Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes, Part 1 of 2

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Review by Avery Abernethy, 24 August 2014

This review is split into 2 parts.  Part 2 is here.

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Grogheads is proud to induct Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes into the Order of the Hex for the following:
1) Successful Integration of Role Playing Game elements into a 4x game
2) Environmental Threats (Monsters) as well as Enemy Kingdoms a challenge through end-game.
3) Excellent 4x game without overwhelming micro-management problems.

Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes released by Stardock, is a turn-based 4x strategy game. In 4x games the player controls an empire and eXplores, eXpands, eXploits and eXterminates the opponent. 4x games were made famous with Sid Meier’s Civilization series and have been translated into space (Master of Orion) and fantasy (Master of Magic).

This review is based on 70+ hours of gameplay on a 3 year old Falcon Northwest computer. I completed two games to victory and played several other games short of completion, and I also lost a couple of games.

Fallen Enchantress takes elements of traditional 4x games, role-playing games (RPGs) and simplified tactical combat games to build a challenging world environment. All three game structures are combined to build on the strength of each design element, yielding a whole that is superior to the individual sum of the parts. I will start by discussing each major game element in turn, and conclude with a discussion of how the various game elements combine into a deep, addictive, and amazingly fun whole.

I love 4x games. I have been playing 4x computer games since the 1980s and have purchased and played almost every major 4x game ever released. And I was very impressed with the execution of Fallen Enchantress’ 4x elements.

Like many 4x games, there are several ways to win here. You can win through military conquest and simply destroy your rivals. You can also win by conducting enough research to discover a master binding spell to win the,. similar to building a successful colonization spaceship to win in the Civilization series. A diplomatic victory can be won if you can persuade every other nation to join you in an alliance. Unlike other 4x games, you can also win the game through completing a master quest, a traditional means of winning RPG games.

The game starts for the player by choosing a faction. There are a wide variety of game factions with a myriad of advantages and disadvantages for each. Although there are two broad groupings into evil and good factions, the evil/good breakdown has very little impact on the game with one exception. Evil factions have less emphasis on healing spells and more emphasis on damage spells. I think this gives the good factions a slight, sustained advantage in keeping units with considerable battle experience alive. There are a wide variety of damage spells, so losing one category of damage spells seems to be only a minor inconvenience.

The player also has the option to create their own faction and their own faction leader, which is quite easy.   With some thought, a player can build a custom faction that has significant benefits compared to the pre-designed factions packaged with the game.

I have one big suggestion for faction creation – always include any attribute that lowers city unrest throughout your empire, as managing unrest is one of the biggest problems facing any faction. Likewise, taking a disadvantage which increases unrest is unwise, as. city unrest hammers production, research, and empire expansion.

The second phase of creating your own faction is building a faction leader. The faction leader is your strongest initial unit. If designed properly, the faction leader will be a powerful military unit throughout the game. Or, the player can design a faction leader to enhance the economic or magical power of their empire.

Magic is more powerful than melee or missile weapons for faction leaders. You must take negative factors to give you the points needed to obtain positive benefits for your leader. Choosing disadvantages limiting the leader’s melee combat are the “best” negative factors to choose to gain build points. But this represents a trade-off between a powerful early game unit and a powerful mid to late game unit.

Magic is more destructive by melee – but only if your faction has sufficient mana to power spells and your leader has gained enough levels to become a powerful spell caster. In contrast, focusing on initial melee skills will be a significant advantage in the early game – but this advantage fades by mid game.

Skywolf is clumsy

Skywolf is clumsy

There are several reasons why weak melee skills in the faction leader are worth the additional build points. Strategic spells cast on cities conveys many positive benefits. Tactical battle spells are devastating from the mid-game through the end of the game. Tactical melee skills on your leader can usually only be applied to a single enemy unit at a time while battle spells can often employ area of effect damage. It is relatively easy to keep your faction leader out of melee combat through the rational employment of melee units. Although your leader can specialize in missile weapons, those provide relatively weak attacks. Focusing on magic with your faction leader provides more useful functions both on the strategic map and in tactical combat.

building a faction leader

Building a faction leader

Players can customize the game in additional ways. Different methods of victory (conquest, diplomacy, casting the master spell, completing the master quest) can be eliminated. Thus, if you want a variety of options where you and your opponents can win it is easily accomplished.

But you play a straight war game when the only means of victory is the destruction of your rivals. The number and strength of opponents can be set, even to the point of choosing specific rivals. Map typography, magical resource abundance, quest availability, mundane resource abundance, and the abundance and strength of independent monster groups can all be specified during game set-up. The controls and screens to customize your game are logical and easy to use.

building the game world

Building the game world


picking opponents

Picking opponents

Almost everything in the game can be customized. I personally designed custom factions, custom faction leaders, and custom troop types. I also used the game controls to set up radically different macro game worlds and victory conditions. But there is yet another level of game customization that I did not use. The player can design tiles which can be linked to goodie huts, city improvements, or custom designed resources. The design package also allows the player to construct entire world maps, andit is even possible to design new spells or monsters and add them to the game!

I’m not a game designer and have no interest in designing entire maps or new game features. Yet I’ve often downloaded user-created mods which extend the play life or improve games. Fallen Enchantress provides a simple means to customize games, build new factions, set different victory conditions, and alter game worlds. Those are all easy to use and I’ve taken advantage of them. Players with greater ambition (and skill) can also rework many major game elements.   Because the game is so deep out-of-the-box, I have not explored the availability of custom maps and game mods.

After choosing a faction and associated faction leader, you start the game with a single group consisting of your faction leader, a settler unit which will be consumed to build your first city, and two very weak military units. The player can only see a limited amount of the total map with the rest encased in a misty fog-of-war. You then choose a tile to start your first city.

game start

Game start

City Building Basics

Players must found cities to build the economy, generate sufficient research, or train good troops. Unlike most 4X games, Fallen Enchantress pioneer units cannot build cities anywhere. Only limited sites are available with the food, physical resources, and magic resources to be viable city sites. But there is an added strategic problem. Each city your faction builds or captures increases unrest in all cities. The increasing unrest arising from having more cities will eventually grind your empire to a halt as your cities are frozen with unrest.

Managing unrest is a massive strategic element in the mid to end game. Players can be happily expanding their empire, becoming more powerful, researching more technology and then have everything grind to a halt due to unrest generated by the sheer size and power of the empire. Specialized buildings and spells will only go so far in capping unrest. Without very careful planning the player will be faced with the Hobson’s Choice at midgame of razing cities to make any additional research, troop building, or gold generation possible. Strategies which can build power early can cripple your empire at midgame. But following a strategy which works very well in late midgame to the end of the game can inhibit the expansion and power of your empire, thus risking defeat early in the game.

Choosing where and when to build a city is a critical strategic choice for your empire. Unrest quickly mounts if you build more than a handful of cities,And unrest directly reduces the production and research in your city. For example, a city with an 80% unrest rate only has 20% of the base food, production, and research generated each game turn.

City building in Fallen Enchantress is well done. There are a very limited number of map hexes where a city can be built. Three resources are tied to these limited building sites: grain, production and essence. Grain determines the food yield of the tile including both the population growth rate and maximum city size. Production determines the amount of production points the tile will yield. Production provides the elements to build buildings, troop and settler units, ability to conduct research, and gold yield. To build units a player must have production points and enough gold.

Essence is the third resource of a tile. But essence is not always present on a building site. Essence determines the maximum number of spells that can be cast upon your city. Higher essence increases mana yield. And mana is needed to cast all spells. Higher levels of essence can, with the proper spell, also increase the production yield, gold yield, research yield, and/or mana yield of a city.

Excepting map resources like horses, wargs, iron ore, magic shards and the like, only the original tile containing the three city resources of food, production and essence impact the development of the city. This is considerably different from most 4x games where farms, fisheries and most anything else can be built on tiles close to the original hex where the city was started. For this reason, choosing the right single tile to build a city on is critical.

Cities have five levels. Growing a city to level 5 takes a very long time, usually occurring in very late middle game to the end game. I have won games without having any of my cities reach level five. Furthermore, at city level 2 the player must decide the type of city they are developing. The choices are military orientation which can build lots of units faster and better, a gold orientation to build cash flow and trade, and an essence orientation which provides the ability to have greater research and mana production.

Further enriching the game, at each city level over level 2 the player has a choice of one of three types of city specialization within the military, gold, or research/magic orientation. The choice of how many types of towns you build and the orientation of each town is a profound strategic choice in the game. A proper mix of town types also can maximize the faction’s strengths and provide a broad power base.

Settler units are used found cities and set up outposts. Outposts are an innovation in Fallen Enchantress. Outposts enable players to claim a small amount of territory in order to control and develop resource squares with physical raw materials (iron, gold, horses, etc…) or magic shards (air, earth, fire, water, life/death). Physical raw materials are needed to train specific troop types. Magic shards have a profound impact on the amount of raw mana available to spell casters and the potency of magic spells.

But outposts are extremely vulnerable to wandering monsters and enemy faction attacks. Lose your outpost and all of the resource development also vanishes. Retake the outpost, and you have to rebuild resource development buildings from scratch. Because it takes both time and production points to develop any resource, losing an outpost with developed resources can be a strategic blow to your kingdom. In contrast, cities can have structures which increase defense and provide more town guardians. Outposts lack this feature. But because of the growth of unrest caused by building more cities, strategic placement and defense of outposts is essential to building a great empire.

Research Trees

Fallen Enchantress has three research trees: government, warfare and magic. Like all 4x games, the higher you go up the research tree the more research points are needed to discover new knowledge. The player must research specific government knowledge in order to develop their economy by building specific buildings which increase research, production, gold, or quell unrest. Fail to research government and your kingdom will be resource and gold starved while your cities seethe with unrest.

Researching magic is essential to building magic power and increasing the supply of mana. Without magic research the player is unable to exploit magic shards, buy magic equipment, unlock some specialized troop types, and cast certain spells. Your spell casting leaders are largely weak and ineffectual without significant research in the magic research tree.

Researching warfare is essential to building troop training buildings, unlocking specific types of weapons and armor, and unlocking most troop types. Unlocking military technology also enables the player to place more men in a squad, equip the squad with better offensive weapons, and to equip the squad in better armor. Since the combat power and health points of a unit are directly tied to the number of men in a squad, an empire with advanced military technology can crush a less advanced rival.

And all three research trees have interactive elements. You must have sufficient gold and production to construct buildings or train effective troops. Without researching advanced buildings your production is weak and unrest will harm your cities. You need effective troops to crush wandering monsters, capture and hold resource nodes, and fight off your rivals. But building powerful troops requires military research. Powerful magic can enhance production, generate gold, produce more powerful units, improve research and unlock powerful tactical battle magic. But gaining these magical advantages requires capturing magic nodes and conducting research on the magic knowledge tree.

Part 2 of this review discusses the RPG elements of the game, tactical combat, map resources, game controls, and how all of the game elements fit together.

Avery Abernethy has played 4x games going back to Civilization 1.

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