Back in late August of this year, I authored a lengthy, in-depth preview, based on my time spent in the Fallen Enchantress beta. If this review is your first encounter with Fallen Enchantress, I highly recommend you first read through the preview if you are interested in obtaining more information on all the aspects the game contains.
I’ll be focusing here more on how things have changed since the beta, what new features have been added, and I’ll be providing my verdict on how the final game as turned out.
The core mechanics of the game haven’t changed since my preview during Beta 4, so I won’t rehash too much about them. At the same time, Stardock has not been resting idly since then, and several new features, bug fixes, and balance changes have been implemented since that time. These include things like additional spells, additional tactical battle maps, achievements, and new random events.
I am also happy to report that many of the bugs that plagued my Beta 4 playthrough, and some of my Beta 5 playthrough, have been eliminated. Health bars now update properly in combat. Arrows now fly out of the bows they originated from instead of flying in randomly from parts unknown off screen. You can no longer fool the system by changing your building queue and rushing production to get a building at a reduced cost (or even profit from rushing it). While I was worried for awhile about some of these bugs, bugs which has been around for quite awhile, I am pleased to report that they got them fixed by release.
In actuality, the biggest changes between then and this official release are the additions of the scenarios tab, including the Fallen Enchantress scenario/campaign, and the Workshop, which houses all the modding tools. I’ll be getting to those a little bit later in this review, but first I’m going to touch on the sandbox game, since that is what I feel the core 4X strategy fan is going to be most interested in.
Playing in the sandbox – What I enjoy
Fallen Enchantress has a lot of options to suit a lot of different players. I mentioned customization in my preview a couple months back, but since then they’ve only continued to expand in that area. Since I covered sovereign and faction creation last time, I’ll comment a bit more this time about world creation.
You have multiple options when creating a new world, including selecting a pre-built map (there are 6 of these included) or a randomized one. When creating a randomized map, you can also select map size and world type (swamp or desert, for example). With either map type, you can then customize numerous other options including how many champions (heroes) are available for hire, how prolific and dangerous monsters are, how big a role magic will play, resource availability, and random event frequency. That’s quite a large of options to help you tailor the game to your playstyle in my opinion, and I didn’t even name all of them here.
I love the early game. Building up your heroes is a key part of the early game, and I personally enjoy the feeling of progress this brings. Typically you’ll start with your sovereign and 1 nearby champion you can recruit to your cause. As you explore the map, you’ll discover goodies you want to grab, locations for later settlement, monsters to be wary of, and resources you’ll want to make sure you grab before your opponent does.
As you progress from fighting mites, onto to bandits, and later onto tougher enemies like bears and stalkers, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. Your heroes will be gaining levels, donning better armor, and wielding fiercer weapons. In some cases, they’ll be learning new spells and you’ll start casting enchantments on them, making them feel even more powerful.
Meanwhile, your first couple of cities will be busy building workshops and town halls to raise your production and reduce your unrest. As each turn ends, you feel like every decision you make really matters, and you worry if straying too far from your cities while exploring will leave you vulnerable to others. On the other hand, these early days are the land grab era, and you’ll want to build new cities to expand your borders before someone else does.
Mid game though is the most exciting part of the game for me. You’ll know you’ve reached mid game when you have met multiple other factions, have begun clearing out some of the medium to strong monsters in your nearby vicinity (but not dragons), and have started considering building some actual troops to accompany your heroes or defend. It’s at this point that you’ll have to start thinking about who you need to befriend and who you can afford to war with, if necessary.
In most cases you will be boxed in to an area with your borders surrounded by other factions. The only way out is by striking up a deal or striking up a war. On the more challenging difficulties, it is quite possible that your faction score will be quite a bit below many of your competitors, and you’ll have to start seriously considering your options before it’s too late.
Depending on how quickly you expanded early on, and what victory condition you are looking to achieve, you may be able to get away with not expanding at all, but this depends on quite a few factors. I’ve even successfully achieved my goals by bribing competitors to war with one another. Devious, yet deliciously satisfying I must say.
The available victory conditions allow a relatively passive playstyle to still remain competitive. As an example, I was able to achieve the Spell of Making victory while maintaining fewer cities and occupying less of the landmass than two other factions. As this victory condition only required that I have a few certain resources and enough research to unlock the buildings I would need, it was the easiest one to achieve while remaining relatively neutral to outsiders.
The master quest victory also allows you to play a relatively neutral game, although depending upon its location, you may need access through enemy territory to get to it. The alliance victory is relatively self-explanatory, and can be a nice way to win if you are in a world where everyone is at relative peace with one another.
Conquest is the generic, standard conquer the world victory condition, but thanks to the demand surrender option, is made slightly less tedious since you won’t necessarily have to kill them to their last man. In fact, I’ve even seen the AI voluntary surrender to me after I took several of their holdings, but this has the downside of not receiving their sovereign as a playable hero for your side (which you obtain if you demand their surrender).
Achievements and objectives that fit outside the standard 4x gameplay are a nice addition to the game. While out exploring, I stumbled upon an area inhabited by a rather powerful enemy. I was given a quest, a challenge so to speak, to subdue this foe should I be so bold. This was later in my game, so I of course bravely decided to save my game (in preparation for reload) before seeing what it was made of. Thankfully, I was powerful enough at that time to dispatch it, earning an achievement and some other rewards as a result.
These types of objectives, including some of the random events I’ve not even seen yet, are what help separate Fallen Enchantress from other 4x games I’ve played.
Playing in the sandbox – What I’m not so happy about
Despite many months of beta testing and fan feedback, there are still some elements of Fallen Enchantress that fall a bit short in my eyes. Now that I’ve covered some of the things I really enjoy about the game, it’s now time to talk about a few of the things I don’t enjoy quite as much.
While most of the original bugs I encountered have been eliminated, there are still some design decisions and gameplay elements that aren’t going to appeal to everyone. Fallen Enchantress is a game that can be very unforgiving if you are placed in an undesirable starting location (randomly). If you are planning to play a spellcasting heavy faction with a mage sovereign, and then find you have limited access to shards and essence in your starting area, you are going to have to change your strategy or restart to obtain a new map/starting position on any of the harder difficulties. A lot of this is luck based, unfortunately, though some options that you select before the game, like magical strength (shard availability) and monster frequency, can make it less likely you’ll need to start over.
It will likely take you awhile to understand what monsters you can handle and which you can’t as there is some inconsistency in army strength labeling. I’d argue that there should be more levels of difficulty and a chart or graph indicating the hierarchy of these levels. Some monsters are listed as “Weak”, but end up being as hard as a higher level monster. This is true across nearly all categories, and some monsters you’ll think you can take easily will end up sending your injured sovereign and company back to their closest place of refuge. This can cost you 5 seasons or more in recovery time, on top of the permanent injuries, some of which can be quite devastating to that hero. If this happens early on during the exploration phase, you have just been placed at a serious disadvantage. This is forgivable in the case of encounters you choose to engage in, as you can either face the consequences of your action and move on, or save and reload if you’d rather proceed cautiously.
I’d argue that saving and reloading, at least until you get the hang of how dangerous certain monsters actually are in combat, is a perfectly valid and fair option. If the difficulty rating was a bit more revealing, I’d be less inclined to reload after taking a risk. The bigger problem is when you inadvertently build a city or outpost near a monster den and either immediately, or after the city’s influence expands, you unleash these monsters by displacing them from their homes. Dragons, Slags, Elemental Lords, and Shrills can give you a run for your money early on, and even into the mid-game in the case of dragons. It is important to keep these monsters in mind whenever you expand and explore. Inevitably, you will eventually run into these harder monsters as you expand out from your starting area.
Tactical combat still has some issues. Troop placement in tactical battles has been improved, but still lacks the granularity that would allow the player to place units in their optimal positions. Often times, my most powerful hero, sitting atop his steed, will be placed behind several weaker hero units. Since I have typically built this hero into an armored and enchanted super unit, I prefer to have him out in front absorbing the enemy blows. Instead, the game will often place my weaker mage hero into the front lines at the battle start. Unfortunately, a high initiative, high movement enemy can reach and potentially kill him in a single hit before I can react to the AI’s poor tactical placement of my units. This has led to my weaker heroes being crippled with numerous injuries completely unnecessarily and is immensely frustrating.
Auto-resolve, at least during combat, still makes poor decisions. During late game battles, I find myself wanting to use auto-resolve more often as the battles tend to follow the same general monotonous routine. In one instance, I was saving my mana up to cast a powerful city enchantment that cost 100 mana. I was fighting a battle with my sovereign and his party against some relatively weak foes and after deciding to manually fight the battle, turned on auto-resolve to let it work itself out. Having fought similar armies already, I knew that my party could win with no friendly casualties easily, so I thought this would be safe. Little did I know that, before I could break out of auto-resolve mode, the AI had spent nearly 40 to 50 mana completely unnecessarily, bringing me from 88 mana (that I was saving) down close to 40. On the positive side, auto-resolve, outside of combat at least, seems to be less willing to spend such a vital resource unnecessarily.
Late game is still a tedious chore. I really don’t like playing the late game. This is the stage where you’ve started turning the tables on your opponents, your faction score is rising quickly, and you have likely defeated their sovereigns in combat numerous times. You may still be at some risk, but you’ve started capturing their cities and now have an ever increasing mountain of micromanagement. Each new city brings with it more build queues as well as more area to defend. I start feeling like I really need to build each and every one of these cities up, to maximize my resources and capabilities, but doing so makes each turn take longer and longer. I really wish they had AI governors who I could assign to take care of these tasks for me. Even if they aren’t as intelligent with their selections as I would be, it would be better than ignoring these newly captures city build queues, which is what I typically do in the late game.
The AI plays by its own set of rules. Based on some evidence provided by Fallen Enchantress players, the AI seems to have some inherent advantages even at difficulty levels where they aren’t supposed to. To be perfectly honest, I’ve not noticed these advantages directly, but a lot of people have commented on the AI’s ability to bypass monsters at times and settle tiles that shouldn’t be usable. It hasn’t prevented me from winning numerous times on harder difficulties, but it is worth mentioning that some level of AI cheating is likely going on in this game. This is true in the majority of 4x games though, and should not really be held against Fallen Enchantress in my opinion.
There are some other miscellaneous bugs that still need to be ironed out. The tactical heal spell had no effect when I used it. In fact, the in-game description reads that it “heals target unit by %d.”. The campaign itself had several bugs, but I’ve noted those below as they are specific to that scenario.
There is no multiplayer in Fallen Enchantress currently. If you are the type who likes to play 4x games in a multiplayer mode, you unfortunately will not be able to.
Fallen Enchantress – the campaign… or in this case, the scenario
One of the last few features added into the Fallen Enchantress experience upon release has been the “Fallen Enchantress” scenario. Stardock was very upfront in stating that this scenario, which essentially serves as a backstory campaign for the game’s setting and characters, plays quite a bit different than the core 4x gameplay of the sandbox mode. As someone who also enjoys RPGs on occasion, I was quite intrigued to see what they had come up with.
The story begins with a young Prince, Relias, being tasked by his Queen, Procipinee, to locate a young Oracle. If you’ve played the sandbox game or even taken a look at some of the sovereigns and factions involved in the game, it is likely you will immediately have some ideas about where this story is going. Throughout the adventure, there are occasional cutscenes consisting primarily of still images with voiceover. I found these to be rather interesting and enjoyed both the artwork and voice acting. Make no mistake though, in true RPG fashion, you will still be reading a fair amount of text if you want to follow what is going on. Some of this text will be related to your main quest line, some to side quests, some to internal dialog or dreams that Relias remembers, and some to discussions between you and your other party members.
The “Fallen Enchantress” scenario does not take place on a single map, which was my first fear when I started it and saw how small the map was. In actuality, it takes place over a series of maps and storyline chapters. Your heroes, their items, your research, and at least some of your gathered resources transition with you whenever you change maps, so there is a nice RPG feel and progression in that aspect. Since each map transition consists of your heroes traveling to new locations, you will change your primary city and will need to build each one up as you go along.
Research, city building, diplomacy, and other 4x gameplay staples are in no way the primary focus of this scenario. In fact, you could likely beat the whole scenario with very little of the research unlocked and no troops trained. The clear focus of this scenario is to proceed like a party based RPG set in a 4x world. While there is some decision making to be had here, for instance adding one party member to your group will sometimes eliminate the possibility of adding a different party member, the adventure is primarily a linear story without most of the strategy elements. Tactics will still play a big part though, should you choose to fight your battle manually. As in the sandbox base game, I recommend manually fighting your battles, at least early on, as you will undoubtedly get a better result.
Given the fact that Fallen Enchantress is clearly a 4x Fantasy game, one might ask why they removed several toys from the sandbox (city building/settling, diplomacy, etc.) when designing this scenario of the same name. In my opinion there are two reasons this scenario exists. One, is that they wanted a way to expose the backstory behind the different factions and situations in the sandbox game. By stripping away some of its strategy elements, they enabled its RPG elements to take center stage and tell the story. The other is that they wanted to promote the fact that the entire scenario (minus the cutscenes, anyway) could be created by the modding community using the easy to use tools they have provided within the game. As someone who has done a fair bit of modding in the past, I think the scenario does a pretty good job of showing potential modders what kinds of events and elements they could incorporate into their creations.
During my recent playthrough of the entire campaign, I observed several issues and bugs. Randomly, my primary hero, Relias, would not appear on the battlefield with the rest of his party. After the battle, the after action report indicated he had lost all his health and fallen in combat, when in actuality he had been at full health and didn’t get to take part at all. Thankfully, the remainder of my party was still strong enough to win in these situations, but it was disappointing to see my most powerful, and well armed, hero absent from these battles for no legitimate reason.
Quests sometimes did not trigger, perhaps because I did things out of order, until I wandered around the map a bit and somehow got them to register. In one specific quest instance, I was supposed to have unlocked a powerful spell, yet I never saw a new spell appear in my spellbook, nor did I see a new scroll or item appear in my inventory. Also, I would have preferred a way to add movement speed to my entire party. I was able to obtain a horse for Relias, but I was restricted to 2 movement points per turn for the entire campaign due to the other party members still being on foot.
Scenarios and Modding
The modding capabilities built into Fallen Enchantress appear to be rather robust. Several mods have been in development since early in the beta stages, and I fully expect to see these mods become more refined and that many additional mods will also appear in the coming months. Up until now, modding has been done solely through the use of XML, but now some powerful new world building tools have been released in an area off of the main menu called the workshop.
The workshop houses several tools, including:
The builder forge (tile editor), where you can design individual tiles as seen in the game.
The cartographer’s table, where you can build a custom map and place tiles, including those you’ve created in the builder’s forge.
The particle cauldron, where custom particle effects can be created.
The faction creator, where custom factions for use in your scenarios can be designed.
Obviously, the mods will only be as good as the modding community, but I feel like the right mods could easily increase the value Fallen Enchantress brings to the table.
I’d advise disappointed fans of its predecessor (Elemental: War of Magic) to keep an open mind about Fallen Enchantress. It really is an enjoyable 4X fantasy game. The main source of my frustrations with it are in regards to late game micromanagement, and if Stardock, or an aspiring modder, can create a way to overcome this difficulty, I’d be much more willing to play epic style maps with tons of opponents.Until then, I’ll personally be sticking to smaller maps with less opponents and less cities.
I feel as though Stardock has successfully redeemed themselves for their past failures, and we now approach a new chapter in this epic saga. I personally can’t wait to see what enhancements and features, both official and unofficial, will be coming in Fallen Enchantress’ future.
Space Sector score:
– Highly customizable to each player’s preferences
– Quests and RPG elements expand the game beyond the traditional 4X genre
– Powerful modding tools and potential for future adventures or overhauls
– Interesting early and mid game phases
– Late game unnecessarily tedious
– Difficulty often dependent on randomness and/or luck
– Tactical and auto-resolve options could use further polish
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