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Elemental: Fallen Enchantress Hands-On Beta Preview

By on August 31st, 2012 10:52 am

Fallen Enchantress

Just over two years ago, Stardock released their first ever fantasy 4X turn-based game, Elemental: War of Magic. As a longtime fan of fantasy 4X classics like Master of Magic and Age of Wonders, I was very excited based on the promises being made and pre-ordered the game back in the spring of 2010. Unfortunately, the game ended up not living up to expectations and received poor review scores from both critics and fans alike. In addition, there was quite a lot of drama surrounding this release at the time.

This preview isn’t about War of Magic though, and is instead about Fallen Enchantress, or Elemental: Fallen Enchantress depending on how you choose to associate it. Brad Wardell, Stardock’s CEO, eventually stepped up to the plate and came out and offered the next two expansions free to anyone who ordered the game prior to a certain date. He also brought in Derek Paxton, creator of the Civilization IV Fall from Heaven mod, as lead designer and changed his own role on the project so he could view the game more objectively this time around.

Based on Brad’s willingness to admit some mistakes and the efforts being made to improve upon the game, I decided to keep my game back in 2010 and put my faith in him and in Stardock. The reward for my support has been Fallen Enchantress and access to the Fallen Enchantress beta since the earliest days. Let’s see how things are shaping up now that Fallen Enchantress Beta 4 (Beta 5 is currently the last scheduled phase of the beta) has been released.

Fallen Enchantress, much like War of Magic, is a sandbox 4X Fantasy Turn-based strategy game set in the world of Elemental. If you skipped the first Elemental game, the first thing that you will realize upon starting the game is that the game has its own quite unique visual style. Once you’ve taken that in, the next thing you might choose to do is take a look at the options available to you.

Unlike a lot of games, you aren’t just going to find some video and audio settings in here. In fact you will find much more than that, and many of the options may be hard to understand until you’ve gotten into a game and seen how they affect things. The types of options included here allow you to do everything from customize when/how you scroll the map around (and how quickly), whether automatic end turn is enabled, how the map should look, whether the camera should follow moving units, and quite a few other things. They had too much to fit on one options screen and there is a second, advanced options screen in order to contain all of the checkboxes and sliders available to you. I’ve included a screenshot of just one of the screens to give you a rough idea.

Fallen Enchantress

Who are you?

This is the first question you are asked when you click to start a new game. Presented with a screen full of heroic characters, you must decide whether to choose a pre-designed sovereign or to design a sovereign of your own. The sovereign character will be the first and only unit you have when you start a new game, and ultimately is the political face of your nation.

It is therefore important to choose a sovereign that will be strong enough to survive the very early game, but who will also be able to help you meet your long-term goals as well. The pre-designed sovereigns are still being balanced, but in general the game already offers a wide range of choices from pure mage types, offensive and defensive melee types, hunters, and adventurers. All of the 8 pre-designed sovereigns have some level of skill in magic and can cast spells, but certain sovereigns are more specialized or have higher level spells and skills associated with spellcasting.

Choosing a pre-designed sovereign means you’ll also receive their pre-designed race. All of these races have several unique features that differentiate them from the others, so in some ways playing one race will not feel quite the same as playing another. As an example, some of the races can’t wear armor beyond leather, and others can’t train archers or ranged units of any kind. It is important to note that all sovereigns, heroes, and nations fall under one of two factions in the game, the Empire of the Fallen and the Kingdoms of Men.

While these two do differ in a few of their building choices and aesthetics, the most important thing to realize here is that you are going to have a much easier time befriending a fellow nation of the same faction as you compared to one of the opposing one, although it is certainly possible to overcome these differences. Depending on how you choose to populate your game world later on, you may make things easier or harder on yourself through this mechanic.

Fallen Enchantress

Perhaps the pre-designed sovereigns don’t meet your needs and you’d rather create your own. Doing so is as simple as clicking on create character. You’ll get to select their physical appearance as well as their prior profession, traits, magical prowess, and even their backstory if you are feeling creative. Fallen Enchantress uses a point system to ensure balance, so if you choose to give your sovereign several abilities and spells, you may need to give yourself some negative traits to offset your point expenditure.

Perhaps you don’t want a preset nation either and want to create your own. There are several things to consider when doing so. Beyond faction choice, which is of course rather important, you’ll also define your nations banner and its traits, which much like your sovereign, use a point system. Nation traits can be positive or negative as well, and while some nations, like the pre-designed Yithril nation, have chosen to have powerful starting troops and access to special axe variants through research, they also have to sacrifice all ranged weapons or in some cases even armor to be able to afford these benefits. All in all, the system is still being balanced, but the customization of the sovereign and your nation should allow it to suit just about everyone’s tastes.

Fallen Enchantress

Forging Your Empire

With your options set, and your starting sovereign selected, you will then be ready to start the game. Your first task in the game will be to take your sovereign and found your first city, and effectively your kingdom. Fallen Enchantress is smart enough to realize you’ll need a decent place to found your city, so it will always start you in an area that includes several tiles capable of supporting a city. This is important, because not every tile can support a city. In fact, the majority of them can not support one.

A suitable tile will be shown on the map with 2 or 3 indicators and a number. These include grain (food), production and essence. These are very important values as all future modifiers will scale off these starting values. A city with 2 production will always under perform when compared to one with 3 for instance. Grain is pretty straightforward as food controls your maximum population size, which means more taxes and potentially a city size increase that comes with your choice of a free building that will be instantly added to the city.

Essence is a bit more abstract, but essentially an essence value of 2 means that the city can be the recipient of up to 2 city enchantment spells. These spells also tend to scale off of essence, so for instance the earth spell Enchanted Hammers will provide you with +5 production per essence in that city. In addition, some buildings like the Cleric are only available if essence is present, and they also provide additional benefits based on the quantity of essence available. In the Cleric example, you will receive 5% unrest reduction per essence. In short, all three of these resources are very important and finding the best tile you can is pretty important. Unlike in Civilization games, only the tile you actually found a city on is used in calculating that city’s resources, so choose wisely.

I’ve covered most of what cities do, but there are a few additional things worth mentioning. Cities are of course, vitally important for generating research, income, troops, etc. Each city, when it gains enough people to reach level 2, has to choose a path of either Town, Fortress, or Conclave. This choice, while not restrict the construction of basic buildings, but it does control which more advanced buildings that city will have access to. Towns get more production and grain buildings, as well as buildings designated to increase city growth and wealth. Fortress cities are designed with access to training yards, barracks, and other buildings that enhance the capability and training of newly trained troops. Conclaves have access to alchemy labs, more advanced research centers, and some other buildings that can offer additional mana per turn.

As you will have to focus your cities on certain goals, you will inevitably want to get more cities in place. Each new city after your first can only be founded on a applicable square that has enough grain available. Fallen Enchantress is smart enough not to even show the resource overlay on the tile if it doesn’t meet that criteria, and sometimes you will have to travel a decent distance to find another suitable location. To found cities beyond your first one, you must train and send out pioneer units, and these units disappear from the map once the city is founded.

Fallen Enchantress

Beyond city buildings there are also resources all over the map that you’ll want to bring into your zone of control and construct buildings upon. Mines generate metal for troops, stables generate horses, clay adds to your production, elemental shards provide you with mana and enhance some of your spells, and so on. To add these to your empire, you must bring them into your zone of control. Your zone spreads out from your cities as they grow, and some improvements cause them to grow faster or even instantly.

Once the resource is in your zone of control, you can click on it and queue the construction of a building at the closest city to the resource. Sometimes resources are just too far away though, and you really want them. This is where the second purpose of pioneers comes in. They can also create an “outpost”, which has a decent size zone of control of its own, and any resources contained within it can be queued for construction at the nearest city. The outposts can be upgraded slightly, but in general are set and forget for the most part. You do need to guard them though, as an enemy stepping on your outpost will take control of it and any resources contained within. Also, any enemy or monster stepping on a resource building will destroy it, so it does pay to have some protection if enemies are around your vital resources.

Resources and potential new city locations are not the only things you’ll be searching for or encountering as you explore. A sovereign does not have to rely on his own wits alone. In addition to troops you can train in your cities, there are, scattered across the map, heroes of both the Empire and Kingdom variety, and you can hire these heroes if you are of the right faction, have the right amount of coin, and in some cases have researched the proper technology in the case of higher level heroes. If they are instead of the enemy faction, you can attack them and attempt to eliminate them from the game before one of your opponent’s is able to recruit them. These champions are very similar to your sovereign and are able to take part in the RPG aspects of the game as well. They level up, can gain new skills and traits, can often cast spells and can equip items. I’ll be mentioning items a few times in the next few sections.

There are a lot of locations on the map with green treasure chest icons that are referred to as “goodie huts”. These are essentially abandoned locations containing free loot for your champions. Often times, this loot is better than the goods you can buy at your city shops, depending on your research level. Any time you research a new technology that deals with weapons, armor, or mounts, these items become available for purchase and use by your sovereign and other heroes. While some armor and weaponry is better than none, you will often find better items through exploring these goodie huts, or as quest rewards.

Another RPG element in this strategy title is the fact that you will also encounter quest locations on the world map. These quests can vary in difficulty and some higher level quests require certain technologies be researched before you can attempt them. Blocking the player from higher level quests is a good thing. It will be quite some time before you are strong enough to take on the threats those quests entail. Generally speaking, a quest will send you to another location to fetch this or that, to destroy some creature, or to escort someone to another location. Often times, you are faced with decisions both when accepting the quest and when completing it. Sometimes you will want to take what they originally offered you, but other times you may find one of the other choices is more appealing. Of course, all quests offer you xp for completion as well.

The final thing you will encounter on the map, aside from other factions and their troops, is monster lairs. These are locations guarded by monsters visible on the world map. If you kill these monsters, you generally will find a higher level item inside their lair. Many of these monsters are high level though, and this actually is an added concern when founding cities. Whenever a monster lair is overtaken by a city’s zone of control, it immediately frees the monster and it will begin to roam somewhat randomly and attack things nearby. If you are unlucky, it may even attack and destroy one of your cities. It is therefore important to place your cities carefully and plan ahead for the time when nearby dangers may become actual threats. I’ve made the mistake multiple times of building too close to an Obsidian Golem or Slag early on, and I can tell you from personal experience it doesn’t usually end well for you.

Fallen Enchantress

Influence matters

Researching, queuing up buildings and troops in your cities, leveling your champions and sovereign, casting spells, and exploring the map are the things you’ll be doing the majority of the time. The game also has a diplomacy system in place that is quite unique.

When engaging other races, you will be brought to a diplomacy screen where you stand one on one, face to face, with its sovereign. A slider bar will give you a general sense of how they are feeling about you, and will generally tell you if you can get them to make a deal with you or not. Seemingly everything in Elemental is a commodity though, and with enough of some “thing”, you can generally get what you want in return. Diplomacy is one of the only ways you will be able to make use of a special resource called “Influence”. Influence is gained through quests, special buildings, and resource locations you will find in the world. While other goods are all fair game for trading or bartering as well, Influence can be quite valuable at the bargaining table.

Fallen Enchantress

Trading and deal making involves a numbers game at its core. The opponent will provide you a value that you need to reach to make a deal for whatever item it is you are looking for. Want 10 metal from them so you can build some armored troops? That carries a value of 10 in their eyes. If they dislike you, maybe it’s 20 or more instead. You can trade them 10 influence for it, or perhaps 10 horses or crystal if they don’t have any currently. It works the same basic way with treaties as well. A peace treaty with a race of the same faction who likes your nation may be very easy to come by, free in some cases, and in some cases they will even be willing to offer you goods in return. In other cases, your bitter rival may demand ridiculous amounts in the tens of thousands to come to peace.

So what exactly controls these feelings of like and dislike, trust and animosity? Thankfully, there is a diplomatic overview that provides quite a bit of insight into this exact question. You can view this overview and tell at a quick glance why a particular ruler feels the way they do about you. Most of these reasons really do make a lot of sense. +1 because you share our allegiance, +1 because we are still settling, +1 because we are already fighting other wars, -1 because you are too close to our borders, -1 because your faction is weaker than ours. In a way, you can see what you might be doing wrong and improve your standing with them by addressing those areas.

In other cases though, you may be facing a sovereign suffering from mood swings, and you may be facing a -2 because today is an angry day or +2 because today is a manic day. Even things like, say attacking a fellow faction member, will resonate strongly with the other sovereigns. Again, from personal experience, they really don’t like it when you seem warlike and attack a faction that they belong to. Even though you didn’t attack them directly, you will face some difficulty earning their trust back. I feel as though this is a rather good system that rewards the more cautious player.

Fallen Enchantress

Waging War

In Fallen Enchantress, all combat is turn based on a square tiled grid. You can choose to automatically resolve battles of course, but any manually fought battles will take place on the square tile grid. There is also an option to watch turn based combat play out on auto pilot, letting the AI control your actions, and even still you can choose to simulate the remainder of a turn based engagement instantly with the click of a button should you feel you have the battle under control.

In combat, an initiative system is used to determine when a unit’s turn comes, and this system can be used to your advantage to get several moves in before a slow lumbering opponent. Some spells and abilities play off of this mechanic, raising and lowering initiative, and in addition hero traits, training facilities, enchantments, and armor weight can all impact initiative as well. I prefer this to many other simpler systems as it offers lighter, more agile units, an opportunity to take action, and sometimes multiple actions, before their slower well armed counterparts.

Combat itself features all the mechanics you’d expect to find. One of my chief complaints with War of Magic was a lack of interesting combat mechanics, and I do feel as though vast improvements have been made in Fallen Enchantress. Bears can maul, Juggernauts can cause splash damage to all units around them, counter-attacks are in, critical hits, dodge, knockdowns, stuns, poison, bleeds, and many more mechanics all play a part in victory or defeat on the battlefield.

This isn’t even including the plethora of tactical spells that can reduce attack, reduce defense, cause direct damage to enemies, slow down, speed up, teleport, summon units, and generally cause a lot of problems for people coming in unprepared. One thing I do like about spells is that the more powerful spells often have a casting time and do not instantly fire. This allows the opponent to counter the spell if they have a caster in the party and the mana to do so.

Fallen Enchantress

When troops are defeated in battle, they are gone from the world forever. Champions and your sovereign are not removed from the game as long as you have at least 1 friendly city. They will instead suffer an injury, sometimes one that permanently reduces their stats, and will be immobilized to rest in that city for 5 turns or longer. While it can be frustrating to defeat an enemy hero multiple times throughout a game, it is also nice that your own heroes, including all the time and items you’ve invested in them, are not permanently removed either should the tide of battle not go your way.

It would be interesting to see some further options that could be selected upon game creation for those who want more of a “play for keeps” type of game. For instance, I’d personally like to see some options like having a chance to steal an enemy’s artifact after defeating them (they drop an item while retreating for instance), or perhaps a chance at imprisoning them for a time (necessitating diplomatic payoffs or jailbreaks from the city they are held at if you want them back) or even killing them outright and removing them from the game. As it stands now, I feel like defeating the same hero every 10 turns or so, as I’ve seen happen many times, is rather unrewarding.

When a battle is over, you are presented with a rather robust set of statistical data. You can view the overview, which shows you who did how much damage and how much they took, but also you can click to view a complete blow by blow showing who attacked whom, whether they missed or not, and how much damage was done. It reads sort of like an older RPG (think Baldur’s Gate) game’s statistics would. The nice thing about this breakdown is that it can be viewed even after a simulated/auto battle, and it helps demystify some of the unknowns that usually come along with simulated battles.

If I have one concern regarding combat right now, it is the ability for sovereigns and heroes to become almost unstoppable when leveled, buffed with enchantments, and equipped with quality equipment. I was able to reach a point where my sovereign, as a melee tank, was literally a 1 man army, taking entire armies and even cities on his own with very little damage taken or downtime. While I like having heroes that are powerful, I feel this somewhat diminishes the usefulness of troops in some ways.

Troops require significant research in order to improve their gear and party size (default troop units include 3 individuals, but this can be increased through research), and by the time I was able to research decent troops they were vastly outclassed by my heroes. Only particular circumstances, for instance a need for ranged troops to deal with heavy hitting enemies, prompted me to train troops for anything beyond self defense.

Seizing Victory

There are currently 4 methods of victory in Fallen Enchantress, and all can be toggled off or on as you choose. These include Conquest, which is the classic eliminate all your enemies option. Then you have the Diplomatic option, which states you need to have an alliance with all remaining races. Thirdly, you have the Master Quest, which stipulates you must complete a special epic level quest hidden in the world. In actuality, this entails completing some research and then finding and completing 3 quests including some very powerful enemies.

Finally, you have the Spell of Making victory, which requires research and then construction of 4 towers, and then the casting of a spell that takes 25 turns to complete. I can’t speak to how well balanced each of these are as I have only won via conquest and diplomatic victories thus far in any of the Fallen Enchantress betas, and I’ve played a few games in each one since the first beta went live. They are in-game though, and I have a feeling any issues with them will be worked out in the upcoming beta 5 which will be primarily based around polishing and balancing the game.

The AI difficulty in the game can be set per opponent, and includes 8 levels ranging from novice to insane. My most recent game was with all opponents at the “Challenging” difficulty, which is one step above normal and three steps away from “Insane”, the hardest mode. I found the AI to be competent in city development and expansion, but was eventually able to overcome them due to poor unit design. Beta 5 is going to involve balancing and AI tuning, so I won’t comment much more on this for the moment.

Fallen Enchantress

Music, Sound, UI, and Information

Fallen Enchantress features a relatively wide assortment of musical tracks, many of which are tied to specific events such as founding a city, completing a research project, or defeating an opponent. As I played through the game, I began to associate specific musical sounds with specific activities such as research completion. What I found somewhat lacking, personally, was the actual ambient music. It seemed to me like there were too few tracks or perhaps too little variance in the tracks, and I eventually found that they became background noise that I didn’t pay much attention to.

Sounds effects also adequately portray what is going on. Hearing the crashing sound while waiting on your next turn to be ready generally confirmed that I’d be trying to track down a resource that has been destroyed. In combat, the sounds of arrows flying from their bows and the groans of those taking damage seemed accurate enough to me. Nothing bad, but nothing outstanding in this area would be my opinion on it.

The UI for Fallen Enchantress is quite good and allows you to quickly view your armies and cities on the left side, while keeping other more detailed info at the bottom of your screen. On your right is where you’ll be looking at the start of each turn, as this is where the many notifications present in the game will appear. Buildings being completed, armies being trained, declarations of war, enemies in your territory, and numerous other events are easy to view simply by clicking on the appropriate notification.

One other area I want to give credit to is the in-game encyclopedia, the hiergamenon, and the in-game video tutorials. Nearly everything new that you encounter will pop up a notification asking if you’d like to watch a tutorial video. I stopped counting at 15 videos, but there were more than even that. In this beta stage, not all of these videos were in-game yet, but many of them did have fully functional videos explaining and showing how to do something new. Even without the videos though, the in-game guide has a ton of information on nearly anything you’d want to know about. It’s a nice touch that really gives the impression that they want players to be understand whats going on and not sit around confused, and I must admit it works.

Fallen Enchantress

Beta Bugs and the Fallen Enchantress Engine

There are of course some issues with the game in its current beta state, and I would be amiss to fail to mention them as some of them are quite annoying in my opinion. There are also a few bugs that are/were game-breaking, like save game corruption, but this has been listed as fixed in the Beta 4a patch released just this past Tuesday. Thankfully, I never encountered the save game corruption issue in my most recent game that I played through to completion.

The engine they are using still seems to have some issues with significant slowdown in the later stages of a game, both on the tactical front and on the world map. My system is perfectly capable of playing much prettier games with even more particles flying around, but with Fallen Enchantress, the lag in later stages of the campaign seem to be quite noticeable. While not enough to make the game unplayable, it certainly doesn’t feel optimized or polished in its current state.

Aside from engine issues, the game has some bugs that have been in existence for some time. For instance, sometimes archers will fire and the arrows will not come out of their bow, but instead the game will hang for a second and then the arrows will fly in from the left side of the screen. Another issue is that health bars do not update or adjust to accurately reflect the percentage of damage done to units, so in this sense they are almost useless in their current state. I can take a unit from 100 health to 10 health and the health bar may still be half filled in green for instance. Both of these are bugs that I’ve recalled since many beta releases ago. Another one I encountered in my most recent game was where I could sometimes perform a rush production on a building for say, 40 gildar, and instead of having that value subtracted from my total, it would be added to it. Oh, and the building would be completed of course as well.

Mid and Late Gate Play

Beyond bugs and engine issues, I’ve also got some issues with gameplay getting rather tedious, especially in the later stages. Early on, the AI is very aggressive at starting additional cities and placing outposts. This isn’t initially a problem, but I find that later on in the game it becomes somewhat of one. Let me try to explain.

As the game progresses, I find that a lot of the gameplay becomes about retaining and managing what you have as well as taking new holdings. With each city you take comes a commitment to build a construction queue for it, and while obviously it is best to micromanage this and completely optimize your play, I find it often takes me away from more important and interesting things I’d rather be doing. This is especially true when I am on the warpath and am taking a city every turn or two at times. Not only are you having to set queues within the city itself, but often times the city will have other resources in its zone of control as well.

If the AI has not constructed these resources yet, you will of course want to do so to optimize your holdings. Even if they have, many of these resources have upgrades to their buildings, and this again often requires clicking on the resource and then clicking to upgrade it, which queues it in the nearby city for construction. This leads to a lot of time spent wondering and searching for things to build, and honestly, at later stages of the game you may already have quite a bit of resources and may not want to fuss with it all. To the game’s credit, it does have an “!” marker and a notification on the right side of the screen that appears on new resources that come into your zone of control, but still it becomes rather tiresome due to some other issues I will explain soon.

In addition to setting a build order for these cities, you also have to consider defending your new holdings, which honestly I sometimes just raze in true scorched earth style so I don’t have to manage them, especially if the AI is moving troops nearby to reclaim it. One of the big problems that I haven’t mentioned yet, a problem even bigger than the city micromanagement issues right now in my eyes, is managing outposts and resources.

Outposts, as I mentioned earlier, are built by pioneers and create a zone of control that allows you to capture resources and build structures on them. The AI loves to build outposts everywhere right now. The problem is that outposts can be flipped from one side to another simply by stepping on them. In a large empire, this leads to a constant back and forth flipping that reminds me of the old days I spent in Heroes of Might & Magic trying to turn resources flags back to my color after I decided to go explore elsewhere. Having to build defensive cleanup forces to go and flip these back and kill the small attack squads sent by the AI is tiresome and extends late game turns longer than they need to be in my opinion.

Now, perhaps my biggest pet peeve of them all right now. Resource buildings are currently destroyed when any enemy unit or monster steps on them. This requires constant rebuilding unless you have defensive forces everywhere to prevent this from happening. Since some of your resources have upgrade buildings, this means you will be starting from scratch with them once more. This isn’t necessarily the bad part, but it may need some tweaking. My big issue right now is that the game will give you a very vague description of where this occurred, with something along the lines of “your crystal quarry in the southwest has been destroyed”. With an empire consisting of 11 cities, tons of landmass, and perhaps 6 or more crystal quarry resources spread around, this description is pretty useless. It does not include a notification banner like most other things to do where you can click and go directly to the object and I have no earthly idea why as it works so well for other things. I typically just forget about it and move on unless I was able to see exactly where it occurred.

Fallen Enchantress

Despite all these faults, Fallen Enchantress is quite an enjoyable game right up until the tedious micromanagement sets in for me. If the game instituted some city governors who I could assign overall goals to, I think it would go a long way in reducing this for me. Perhaps even allowing them to rebuild resource buildings that have been destroyed would be a good idea. At the very least, let me have a notification that takes me directly to the resource so I can rebuild it. Of course, micromanagement may be less of an issue for you than it is for me, so this may not bother everyone.

Closing Thoughts based on Beta 4

Fallen Enchantress is a huge improvement over Elemental: War of Magic. If they can polish the game up, eliminate some of the engine slowdowns, and continue to tune the AI behavior in Beta 5, I think people looking for a fantasy 4X title will be quite pleased when it finally releases. My only fear is that thus far some bugs have remained in the game since its earliest days, and until they are fixed there is no guarantee that they will be, though I am hopeful.

Just this week, Fallen Enchantress has for the first time been listed on multiple digital download sites including GamersGateGamestop/Impulse and Steam with a retail price of $39.99/€29.99. Every pre-order includes immediate beta access. The release date is set for Fall 2012.

As always, Space Sector encourages you to make your purchasing decisions based on all available information. We are seeing the line between beta and release being walked here, as the pre-order is being offered at full retail price with no discount aside from immediate beta access. Considering the game is now being pushed out this way to all the major portals for sale and beta access, I have given my honest opinion on the game in its current state as of this preview, with the exception of this week’s patch coming out after my playthrough. I will of course follow up with a review when the game has been officially released.

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Keith Turner, also known as aReclusiveMind here on SpaceSector, has been an avid gamer ever since he first laid his hands on a Commodore 128 in the mid 1980s. He enjoys multiple computer game genres, but his primary interests are in deep strategy games, 4x games, rpgs, and action rpgs. He enjoys writing and hopes to contribute with additional reviews, previews, and informative AARs to the community. See all Keith’s posts here.

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36 Comments


  1. Towerbooks3192 says:

    Darn it! its pretty tempting. I was going to buy Panzer Corp with all its DLCs and Afrika Korp off Matrix store while waiting for the distant worlds announcement and now this pops up!

    Now I have to choose between the games I decided to buy and this. Anyway I had good experience with Stardock since I love Sins Rebellion and Gal Civ 2 but I am thinking twice of buying this after reading some stuff about the first elemental game.

    • jackswift says:

      Having also preordered War of Magic (in 2009 I think, the screenshots captivated me), I got to experience the awfulness firsthand. I guess WoM wasn’t that bad… it was just boring. Every game felt more like work than fun.

      Thankfully Stardock has learned much from WoM and changed pretty much everything in Fallen Enchantress. I would not base buying Fallen Enchantress on anything related to War of Magic at this point. The only thing that really hasn’t changed from WoM is the engine.

      I feel the same way Keith does about FE right now: it gets tedious late game, still has some niggling bugs from forever ago, but is really, really fun.

    • Keith Turner says:

      The first game had a horrible launch, but Fallen Enchantress seems to have had a lot more love put into it. I couldn’t enjoy myself in War of Magic at all. It was buggy and just was not fun to play. Fallen Enchantress still has some issues as I mentioned, but overall it is fun to play if you can ignore those issues.

      It is a $40 game though, and I suspect many people will want a fully functional and relatively bug free game for that price. You may be best to wait until release or more info comes out that makes you hop to one side of the fence or the other.

      • Towerbooks3192 says:

        Im still worried about this game. I will keep an eye on this one though. I love both Age of wonders and Master of Magic but the thing is I sort of want to fill the void with modern versions of both because I couldn’t stand Master of Magic’s UI (heck I love MoO2 but MoM is just too old!) and I think something is missing in Age of Wonders but I don’t know what.

        Anyone know if they announced an actual release date? as far as I know steam said it would be released in fall and that’s about it. I do hope this will fill the void for a fantasy 4x. I am just worried about PC games nowadays especially most devs just release a messed up game and I don’t want to wait for months (or even years) for the devs to fix games if they are released in an unplayable state

  2. Jon says:

    Another game released broken that will never be fixed sigh

    • Merku says:

      The game hasn’t been released yet. This is merely beta 4 of 5. It is leaps and bounds better than its predecessor (both in terms of beta and Elemental: War of Magic). Hop on over to the Fallen Enchantress forums to get a feel for how involved the developers are with their community. It is quite impressive.

    • Keith Turner says:

      Hey Jon. As a few others have mentioned, there is still another round of beta (Beta 5), and I am pretty sure I’ve seen the idea of a Beta 6 mentioned as a possibility if it is needed.

      I would advise anyone who is worried about the current bugs not being fixed wait until further in the beta process, or perhaps ideally, wait until the release and our review. I may have additional content prior to the full review that helps as well, but we shall see.

  3. salarus says:

    I was a day one purchaser of Elemental WoM when it was released. I stopped playing it altogether around a year ago or so now. Stardock keeps sending me emails telling to grab the Beta and try it out. After this Beta review I went ahead a re-downloaded the game.

    While there were a number of issues with the original game, I liked the ‘feel’ of what it overall. Some of my issues were with the UI and questing system which didn’t seem to be built to standard I was hoping. From what I can tell there seems to have been a complete UI rebuild which would be a welcome change. I know a number of people reported instability when the game first came out, but I never experienced any of those issues.

    Another issue with the game was it felt like city spamming became the only way to play the game, especially if you played multiplayer. I hope this is another issue that has been addressed in the re-release.

    With that being said though, I truly liked the concept of Elemental. I have to be honest that I stopped paying attention to the development of the game right around when I stopped playing, so I haven’t played any of the Beta or kept up with much of the changes. The last I had heard was an update regarding population being used a resource to be assigned to buildings within a city.

    I’m looking forward to giving this game another shot as I had written off. The direction that it seems to have taken looks to be for the better.

    • Keith Turner says:

      City and outpost spam is one area I think the game could still use some polish in. The AI is quite aggressive at grabbing spots to build cities and outposts, and if you don’t move too quickly, you will end up getting boxed in. I did manage to start with only 2 or 3 cities before that point, and then eventually took out 5 other factions by signing some non-aggression pacts and attacking some strategic targets, so if you prefer a more turtle/slow paced style, I can say that based on my experience, it is viable at least at challenging difficulty.

      I have also heard that setting monster density to high hinders the AI from settling so many cities early on. They have to deal with the increased monsters and can’t spam pioneers out unguarded. Anyway, give that a try if the city count seems excessive to you early on.

  4. Shlub says:

    You must be horrible at reading retention Jon, there’s a thing called ‘Beta’ here. So next time, wait until the thing is released before panicking.

    Beta 5 is looking great, and there’s been a lot of progress since early beta releases on many of the bugs. looking forward to the full game.

  5. Zero says:

    My finger has been hovering over the buy button for months. I thnk I’ll pull the trigger.

    • Keith Turner says:

      Everyone needs some downtime from work to just kick back and relax with a game every once and awhile. At the pace you’ve been working on StarDrive as of late, I’m sure you could use some time to just enjoy a game without having to exit and fix bugs you encounter along the way. :)

  6. Smoking Robot says:

    I hated Galciv 2. The mechanics seemed to not work. In Civ if I build a building which increases culture I can look at my culture and see the difference. In Galciv 2 I’d build 10 of something that was supposed to say, increase my influence. And yet there was no change in my influence. Stardock doesn’t seem to understand the basics of gaming…. let the player make choices and give feedback to show the results of those choices. Still, I may give this a shot if they’ve learned some lessons. The slowdown problem is alarming and I suspect it may never be fixed.

    • Keith Turner says:

      From what I have seen, the building and spells are working as intended in Fallen Enchantress. The nice thing about the City Overview screen is that you can highlight any tooltip, say for Production, and see exactly why you are getting the amount you are getting per turn. If Unrest is reducing your production, it will tell you there. If a mine you have is increased production, it will also tell you there. The way these values are calculated is pretty accessible to the player, and I haven’t personally seen any situations where I felt I should be getting a bonus and wasn’t. Not to say that there aren’t some bugged things here or there still though.

      I too am concerned with the engine slowing down in later game stages. I have an HD5850 right now and usually don’t have lag in anything, yet zooming out and into the cloth map can cause some awkward jumps here and there. Tactical battles also don’t always feel smooth currently, but they believe they have a handle on what is causing that based on what I’ve read. They do have a bit of time to focus on these things though, and as it stands they don’t make the game unplayable, just not fluid, so hopefully either way the end result will be a very good to great game.

  7. Adam Solo says:

    A true pleasure to read your preview Keith. Till now I knew almost nothing about the Elemental Universe. Now I have the feeling to know Fallen Enchantress from the inside out. It almost felt like I was playing as you described the game and I became very interested in this title. Thanks a lot for this.

    If the late game issues get fixed, with the introduction of governors, and a better event system gets implemented it seems like we may have a great 4X game in our hands. With a bit of luck some of the devs or Brad himself, who knows, may pick this up and do something about the excellent points you raised.

    • Keith Turner says:

      Thanks, I’m glad you found it informative. I hope they fix the issues that are holding it back before release, as I’d really like to be able to give this game a good review. The ball is in their court to make that happen now.

  8. JohnR says:

    I’ve been playing Fallen Enchantress on and off since the Beta4 was released, and considering it is still a beta, am enjoying it very much. I think Mr. Wardell has a winning combination here with excellent strategic play as well as tactical combat. In fact I like this game better in its beta state than many games upon official release.

    I never played the first Elemental game due to the shaky release and lukewarm reviews. However, I’m a member of the Game Squad forum and reviewer Scott Tortorice there recommended Fallen Enchantress, so I took a chance and was pleasantly surprised. In any event one of my favorite sword and sorcery games is the great Age of Wonders series, and Fallen Enchantress caught my eye as it seemed similar. In fact IMHO Fallen Enchantress is well on it’s way to becoming the Age of Wonders killer.

    I especially like all the custom wizard and faction options that not only give you a lot of leeway in the stats, but unlike most games I’ve seen you can also customize the cosmetic appearance features. I think the customization options in Endless Space were a joke compared to what you can do with Fallen Enchantress. In fact lately I created a custom faction called The Forsaken led by Sylvanus Windrunner. ;o)

    Anyway, if the game is this good in the beta state sandbox mode , I can’t wait to see the full version with the story-driven campaign.

    • Towerbooks3192 says:

      The thing that you said about this game being on its way to kill age of wonders, how does it compare to age of wonders in its current state? I tried to find a replacement for age of wonders but I couldn’t find anything to fill the void. Is it really that close to killing it and do you think it would really kill age of wonders?

      The fact that you mentioned that it is on its way to kill AoW sort of makes me want to buy this right now.

      • JohnR says:

        Well Tower, I admit I was probably a bit premature in calling it the AoW killer, but FE does have potential. Again though, I’m liking what I’m seeing in FE thus far and am enjoying it very much.

        FYI, Stardock just released (two days ago) the first patch for Beta4, and I look forward to playing it this evening to see how it has improved. Looking at the gig sheet for the patch, they did a lot of changes, both big and small.

        Yes, I adored the Age of Wonders series. It is one of those very special games that to my mind is up there with the greats like Civilization, Homeworld, Fallout, and the original Starcraft. Comparing AoW with the FE Beta, I think there are two places where AoW did things better. One was the strategic spells, and the other is the city sieges on the tactical map. We’ll have to wait and see though if Mr. Wardell improves these things in FE for the final release.

        • Towerbooks3192 says:

          I tell you I almost pulled the trigger and clicked the buy now button when I have read your comment about this game being AoW killer. I redownloaded shadow magic off my gamersgate account and I must say that I tried to like it but there is something missing.

          I guess the best part is to wait for the release and all the review and see if the issues are already fixed. I am a bit apprehensive about playing this title and playing a beta in general as I fear that it would ruin my interest for the game once it is released if I encountered anything I won’t like in beta and much worst if it didnt get fixed on release. It happen to me and endless space. Pre-ordered it and played beta and never ever opened it save for a few minutes after release and patches

        • markgil says:

          if you enjoyed AOW, you may be interested to know that AOW3 is very likely on its way: http://www.strategyinformer.com/news/18319/triumph-studios-developing-age-of-wonders-3

  9. Smoking Robot says:

    Oh, and one more thing – not about the game, but about this article.

    Keith is the ONLY game writer I’ve ever read where you can’t help but notice how thorough and well-written his articles are.

    • Hypnotron says:

      Agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, but he’s not quite the only one :) But definetly one of the few these days. I appreciate the fact that when i visit this site, everyone is above board.

      • Keith Turner says:

        You are both very kind. I am happy to hear that people have been enjoying my articles. Hypnotron is right, there are still quite a few quality game writers and sites out there. I will say that it has been my personal goal to uphold the quality that people have come to expect from Spacesector in my articles. We have a great community here, and I’m proud to be a part of it. As we move forward into the future, know that I will continue striving to produce the best content I can for everyone. Thanks again!

  10. Towerbooks3192 says:

    Wasn’t able to hold off. I purchased the game with the money I intended to spend on Panzer Corp and Afrika Korp.

    I must say that the graphics are good however there are a lot of polish needed for the game. I have problems with some things like my sovereign and a couple of units with him will automatically go to an opposite direction for some weird reason even though I didn’t click that spot.

    Also there are times at battle where the sound is late or the sound of a unit grunting after being hit or an attack sound comes late or there are no sound at all. I am scared if Stardock would be unable to deliver but so far I could see a lot of potential for the game.

    • Keith Turner says:

      I’m glad that are you getting some enjoyment and see the potential the game has once its been polished up. I would have felt terrible if you had missed out on two other games you were eyeing and then ended up being disappointed with Fallen Enchantress.

      With most of the core features completed at this point, I think we are going to see a large push on Stardock’s side to get all those quirky bugs knocked out. I’m excited to see what the game looks like in a month or so when Beta 5 is hopefully released or near-release.

    • JohnR says:

      Funny you should mention that Tower. I also put off PanzerCorp: Afrika Corps in favor of Fallen Enchantress. A bit off topic, but I really like the way PanzerCorp mixes an old style wargame with RPG elements, making you feel much affinity to your ‘pet’ units. The trouble is, in the standard campaign you spend 1939-43 building up an awesome war machine only to see it get trashed by superior Allied numbers in 1944. Very demoralizing. :o(

      Back to FE. I’ve played it about 10-15 times now and am starting to notice a pattern. Most of the time I really enjoy the early to mid game, but by late game feel myself getting impatient to end it. I don’t know, it could just be that I’m just getting tired of the sandbox mode and would now rather do the story driven campaign. Of course we have to wait for the official release for this.

    • Towerbooks3192 says:

      @ Keith Turner: Well I couldn’t say I enjoyed it like a fully functional game. I must say I did get a little bit of enjoyment hindered by some of the bugs and the feeling at the back of my mind that its not yet the full game and cross my fingers that stardock will deliver this time. I know that there is potential in the game for I have that one more turn/ one more quest feeling and hopefully they will be able to iron things out. I haven’t get to the stage of besieging cities however I do hope for something like age of wonder where you have to break the city gates or you could use units that could climb/fly over walls or teleport behind them.

      @JohnR: Well I was waiting for news about distant worlds expansion and one thing led to another I wanted to try those hex-based hardcore wargames and I narrowed my choices down to Panzer Corp and Commander: Europe at war. Will purchase Panzer Corp/Afrika Corp and all the grand campaigns on friday because the grand campaigns and afrika korp has more dynamic scenarios and not the usual “capture given victory points on x number of turns”. I must say I played the heck out of the demo and the only thing that is stopping me is the price tag.

  11. salvo says:

    It’s a couple of months I haven’t played the game, so after reading your preview I thought I might try the new beta. They have changed crucial things now like city development, champion recruiting, expansion, and I’m not sure I actually like the direction they have taken. Mid game I was wondering where all the champions are gone which were wandering the map before waiting to be recruited. Apart from the usual one at the very beginning of the game I did not find a single one. At first I presumed a bug, so searched the forum for any thread reporting this odd behaviour. But instead I found a post by the designer that in order to make the recruiting more interesting they changed the feature drastically. Some few champions are still supposed to walk on the map but most are only met with in quests. At least in my game this was not the case, quests are rather sparse and the few I did resulted in no recruitable character. Also, I’ m not sure If I like the new restrictions to expansion, probably due to the intention of forcing the player to build outposts. All in all, the game is still plagued by balance issues – as was the original elemental – and the developers are struggling to find the right one. I hope they get it, with the approaching release.

  12. BBR91 says:

    Keith this is your first review I’m reading and I am very pleasantly impressed. It’s a great review, it covers pretty much everything, good and bad and gives a very comprehensive feel about the game.

    I have ordered Elemental War of Magic during a sale in 2011 and I loved that game. Apparently I am the only one, but I played that game a lot, still did even when Fallen Enchantress entered beta. I got WoM when it was in 1.1 and was indeed very very buggy, but now, in its final state, 1.4 it is a complete game, everything works, there are no crashes, no freezes, it’s a complete and fun game, I like it a lot.

    I had a 10$ discount for purchasing WoM while it was still buggy, so I got FE yesterday, and I’m still on my first game, I think 8 hours into the game already. I’m having a blast, I wasn’t that surprised since I followed its development on the forums since the beta launched, but I’m having a lot of fun. I too however have encountered some issues with this beta, including reduced FPS, and those glitchy transitions between 3D and cloth map view you mentioned. I do hope they get these fixed soon since they can break the immersion at times.

    One thing you haven’t mentioned is how moddable this game is. Pretty much everything: buildings, spells, quests, items, etc. is moddable and the game will include tools to design these things, and everything is written in easily moddable .xml files. So everyone can tweak the game to its own liking and I’m sure there’s gonna be some great mods coming out for it. Even WoM had one great mod that was very good.

    All in all I’m happy with my preorder, I know this game will be getting updates for many many months to come, as it is Stardock’s habit to support their games until they’re happy with them, and they aren’t easily pleased.

  13. Space Raven says:

    A very informative article Keith. Definitely a game that has been on my radar, albeit with a little hesitation after the whole WOM fiasco. I’ve always loved Stardock as a publisher and am glad to see they make the effort to learn from any mistakes they make, as well as their openness with the community. I just may have to add this to my list of potential “Must buy” games, a list which has strangely grown all since i found this site.

  14. Stian says:

    Good review. Loved the Age of Empires/Might & Magic / and a bunch of other fantasy games.. So this one really looks good through my eyes ( Or Keith`s eyes in this case ).
    Another potensial “great game” i need to put on radar.. Starting to add up now. How on earth is a man suposed to get time to play all :)
    1.X-COM: Enemy unknown
    2. Stardrive ( looking good )
    3. Enchantress
    4. Jagged Alliance ( never played any of them )
    5. Xenonauts ( cant forget the clone who looks very promising )
    6. Sins of solar empire rebellion
    7. Endless space ( bought it, but not had time to play it yet )

    And this is only the “spacesector” intrest games i want to play, not even mentioning other games i enjoy and wants to play ( WOT/mechwarrior online/Skyrim/New Vegas and so on and on and on )
    ARRGHHH..to many games, to little time :)

    • Keith Turner says:

      Too many games, too little time, now there’s a statement I can agree with 100%. I have a few other games I want to get back to as well as some coming out in the next month I want to make time for. I can’t imagine what’s going to happen when my kickstarter supported projects start releasing.

      You have some great games and some potentially great games on that list. Good luck figuring out what to play once they all release!

  15. Keith Turner says:

    Beta 5 (.980 build) is out now. I’ve not had time to play it yet as I’ve been quite sick for the past several days. Patch notes for .981 are also in the works. I hope to spend some time with it soon once I’m back to my usual self. I’ll report back with an updated status.

    • BBR91 says:

      .980 is very different from the .952 you previewed here. It is more polished, balanced, and overall more fun. The .981 change log keeps getting updated and is getting bigger and bigger. Release is probably due on Thursday.

      Please tell us what you think when you get your hands on it.


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