The best attempt yet to combine the RPG and RTS genres, superior in every way to its competition.

User Rating: 8.5 | SpellForce 2: Shadow Wars PC
If you've played Spellforce 1: The Order of Dawn, you won't be hugely surprised by Spellforce 2: Shadow Wars, which is a good thing, because the original did a lot of things right. Mostly what it needed was some rounding-off of edges and polish, and Shadow Wars has benefited from a fair amount of refinement. A far better game than Dragonshard, yet the official reviews aren't as good. Maybe it's because Phenomic is a German developer, and simply doesn't have the publicity elsewhere.

The RPG elements of Shadow Wars are much deeper than those of its predecessor. The skill trees are large and varied, with one tree for combat and one for magic. Skill progression is restricted by the number of points you currently have distributed (effectively a level restriction). Beyond that, you're free to choose whatever you want, either in magic or combat, though it generally pays to stick with one or the other. On the combat side, you have skills like dual wield blades/daggers, heavy armor with plate/chain sub-skills, warhammers/two-handed swords, bows/crossbows, etc. On the magic side, you have spells dealing with healing, elemental, mental, summoning, etc. Character customization is limited to choosing male/female and a face, from a selection of 20 or so.

The RTS side is pretty straightforward, involving resource collecting and base building. There are 9 playable races: Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, Barbarians, Trolls, Norcaine (Dark Elves), Gargoyles, Shadows, with Humans, Orcs, and Dark Elves being the primary races and the others being sub-races. There are other races, like the undead, demons, and beast people, but they are not playable in the SP campaign. Each of the races is distinctive with their own strengths and weaknesses and unique units. Humans are balanced with good ranged and healers (druids), Orcs are strongest in melee with some ranged units and offensive magic-users, and the Norcaine have summoners (necromancers), stealth units (shadows), and good flying and ground melee units (gargoyles). Titan units can also be summoned, which can be as powerful as several heroes combined.

As far as the story and characters go, it's very well done. For the most part, the voice acting is decent, with a few odd inflections/pronunciations/wordings here and there, like "This is the stuff of children." In other words, "This is child's play." The story is tight and keeps things moving along at a nice pace. Other heroes join your party after they have been infused with the dragon blood of the avatar, which gives them the ability to resurrect each other. There are two additional slots for temporary heroes, who come and go throughout the game, over which you have limited control (no inventory or skill access). There are plenty of sidequests available and even a minigame-type quest, enough to add a good 10-15 hours on top of the main quest. There's a good array of weapons and armor, including some strangely highly-protective bikini-type armor for female characters.

Combat mechanics have been improved from the OoD. Character attack behavior can be set to pretty much anything you want, auto-attack even has different levels of aggro. In combat, the player will mainly be concerned with casting spells/special attacks/abilities. At the hardest difficulty setting some battles will require very efficient use of spells/abilities, otherwise the party will be wiped out very quickly. I couldn't imagine surviving most big battles without at least 3 strong healers and at least 2 tanks with very high armor. If you like a challenge, I suggest playing on the hardest difficulty. Path-finding and AI are quite good, and I know full well how much of a game-killer bad AI/pathing can be in an RTS (BfME 2). The enemy tends to send out a sizable force, yet keeps their bases well-guarded. Attacking enemy bases can turn into a long attrition slugfest with heroes dying and being resurrected 5 times in the same battle.

The environment graphics are easily the best ever seen in an RTS, which can be seen more fully by going into camera chase mode behind the avatar. The unit graphics are noticeably low-poly close up, but most of the time, you'll be viewing them from above at distance, and it would probably kill most people's framerates otherwise. The heroes look much better of course.

That's about it. If you're a fan of either RPGs or RTSs, there isn't a better combination of those two genres to be found.