Closing out the series, Geneforge 5 at last brings an end to the terrible struggle between the Shapers and the rebels. Of the several factions involved, only one will achieve victory. Which one triumphs will be determined by the side you choose to support.
And no matter to whom you pledge loyalty, grim deeds are ahead. As I mentioned once before, no one’s hands are clean in a war. The question is, how far are you willing to go to bring lasting peace to the land?
Before you can do anything, however, you have to create a character. As usual, all start out as cookie cutters, and are modified over time as you gain levels. There are three classes for Shapers, and six for rebels.
Each class has three major skills: shaping, which makes creatures to serve you; combat, which is obvious, and magic, which is also obvious. Each class is strong in one, average in another, and weak in the third.
The Shapers have Shapers (shaping/magic), Agents (magic/combat), and Guardians (combat/shaping).
On the rebel side, there are Lifecrafters (shaping/magic), Infiltrators (magic/combat), Shock Troopers (shaping/combat), Sorcereresses (magic/shaping), Serviles (combat/magic), and Warriors (combat/shaping).
Since three of the rebel classes are exactly the same as the shaper ones, it seems a bit redundant to have both. Perhaps, as this is the last Geneforge, Jeff allowed for those who might want to play very pro-Shaper with the original classes.
In addition to the major skills are three miscellaneous ones: leadership, mechanics, and luck. Typical for a Geneforge game, the first two play an important part throughout.
Leadership is used for convincing people, controlling (in some instances) non-party creations, and lying. I’ve always liked how you can lie and get away with it; not many games allow for that.
Mechanics is used for defusing traps and lockpicking. There are plenty of traps in this game, many of them lethal. Also many locks, some pickable with skill alone, others requiring tools as well.
You begin with 15 free skill points, and receive five more each time you level up. These points can be put into any of the skills or stats. Speaking of stats, they are the traditional strength, intelligence, dexterity, and endurance.
Inventory is handled as before: 36 slots, each holding an item or stack of items. These are all “weightless”, and do not add to encumbrance. Equipped items are another matter. These do count, and wearing too much heavy equipment slows you down in combat.
Combat, as always in a Spiderweb product, is turn-based. Who goes when is based on several factors, including dexterity, magical boosts from spells or equipment, and the Quick Action skill.
A combatant’s turn ends when an attack is made, a spell is cast, or action points - usually eight - are used up. On the player’s side, individual turns for the character or any creations can be passed by hitting the spacebar. Fighting usually continues until one side or the other is wiped out.
The display, as you can see from the screenshot, is divided into several sections. Note especially the automap in the lower left. Unlike previous games, this one “floats” and can be moved anywhere on the screen.
What you can’t see are the lower three members of Morgana’s party. They’re blocked by the map. It can be rolled up, but then you can’t keep an eye on the surroundings, or where you are in the area. Nor can you see if anything may be creeping up on you.
Moving the map anywhere else is no better; no matter where it’s placed, some section of the world view is blocked. I am astonished that Jeff would make such a poor design choice here.
The bottom section of the screen has the “quick use” buttons: four for spells and four for items. Also available are buttons to switch between spellcasting and physical combat, make a creation, and to choose a spell not on the “quick buttons”.
Geneforge 5 sports a number of keyboard shortcuts, and for the first time, customized keys. Players have been wanting that for a long time, and it’s finally here. A few combinations are reserved, but most are open for mapping or remapping.
Movement, as usual, is by mouse. Click where you want to go and your party walks there if not obstructed. For long walks, the desired area can be highlghted via the minimap, then clicked.
Outdoor travel is on the world map. Early on, going around is slow, as areas have to be cleared first. Afterwards, long journeys are possible simply by clicking on your destination. As long as an open route is possible, the party goes there immediately. Since you’re passing through cleared areas, no fighting ever takes place along the way.
The screenshot shows the northern half of the continent. There is also a southern half. Geneforge 5 has much to explore; this is not a game to whip through in a few hours.
As usual, conversation is an important part of the game. Not only for picking up information and jobs, but also giving opinions. Those must be considered carefully, because your pro-Shaper or pro-rebel remarks get around.
The crafting system has been augmented. Besides being able to make the usual run of enhanced items, you can create artifacts. Those require rare items and recipes. The major ones are powerful, but artifacts are limited to boots, gloves, belts and greaves only.
Saving can be done anytime outside of combat. Restoring, however, can be done whenever you like, including during a fight. Quick save and quick restore are also available. For the quick restore, the game will prompt when you hit the key. Just in case you may have pushed it by accident.
So much for the mechanics, which are pretty much the same as they were in Geneforge 4. These have always been secondary to the story. What about that?
First, a quick recap for those new to the series. For centuries, the Shapers held sway over Terrestria. They had the power to create life of almost any kind, animal or plant.
Some of those “animals”, like the Serviles (who did grunt work), had minds. And a few had minds enough to hate their servitude. They broke away, trying to live as free creatures. Of course, the Shapers didn’t like that.
The struggle between the two sides intensified, until it broke out into open warfare in the fourth game. As the fifth opens, the war has been going on for years, with a fair chunk of Terrestria devastated. Attrition has brought exhaustion to both Shapers and rebels.
Everyone wants an end to it. The problem is, there isn’t any agreement on how to do that. Which brings us to the factions: three for the Shapers, one for the rebels, and one in between them.
Astoria is the moderate. She believes the Shapers can’t win, and that compromise is the only solution. Make a deal with the rebels, let them have their own lands, and be done with it.
Alwan is the hardline Shaper. He wants to crush the rebels, and return to the days when Shapers held absolute power. Negotiating a peace with rebels is not on his agenda.
Taygen is a nutcase. He figures the only way is to start over from scratch. Wipe out all creations, rebel or not, then begin again, being more careful the second time around.
Ghaldring the drakon (something like a two-legged dragon) leads the rebel forces. He is just as fanatical as Alwan. The Shapers must be crushed once and for all. No mercy for them.
Litalia heads the Trakovite faction. No one likes the Trakovites. They believe Shaping has to end, period. Unless it stops, there will never be peace. She’ll do anything to achieve that goal.
Your character is the unknown factor. A total amnesiac, thanks to who knows how much shaping and reshaping in the past, you slowly return to “normal” at the Foundry, run by Rawal.
Nominally his servant, you soon leave the Foundry for the larger world. There you meet the various faction leaders - all are friendly for some time - who are quite interested in recruiting you.
While you’re something unknown, something Shapers despise, they all sense the power within. And that power could just be what’s needed to bring victory. So Shaper, rebel, or Trakovite, they want you.
It’s nice to be wanted, and sooner or later, you will have to choose a faction. For awhile, you can do a job for this one and that one. But to progress to the end game, you must join with someone.
And yes, you can change your mind, repudiate your former friends, and join another group. That, naturally, has consequences. So it’s best to be sure, and stick with one.
It is, however, possible to work for two sides at once. While Morgana chose Astoria’s group, she remained very pro-rebel. There are many instances in the game where you can do a little something for the rebels, without jeopardizing your standing in a faction. At least with Astoria’s. I can’t be sure about the others.
The endings are in tune with your faction; it naturally wins because you joined it. There are some minor variations, depending on what you did (or didn’t) do during play. This part is displayed as text with still graphics.
So we come to the assessment, and once again, I have mixed feelings. The main disappointment is that Geneforge 5 has nothing really new in it.
Creations, for example. There are some new ones, but only as enemies. You’re still stuck with the usual run from previous games. It would have been better to allow the player to make at least one new critter.
Offensive magic turned out to be weak. Even with high skills, the damage done isn’t up to par, especially considering hostiles late in the game have hit points in the three and four digit range.
Anyone considering a magic-heavy character could be in a for an unpleasant surprise. The game this time is heavily weighted in favor of powerful creations. Magic works best in the buff/heal and mental effects areas.
Speaking of buffing, the speed spell has been nerfed almost to uselessness. In the past, hasted characters automatically received extra action points, often allowing for two attacks per round.
Now, the speed kicks in randomly. You have no idea if your character or a creation will be able to act twice in a round. All this change does is make fights last longer; it certainly doesn’t add anything positive to the game.
Another irritation is the extremely short range for missile and spell attacks. You (or a creation) have to get much too close to an enemy before letting loose. That’s dangerous for any class weak in the hit point area. Really, the range ought be visual. If you can see the enemy clearly, you should to be able to attack.
The inventory and equipment screens now have a black background. This makes some items hard to see. The white background of the previous game was much cleaner and easier to look at.
On the positive side, the game ran cleanly for me with the Windows v1.0 release. I know some players had slowdowns and other problems, which seemed to be related mainly to computers with video chips instead of cards.
My system, which has a 2 gig CPU, 1 gig RAM, and a 256 meg video card, experienced no slowdowns, except at the end during massive battles. Even so, they weren’t lengthy. Also, no graphics glitches or crashes occurred.
As always with the Geneforge games, the big draw is the lack of moral judgment imposed by developers. You decide for yourself which is the best faction to join. There is no absolute right and wrong, except in your own perspective.
Next to turn-based combat, this has been the feature that most impressed me with the series. It’s a great pleasure to get away from the simple-minded “Kill Foozle” scenario, along with the puerile good/evil dichotomy found in most RPGs.
So, is it worth getting? Yes, if you enjoy “old school” RPGs, or want to finish up the series, or experience a better story than “Foozle”, and can put up with the design flaws. No, if you’ve played other Spiderweb games, and are tired of the format, which is unchanged. Like Geneforge 5, I leave the decision in your hands.