certain quests, which is just deep enough to handle small squad-based combat, letting your heroes shine, but still allowing them to lead a number of troops into battle. The enemy pulls a lot of tricks, too, like having forward bases to lure you into thinking their forces are smaller than they are, and other things. Not preparing for a battle led me to my death at least twice, but it was never all that frustrating.
You have access to six heroes and two npc heroes, the five heroes outside of the one you create are largely placed on predetermined progression paths, while your hero is fully customizable. You cannot customize NPC heroes at all, but you do control them in combat. A little annoying, because I like to micromanage my skills in my party, but ultimately, it was little more than that--an annoyance.
You can summon any of your heroes and NPC heroes to your main character simply by targeting them and using the ability to teleport them. This is also the way you resurrect them. This was a nice feature. It made it very easy to fast travel all over the place and not worry about having to leave them behind. This is tied into the story.
On that note, each map is enormous. The entirety of Rexxar's campaign was based out of a single map. These maps are at least as big, and are plentiful. If my world-map is any indication, there are a total of 12 of these maps to campaign across. They put fast-travel locations across each map, which is nice, because there is a fair bit of backtracking for quests and things. This makes traversing them quick, while retaining the feeling of magnitude in the world.
The combat is quick, if a little bit cluster-y at times. The easiest way to command your units is to place them in control groups to your liking, then click on the thing you want them to kill. Across the top of your screen are your heroes and all your control groups. You can issue an attack command from here, or select them to give them more specific commands. In addition to this, your hero can have up to 8 spells, whose icons will be shown on the right side, underneath their portrait, and the secondary heroes can have three spells, listed in a similar manner. This makes the controls extremely simple, but still allows for a great deal of micromanagement on the target level.
Some quick notes: you receive quests and progress through the story through a simple and familiar system of exclamation points and question marks, nothing new there. While no single part of this game was all that innovative on its own, in the context of it being an RTS RPG, it shines well. I've noticed no bugs thus far, which means the programming was at least mostly clean. It comes with a map editor, so hopefully people have come up with some good modules. I have yet to dive into either the editor or the mod community. It also has co-operative play, through its free-play system, which has missions well-designed for co-op, as well as a system that allows each character to progress independently, including inventory, skills, heroes, and story progress. There is a story there, but I have yet to dive into it.
Finally, a note on the dialogue and writing. I mentioned localization in the review deck. This is because the game came from Austrian developer JoWood. I didn't realize when I first played it that the problem wasn't exactly writing and acting, but localization. The Witcher before its enhanced edition had this problem as well. I hope they do something similar when Faith in Destiny finally comes out. The combat and customization are deep enough that this game is worth getting and playing, but you have to excuse its main pitfall of not having a good localization team, or if nothing else, a localization team that didn't have the budget or know-how to properly adapt this to English-speaking audiences. This is little excuse, as a bit of touch up would have gone a long way to making this game popular with all audiences.
Bottom Line? A tentative recommendation. I think this genre would get more popular if more people took risks on it.