Legendary Heroes, the recently released standalone expansion for Fallen Enchantress, is the definitive way to experience the world of Elemental. It has taken me awhile to come to this conclusion, because frankly, I just wasn’t too sure about it at first. The changes, on paper, seem relatively minor. I questioned whether they justified the full asking price, or even the reduced upgrade price, especially when there have been opportunities to pick up Fallen Enchantress pretty inexpensively. When I first fired Legendary Heroes up, I was a bit underwhelmed to be frank. The thing with Legendary Heroes though, at least for me, is that it took awhile to fully comprehend and truly appreciate the differences. Looking at a changelog is one thing, but what I had to find out was what these changes really meant.
Brief Overview of Changes
Legendary Heroes has brought more of everything Fallen Enchantress had as well as quite a few larger changes. There are more quests to do, more items to collect, new spells and abilities to use, new heroes, new monsters, a new scenario, and even the reintroduction of two factions from War of Magic, the Urxen and the Capitarians. In addition, there is a huge map size now for those who want to get lost in a single game for many, many hours. Somewhere in this image is one of my armies.
It is important to note that this expansion includes a lot of changes, so I’d highly encourage you to check out the full changelog they’ve posted if you’d like more details. Even some of the smaller changes, like the easy to use unit upgrade system, are great changes even if they don’t dramatically change gameplay itself. I’ve done my best to pick what I feel are the two changes that essentially change the gameplay the most, and these are the new tactic and hero changes, to cover in depth in this review.
One of the biggest and most noticeable changes you’ll find in Legendary Heroes is in its tactical combat. These changes are comprised primarily of four things, including the swarm mechanic, new tactical combat maps and placement, new weapon abilities, and new unit abilities.
Of all of the combat improvements, swarming is the biggest since it can occur in any battle involving at least 3 units. Swarming occurs whenever two or more units from one side are adjacent to an enemy unit and one of them decides to attack. Whenever this occurs, you will visually see the unit attack, as well as any units from the same side that happen to be standing nearby. In actuality, they aren’t all attacking, but instead the unit attacking is gaining an accuracy and damage boost. It’s a nice mechanic that is simple to understand, easy to use, rewards good unit placement, and one which increases the effectiveness of smaller troops and pack animals like wolves. While I would have liked to see some more advanced mechanics, for example something like flanking bonuses for having the enemy occupied from the front and behind, the existing swarm mechanic does still encourage good tactical placement. The only change I’d like to see to the existing swarm mechanic is for the presence of other friendly defending troops nearby to reduce the effectiveness of a swarm, as one would thing it would in real life.
It’s a good idea to understand how swarming works, especially since you’ll be getting many more opportunities to use it due to an overall decrease in distance between unit starting positions. Stardock felt like a lot of time was spent simply crossing the battlefield, so they decided to bring the frontlines closer together. I have a mixed opinion on these changes. As you may recall, in my review of Fallen Enchantress, I mentioned how frustrating the game’s arbitrary unit placement in combat could be. Thankfully, archers and mages are automatically placed pretty far from the front line using this new system. Unfortunately, it also exacerbates the issue of the game inappropriately placing weaker (or wounded) units in the front line, often getting them killed before they even have time to act. Even though there is an overall decrease in starting distance, some maps still have plenty of distance between your ranged troops and your melee, as illustrated below.
Every weapon type used by your standard troops as well as your champions now includes a special cooldown based ability. Axes now come in regular and duel wield variety and have a cleave that can hit 3 targets (and can still backswing as before for a second chance on a missed attack). Spears can impale and hit a target and the one behind it. Swords could already counterattack before, and remain largely unchanged. Maces can deliver a crushing blow for extra damage at the cost of your next move. Shields can bash a target back a square, which is great for positioning enemies or opening gaps. Crossbows have been added and can penetrate through one target and hit another. In addition, some new powerful weapons with unique effects have been added as rewards for taking on some of the game’s biggest wildland challenges.
I’ve mentioned several tactical changes already, but I also need to mention the new abilities nearly every unit on the battlefield has. Stardock realized that a lot of the units in the game were just not that exciting to fight with or against. To start with, they gave every faction in the game a special move for their units. If you play as the Altararian’s, for example, every unit you have can take the opportunity to move (not attack) twice in a row through the use of a cooldown based ability. This allows them to quickly close gaps, run away from attackers (for ranged types) or get into better positions in combat. The Quendar, on the other hand, have more of a fun ability, one that allows them to breathe fire on an enemy nearby. I’m not sure how well all of these are balanced, as I have not played every faction yet, but they certainly add some additional flavor to units that were very one-dimensional in the past. Aside from these faction based abilities, numerous other monsters and hero abilities have been added as well. I’ll cover some of these in the section on heroes below.
Two key things have been removed from the tactical game. One is that the game used to have armor defense and attack damage types, like crushing and piercing, which have now been removed. In actuality, I used to judge all of my units almost entirely on their attack and defense score, regardless of weapon type. With the new system, a well timed cleave or crushing blow can be the difference between victory or defeat, and with a 5 turn cooldown between uses, you have to carefully position yourself for their best use. This is more fun than the prior system. The other removal is encumbrance. In the past, your heroes could use any item they were qualified to use based on level and were strong enough to hold based on strength and encumbrance. Now, encumbrance is gone and instead there are armor proficiencies within their skill/trait trees that allow using heavier armor. Some people don’t care for this change, but overall I didn’t find it affected my gameplay that much one way or the other. Mechanics that used to modify encumbrance, like horses, now provide other bonuses instead.
Stardock wasn’t entirely satisfied with the way heroes were obtained or in how they advanced in Fallen Enchantress. I didn’t have a big issue with either of these systems, but now that I’ve played with the Legendary Heroes changes, I will say they made the right call and I wouldn’t want to go back to the prior system.
Heroes are now obtained through a new resource type called Fame. Fame is acquired through the creation of certain buildings, the research of certain technologies, and through the completion of quests that you pick up either on the map or via random event. Fame isn’t a revolutionary change, or likely one you will even pay much attention to, but you will know it is there when the new champion selection window appears. As you meet certain fame thresholds, two new heroes will appear and offer their services. In the past, you had to research certain technologies, save up enough gildar/money, and then find them on the map to recruit them. With this new system, you can choose the one of the two based on their starting abilities that best fits your current or future needs. It isn’t apparent at first, but after playing with this system for awhile, you will discover that higher levels of fame bring better and higher level heroes to you.
Your heroes are now truly yours to customize as you see fit. In the past, heroes would level up and offer one of about 5 choices, most of which were not very interesting. Now, once you have selected a class for your hero, you are instead able to place points in a skill/trait tree. Each skill tree is divided into various options, allowing you to build heroes in the manner you feel best fits your goals. For example, I was able to select a mage class for my hero at level 2. At level 3, you are now able to start selecting skills from within the mage tree, and these skills are divided primarily between a summoning focus and a tactical spellcasting focus. I was no longer dependent on luck, hoping that the choices I wanted would appear on level up.
With these changes, hero skills are even more important to get right than in the past. With more options available, it is important to look ahead and plan accordingly. Do you want to possess incredible skill with a bow? An assassin ability allows you to hit multiple targets with a single shot, but only if you unlock the correct abilities to make this possible. Want to summon one of the most powerful elementals in the game? You’ll need to start early to reach the end of the summoning branch.
On the downside, you’ll still be unlocking a lot of small passive upgrades along the path to get to these. Things like repeated + to accuracy, + 1 level to summons, + 20% to spell damage, + to attack, + to defense and so on are filler elements in the different trees. Thankfully, the reward is usually worth the wait, as using the warrior’s blade rush ability to slice through multiple enemies with a single move is incredibly satisfying. The mage’s abilities were less satisfying, but his tree does open up some new spells that are unavailable elsewhere, and vastly improves summoning effectiveness when compared to Fallen Enchantress, should you choose to go that route. They’ve even added some necromantic spells, should you want to use the undead to your advantage.
There seem to be a lot more hero options then before. You will see your standard fare of basic low level heroes early on. If you persevere and keep increasing your fame though, you may start seeing some really interesting options. In addition to some more powerful standard heroes that come well equipped and with pre-existing skills, creatures, twisted beings, and other creations are now potential heroes for you to acquire. These heroes are immensely more fun and interesting then getting another basic Ironeer defender hero that comes with a mace and a shield. Not all of these heroes come knocking on your door however. Some of them require that you find them or complete special quests, but believe me when I say they are worth the effort. Not only are they unique in appearance and story, they also tend to have great special abilities.
I can’t stress this enough, but these new heroes bring an element that I felt this series needed going all the way back to Elemental. With this change, Legendary Heroes brings the fantasy back into fantasy 4X in a big way. I would love to see even more of these in the game, as well as more trainable creatures to replace the mundane men that make up the rank and file, but we shall see what the future holds.
A New Scenario
Legendary Heroes includes a standalone scenario rather than the series of scenarios Fallen Enchantress included. In my prior review, I noted that Fallen Enchantress’ scenario seemed like a storytelling adventure and endorsement for the power of their modding engine. In contrast, the Legendary Heroes scenario is very similar to the sandbox game, allowing you to fully control all aspects of your empire and expansion. At the same time, it also contains various RPG elements and even helpful tips from your allies about general gameplay. I enjoyed playing it, and though it wasn’t entirely gripping from a storytelling perspective, it was nice to have a planned, less random, world to explore. My only advice is to pay attention to the quest objectives presented, as attempting to go head on into the maw of the enemy in hopes of conquest was a fools errand, at least in my case. Once I focused on the task at hand, I was able to complete the scenario with the tools I had available to me.
Still Room for Improvement
One of my biggest issues with Fallen Enchantress was late-game empire micromanagement. Stardock made a few changes to help reduce rapid settlement development. One of these was the introduction of a population cost for pioneer units. This means that creating a new pioneer, which is required for founding new settlements, will reduce the population of the origin city. This of course makes that city take even longer to level up, so pioneer spam will hinder you if done in excess.
Another change in this same vein is the introduction of unrest as a new mechanic introduced to help reduce, if not prevent, rapid expansion. With each new city you add to your empire, a global unrest penalty is added to every city you own. Combined with penalties for enemy occupation, which can make new cities you conquer nearly useless at first, and penalties for cities not directly connected to your capital, rapid advancement isn’t always recommended.
There are methods to combat this, including unrest reduction spells and enchantments, stationed heroes (especially those skilled in governorship), and unrest reduction buildings. On the flipside, there are also spells that further increase unrest, and the AI is not hesitant to use these on you. While unrest is a welcome mechanic, it isn’t the change I was personally looking for.
I’m going to make this plea again. I really wish Stardock was able to create a governor/manager AI that could help manage my cities for me. Perhaps I’m just lazy, but beyond a half dozen or so cities, I just can’t be bothered to manage the build queue very well. I may select a few things that meet my immediate needs, but I don’t feel I am doing as effective a job as the AI would be given the same situation. I prefer to focus on the front lines and my original core cities, and taking new cities can sometimes feel like an increased management burden rather than a worthwhile accomplishment.
This is a big reason why I prefer smaller map sizes as opposed to larger, as on large and huge maps there are potentially dozens of cities to deal with. For example, in the last large map I played, the AI had about 30 settlements between them and I had around 8. That’s a lot to manage. Razing cities to the ground is always an option, but the AI is also able to re-colonize these locations if they are dealt with in this way, which means you need to hunt them down and destroy them yet again. If you don’t mind micromanaging or simply ignoring these cities, this may not be an issue for you at all, but I feel like I am missing opportunities when I don’t micromanage these settlements. Thankfully, conquest is not the only victory condition, so conquering every city is not a requirement even on a huge epic size map.
Legendary Heroes did a great job adding more fantasy elements to the game. I hope that, should they choose to continue the series further, that they continue to expand upon this. The non-human champions and monsters are the most interesting to interact with. The more fantastic the spells and abilities get, the more interested I get in playing further. Perhaps sadly for Stardock, it seems the further they stray from their original War of Magic design goals of men vs fallen men, the better the series becomes. Perhaps it’s no coincidence, but the game is becoming more similar to Master of Magic in the process as well. This is especially true when some of the up and coming user mods are considered.
To their credit, Stardock did fix the issues I had with tactical battles as well as some other annoyances, like a lack of information about buildings being destroyed. This may have been something they patched in prior to this expansion, but I don’t have Fallen Enchantress installed to check currently. I’m just happy to see it was fixed. There is still a failure to notify the player about spells cast against their units on the strategic map though. I have to listen for the sound effect and check for damage to really be able to tell.
Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes is the best 4X fantasy game in recent history. It is not a perfect game, and is not quite a legendary one either, but it is getting very close. I can easily see myself pouring dozens of more hours into the game as a direct result of the new mechanics they’ve put in place. If you didn’t like Fallen Enchantress, it may not be a total gamechanger for you, but if you liked it at all, you are going to want to take a good hard look at Legendary Heroes. I certainly hope we see additional content and expansions of this caliber for this series in the future.
Space Sector score:
– Tactical combat greatly enhanced due to new abilities and mechanics
– Hero customization and variety offer diverse strategic options and replayability
– Improved fantasy world feel across the board
– Frustrating tactical unit placement with no player input
– Late game still too micromanagement heavy on larger maps
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.Subscribe RSS
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