Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes was this week’s pleasant surprise. In the fashion of Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic, this stands alone as its own product, so if you’re all about random maps with a more procedural sense of story, thirty bucks has you set in the 4X category for a good, long while. To be clear; now is the time to purchase this game. It’s fantastic.
As in Civ V, Fallen Enchantress has a wide / tall dichotomy, but the execution of it is much smoother, maintaining complexity of decision making without forcing the player to have a deep understanding of his tile count. There are three tile yields: essence, material, and grain. Essence powers and allows enchantments, materials improve construction time, and grain helps level the city up. You can add more grains and materials to a single city (building tall) by using outposts to claim more resources, or you can build more cities to claim the resources.
The decision to play wide or tall is fun, and dynamic from map to map. I’m really excited to see what sort of metagaming comes out of it.
If you’re coming into Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes from the Civilization series, know that the micromanagement is completely gone; you do not have to assign citizens to tiles, nor must you march workers endlessly across your terrain. The game’s focus is exclusively on your Sovereign (your main character), your heroes, and your armies.
Tactical combat feels about right, and has options for speeding up the animations if things start to drag. It pulls most of its inspiration from Master of Magic here, rather than Shadow Magic, with a few notable exceptions: spellcasters must be present in combat (and there are no wizard-tower gimmicks to let your Sovereign cast from afar, at least that I’ve found.) I miss the strategic elements from Age of Wonders, though; it always felt awesome to have six full stacks of units under as many allegiances in a single combat. I understand why that’s not in this game, but hopefully, Stardock isn’t done adding features.
Multiplayer is sorely absent. The in-depth unit customization that’s encouraged mid and late game begs to have human intellects pitted against one another. Alas.
Also, Fallen Enchantress does not have the strong aesthetic appeal that I want from a fantasy title. The 3D models, especially the close-ups of humans in the leader and unit designer are abysmal, though they look acceptable on the strategic and tactical map, and I get a kick watching my units’ looks change as their gear gets upgraded. The color palate for the main strategy map feels off to me. Kudos, though, to the very talented painter who made the 2D backgrounds that go behind units. Those are gorgeous, and in general, a better direction for this kind of game’s art.
And the “post to Facebook” button under every model in the design screen? It kills the mood, Stardock, if you’re reading.
Zooming out far enough flips the game into an incredibly sexy cloth-map mode, though. And since the zoom distance that kicks off this mode is controllable, someone looking for a change of visual pace can just play in that mode.
I’m also a little disappointed in the writing. The world of Elemental feels flat—a mixture of clichéd story elements and originality that just veered the wrong way. The dichotomy between the two political has no power in it, unlike, say, the orc / human conflict from the earlier WarCraft games, or the superb and multifaceted racial tensions from Age of Wonders. The races all feel like subclasses of human, rather than fantasy races, and this, I think, diminishes the earliest decision a player makes: “Who should I be?” Rather than becoming draconian, or frostling, or klakon, and getting an immersive experience from the uniqueness of those identities, the player is just picking the humans with the stats they think will work better.Also, questing is hit or miss. Some of the quests are engaging and feel positively epic. Others are distracting, and bizarre—who asks the leader of a nation to go kill rats for them? This aspect of the game suffers a bit from World of Warcraft syndrome: skip the quest text, go kill the mobs, enjoy statistical reward.
The negatives are slight, and the positives are overwhelming. If you liked Master of Magic or Age of Wonders, buy this title immediately.