Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes, Part 2 of 2

Review by Avery Abernethy, 31 August 2014

This review is split into 2 parts. Part 1 was last weekend.

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orderhex-FELE

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 incorporates many role playing game (RPG) conventions seamlessly . The RPG side of the game has a profound impact on winning or losing. RPG elements include the ability to equip individual pieces of armor, individual weapons, individual miscellaneous magic items, and cast tactical and strategic spells from a spell book. Only the faction leader and champions have access to these RPG elements. The faction leader is the player’s initial champion at the start of the game. New champions are acquired when fame garnered by completing quests, winning battles and cleaning out monster lairs hits specific levels. Once fame reaches a certain level, another champion is made available. The total number of champions available to a faction during a game is quite limited. Even in a long game played on a large map, I had only eight champions at the end.

At the start, your faction leader is often your strongest single melee combat unit. Both offensive and defensive skills of your faction leader and champions can be increased with magic items, weapons, and armor. These can be purchased at a ruinous cost in towns, or can be gained as loot from conquered monster lairs. Armor, weapons, and miscellaneous items can be traded between champions – but only if they are in the same hex or in the same town. There is no “universal vault” which enables you to drop off a magic sword in city A and have your champion in city D immediately gain the weapon. This makes movement of your limited number of champion units an additional strategic component.

 

 

Lots of Items

Lots of Items

Champions are almost immortal. If a champion is slain in combat it respawns with all items and equipment in your capital city. Although it can take many turns for the champion to regain full health if your faction lacks healing magic, the defeated champion will eventually retake the field. The game gives each “slain” champion a critical injury, but those have a relatively minor impact on a high level champion. Only when a faction is destroyed via losing all of their cities are champions actually killed and removed from play. This means that if you are on a successful path of conquest on an enemy kingdom that you might slay the same champion many times. But if your campaign of conquest is grinding forward, the revived enemy champions have very few hit points and are easily dispatched.

Re-spawning defeated enemy champions is a relatively novel game convention that makes waging a multi-front war against many enemies challenging. Delay too long and the enemy champion that you took down with such great effort months ago is almost back to full power. This game convention strongly encourages a player to have a holding action on all enemy factions except the one currently slated for immediate destruction.

Champions cannot be purchased, andonly champions can complete quests which are the fastest means of generating fame and earning additional champions. Quests are indicated by icons floating above specific structures on the game map. Some quests are as simple as defeating a single monster lair. Other quests require clearing entire map areas, finishing specific sub-quests in linked locations, and through other means. All quests require winning a minimum of one tactical combat with your leader and associated troops. Quests vary considerably in difficulty and the quest bubble informs you of the difficulty of the challenge before triggering the quest. Each new game starts with a number of quests scattered across the map.

Epic Quest – not done by end game

Epic Quest – not done by end game

Completing the easy to middle difficulty quests is an important part of early to mid-game strategy. After the map has been fully explored by the players and all of the easier quests have been completed, this part of the game is over – with two important exceptions. The first exception is for the faction with the ability to generate new quests. The use of this quest generation power enables this faction to substantially increase the power of their champions. The second exception is the extremely difficult handful of super-hard quests including the maddeningly difficult master quest. Completing the master quest is one method of victory. The remaining highly difficult quests are very hard to complete, usually requiring a lengthy development of a specialized champion.

At the very start of the game your faction leader is your most powerful combat unit. But faction leaders and champions become much more powerful as the game progresses. One means of becoming more powerful is finding and equipping better armor, weapons, and miscellaneous magic items. But as champions gain experience from completing quests and winning battles, they gain levels, including choosing an additional trait per level. Traits can be used to gain access to more powerful spells, more power in combat, special attacks and defenses, abilities to make entire armies more effective, and traits which can increase the economic and military power of your entire kingdom.

Trait Choices

Trait Choices

At level 4 each champion picks a single path opening up specific types of specialized trait trees available as the champion gains levels. One of six paths must be chosen at level 4: Assassin, Defender, Commander, Mage or Warrior.

Picking a Champion Path

Picking a Champion Path

If your goal is winning the game by completing the Master Quest, having one of your first champions choose the Defender path is essential. The worst monsters in the game use a fear attack at the beginning of each round and also have devastating area of effect powers. High level Defenders who choose the right traits provide considerable magic resistance to their entire army. Without this magic resistance, defeating the major dragons or completing the Master Quest may be impossible.

The combat power of the assassin and the warrior are eclipsed in late mid-game by each advanced troop unit. A champion following the commander path can eventually improve your entire kingdom’s economy or lower unrest throughout the kingdom. But those traits are so far along in the skill tree that by the time you get them your kingdom is either poised for victory or has already lost. Furthermore, lower level champions on the commander path provide economic benefits only if they are within a city. But keeping your commander champion in a city prevents the commander from gaining more experience to increase levels.

If players develop enough mana resources, the Mage path provides the most offensive power. Being able to cast high level fire or air magic enables the player to smite multiple opponent troop or leader units. The mage path is so powerful that it should be the default choice to win the game with the exception of grooming a powerful Defender path Champion to complete the master quest. Although a level ten or higher Mage is a frightening opponent, without sufficient mana to power their spells the 10th level Mage is weak arrow fodder.

Almost maxed on spells

Almost maxed on spells

The number and type of magic nodes the player controls has a direct impact on the destructive or healing power of tactical spells. Each additional node of a type of magic increases the power of spells from that group. For example, a mage from a faction controlling five death nodes would have much more powerful death magic than a mage whose faction had a lot of mana, but controlled no death modes.

Mages from evil factions are weaker overall than mages from good factions. Only good faction mages can cast healing spells.   Healing spells are essential to the survival of your strongest troop units. Evil mages have access to death magic which can be very destructive. But good mages often have access to fire or air magic which is nearly as destructive as death magic. A powerful death mage can fry their enemies, but cannot keep their troops alive.

Individual troop units also have RPG elements. Troop units gain experience from surviving battles. Additional experience gains levels. Level increases for troops increases hit points and attack power. But troops cannot access traits, spell books, or equip individual magic items. A level 15 archer unit is more powerful and harder to kill than a level 1 archer. But a level 15 mage champion can lay waste to an entire army compared to a level 1 mage or a level 15 archer.

Troop units also become more powerful if upgraded when better technology is developed. At the beginning of the game troop units have three members. With sufficient research, by the end of the game your new troops will have six members, doing twice the base damage, and have twice as many hit points. Fallen Enchantress allows players to upgrade troop units as new technology is developed. You can increase the members of the squad, upgrade squad weapons, and upgrade squad armor. For this reason, long serving troops with a lot of levels become cherished by the player. Having a level 12 unit of upgraded foot troops fall in battle will cause you to mourn because a new unit created to replace your veterans is much less powerful. Unlike some 4x games, you do not need a champion to lead groups of troops.

Map Resources and Your Kingdom

There are a variety of map resources which will drive your strategy. Mundane map resources include iron, horses, fruit trees, gold deposits, wargs, and ogre pens. You must control iron to build metal armor and weapons. Horses or wargs are necessary for mounted troops. Clay increases production and gold increases your cash flow. Some factions cannot make use of some resources. The good factions cannot use ogres for example. A resource must be within your zone of control to be useful and a structure must be constructed on the resource site to reap any benefits.

Once again, Fallen Enchantress makes the player choose wisely. Cities are relatively easy to defend and can gradually expand their zone of control. But resources lay outside your city walls and are susceptible to being razed by wandering monsters or units from enemy kingdoms. Resources can also be controlled by transforming a settler unit into an outpost which provides a limited zone of control. But outposts are easily captured. Lose an outpost and every developed resource within its zone of control gets knocked back to square one.

Resources and small monster lair

Resources and small monster lair

Due to the inability to start cities on most hexes and the problem of city unrest if you build very many cities, city building decisions become important strategic choices. Building outposts far away from your troops and cities to capture distant resources frequently ends badly. Distant outposts are highly vulnerable to wandering monsters and units from enemy kingdoms. This can be a crushing blow to your war plans if you spend ten turns or more developing resources within the zone of control of a distant outpost only to see all of the work destroyed by wandering monsters.

Controlling crystal deposits and magic shards are vital to building magic-based troop units and to having any ability to cast combat or strategic spells. Crystal is needed to build magic troops and some building types. Building structures to harvest crystal is slow and expensive.   But without crystal your kingdom cannot raise new magic troops or equip troops with magic weaponry.

Developing magic shards provides mana to cast strategic and combat spells. Spell casters are largely neutralized if your kingdom does not control mana producing magic shards.   The type of magic shards that your kingdom controls will influence your strategy. There are five types of magic shards: air, water, fire, earth and life/death. All developed shards within the zone of control of your kingdom produce mana. Life/death shards are a little different. If you are a good kingdom and build structures to mine a life shard it stays a life shard. But if your good kingdom harvests a death shard it converts into a life shard. This works vice-versa for evil kingdoms.

The number and type of developed magic shards under the control of your kingdom profoundly impacts your magic strategy. The more developed magic shards your kingdom controls, the more powerful that field of magic is for your tactical combat spells. Suppose a kingdom controls three air shards, one life shard and one earth shard. You have two mage champions. One mage can only cast life magic while the other mage can cast water magic and air magic. The life magic has a minor boost from controlling the single developed life shard. The tactical air magic is more powerful because his kingdom controls three shards making the mage’s lightning bolts more powerful. But because the kingdom has no developed water shards, the power of the mage champion’s water spells is not augmented.

These game conventions take a relatively simple magic system and give it considerable game play depth. You must have a mage champion who has learned a field of magic to cast any spell in that field. The mage must gain experience levels to learn more advanced spells within that field and must have allocated their trait points to learning advanced spells. Your kingdom must have sufficient mana to power the spells of your mages, which requires capturing and developing magic shards. But if your kingdom controls and develops multiple shards of a specific type of magic, and has the champions who can cast spells of that magic type, that magical power is magnified. From a game strategy perspective this means that the choice of magic that you wish your champions to learn is in part related to the magic shards that you discover and can ultimately control, develop, and protect. A champion who can cast the highest level of fire magic in a kingdom that controls five magic fire shards becomes the wielder of B-52-level napalm fireballs by end game.

Map resources are not always good things in Fallen Enchantress. There are many different types of monster lairs scattered on the board. Monster lairs come in a wide variety of strengths from lowly bandits to terrifying ancient dragons. Each monster lair periodically spawns a weaker wandering monster unit which roams the map attacking your units, developed resources, and cities. It also appeared that the wandering monster units gradually strengthened over time if they were left alone. A monster lair continues spawning wandering monsters until a kingdom’s units (yours or AI kingdom’s) destroys the lair. Destroying the lair almost always yields a piece of armor, weapon, or magic item.

Destroying all nearby monster lairs is only a means of preventing wandering monster attacks in your central cities and developed resources. Some monster lairs are so powerful that destroying the lair can only be done by champions leading advanced armies towards the end game. Ancient dragons’ lairs are the worst and their destruction pretty much requires a high level champion who has specialized in building magic resistance for themselves and their troops.

Powerful monster lairs present yet another challenge to proper city placement. If your zone of control crosses the boundary of a monster lair, the boss monsters in the lair are released to destroy everything in their wake. I’ve left several wonderful places to build a city lay fallow because I knew that as the city zone of control expanded a powerful monster would be released that my forces could not stop. In addition, entire map areas may fall in a special “monster zone.” A quest may be triggered that requires your champions to eliminate every monster unit and monster lair within the defined zone. Completing these quests is very time consuming, but usually yields some valuable magic shards, weapons, and other resources.

Dragon Monster Lair

Dragon Monster Lair

Unlike most 4x games, independent monster lairs and wandering monsters are a threat to your cities and your developed resources from the founding of your kingdom to the very end of the conflict. Destroying powerful monster lairs require powerful, high-level champions leading well-trained armies. This means that your initial champions may have to make one or more trips back to your central areas and away from taking cities from enemy kingdoms when they gain enough experience to wipe out a powerful monster lair. The alternative to cycling your best armies back to the homeland is keeping enough troops in your central area to dispatch wandering monsters as they spawn. But keeping the troops back in your central homeland weakens your armies on the frontier, where you are attempting to destroy enemy kingdoms. Fallen Enchantress forces the player to make difficult choices throughout the game.

Occasional random events may cause a crisis in your kingdom. In some, but not all games, a random event occurs which drops medium level monster units all over the map. These monsters then start rampaging all over, blocking your roads, capturing your trade caravans, destroying your resources, capturing your outposts, and even taking your cities. I’ve had entire offensive campaigns grind to a complete halt because of these random monster spawns. My weaker champions and armies were not strong enough to defeat these units. This meant that my front line champions and armies retreated to destroy monster groups which appeared in your core areas that were previously secure. This gave enemy kingdoms the opportunity to build new cities and even capture my border cities. Cleaning out these plagues can cause problems if they randomly occur.

What About 4x Game Micro-Management?

A common complaint leveled at 4x games is the degree of player micro-management. Fallen Enchantress manages to have a tactically and strategically rich game without high levels of micro-management.   Your kingdom cannot have enough cities or units to make micro-management a big irritation. The unrest penalty prevents building lots of cities. By end-game you may have as few as eight cities. Players often start razing captured cities by mid-game. Limiting unrest in conquered cities without advanced spells and a lot of mana is very time consuming and may be impossible if you over-build. This can make moving fresh troops to the front a little slow – resulting in serious military reversals if a major army group gets destroyed.

Outposts capture resources without the city unrest penalty, making them vital to your strategy. But they are oh-so vulnerable to counter-attack and wandering monsters. The only failsafe is wiping out all monster nests and have enough individual combat units to pick up infiltrators. But splitting your forces up too much breaks your armies into penny-packets making them very vulnerable to other factions and wandering monsters. Champions can do a big mix and match of armor, weapons, and miscellaneous magic items. But attracting more than eight champions by end game is very difficult.

So at end game with a very large map your kingdom may have ten cities, eight champions leading army groups and a handful of additional troop units taking out wandering monsters and weak enemy infiltrators. This is a much lower level of micro-management than you see in most 4x games coupled with complex research trees, economic development, and the RPG elements focused on your champions.

Tactical Combat

Combat in Fallen Enchantress is turn based. Players can take as much time as they need to plan their next move or attack. You cannot save during a battle. Unless you have a special magic item or a leader enabling the army to flee from combat, all tactical combat is to the death. One side will be completely vanquished. Although your defeated champions respawn in one of your cities, all normal troops meeting defeat are gone forever.

Early Tactical Battle

Early Tactical Battle

Combat in Fallen Enchantress takes place on a tactical map. The tactical map has various tile sets based on the terrain where the combat takes place. There are also a few random elements thrown into tactical maps. Some maps are almost all clear terrain. Other maps have features which force movement through a few choke points. Terrain features seem to have no influence on combat other than blocking movement. For example, I’ve had archer units do full damage on targets directly behind forested hills.

Narrow Tactical Map

Narrow Tactical Map

Some maps are quite large with many hexes separating your forces from opponents. On these maps, armies with effective missile troops have a big advantage. On other maps units start quite close together limiting the impact of archers. Map distance does not seem to impact missile damage. Archers can hit any enemy unit on the map no matter what the distance. Only a few spells have a limited range. So on some maps missile units and spell casting champions have clear advantages.

Wide tactical map

Wide tactical map

Melee attacks can only be launched against adjacent enemy units. But units can move and then attack. Units exert a zone of control which enables blocking units to protect spell casters and archers. There are a number of spells which either speed up or slow down movement. Spiders, which can be wandering monsters or troops from an enemy kingdom , cast webs which pin down opponents. Immobilized melee units are close to useless.

Like most strategy games, a combined arms approach provides the best opportunity to win a wide variety of battles. Some melee units have high defense but poor offense. Other melee units have strong offense. Missile troops are relatively weak, but can hit any target on the map. Magic using champions with high levels can often deal direct damage, cast area of effect spells, and heal damaged troops. Units with high initiative can move and attack more often. Mounted troops have greater movement ranges than other troops. But the relative importance of blocking troops, strong melee troops, spell casters, and missile troops varies by opponent, the size of the tactical combat map, and the number of map obstacles.

Opponents in Fallen Enchantress vary widely. Some kingdoms have huge advantages when defending cities gain extra units and other advantages. Other kingdoms have many powerful mages. Still others have spiders which can immobilize your melee troops. Some kingdoms have very powerful melee troops which are heavily armored, but lack archers. Many monster groups have specialized attacks and defenses. Enemy champions are especially dangerous because their magical equipment is unknown until you start battle.

The combat AI is pretty good. Enemy units use their specialized attacks and combat powers. Your computer opponent uses flanking actions and gangs up on weakened front line units to eliminate them. My only complaint with the AI is sub-optimal missile fire. In combat, my forces always take out any magic using champions or monsters first. My missile weapon units will also attempt to eliminate severely wounded enemy units. I’ve had quite a few battles where the enemy missile units initially concentrate on a unit and keep attacking it instead of finishing off other heavily wounded units. If your army has a champion with healing magic, you can keep healing the unit targeted by enemy archers while your other forces methodically wipe out an enemy unit or two per turn. This is another reason why playing an evil kingdom is much harder road to success. Without a healer the computer AI tactics are much more deadly.

The quick-battle function works very well. By mid-game, when you are taking out weak wandering monster units and enemy infiltrators, quick battle is a real blessing. This function removes micro-managing every tactical battle while preserving player control over big, complex battles. I was very impressed with how accurately the quick battle feature worked in Fallen Enchantress. I experimented with quick battles between roughly-evenly matched forces with disastrous results, andquick battle worked as it should. But you must fight it out on the tactical map when your forces are not clearly superior to your opponent.

Controls, Sound, and Stability

The game controls for Fallen Enchantress are a delight. The tactical combat controls are logical and intuitive. Movement ranges can be determined by hovering the cursor. Area of effect spells shadow the hexes where damage will fall. Units have some personality, but animate fast enough to prevent boredom. The game’s zoom in, zoom out system is especially good. When you zoom out of your cities, and out of controlled territory the location of your champions and other army groups is clearly highlighted. Zoom in and all map properties are easy to discern.

Zoom In View

Zoom In View

Macro level controls are also well thought out. It is easy to set up the game, choose opponents, set victory conditions and the like. It is also easy to design a custom kingdom, a custom faction leader, and custom troop types. The autosave game feature is also easily changed. Early in the game saving every five turns or more works well. As the game progresses it is better to save every two or three turns.

Zoom Out View

Zoom Out View

The game sounds are very appropriate for tactical combat. Dragons roar, armor clad troops clank, skeletons click and spiders skitter. Game music fits well and is less irritating than most. I turned the music off after many hours of play instead of turning it off within the first hour. I never turned off the tactical combat sounds.

The scaling of the game results screen is badly off. Your achievement level when you save the game and leave will remain unchanged until you win the game. You really do not know what your level of success is until you ultimately win the entire game due to this flaw. The achievement scaling of the Civilization series is far better and this should be adjusted in a future Fallen Enchantress game patch.

Unhelpful Score Screen

Unhelpful Score Screen

Fallen Enchantress has no multiplayer right now. But the AI is quite good. 4x games with significant economic and town development generally do not lend themselves to multiplayer. For example, Dominions 3 and 4 focus almost exclusively on combat and have a lot of multiplayer games. Warlock is similar. But the Civilization games demand considerable empire development before most combat even starts – and has relatively few multiplayer games. Because of the design choices in Fallen Enchantress, I doubt that the lack of multi-player is a serious problem.

My game crashed several times. I blame Steam and a few local internet provider failures rather than the game. The crashes were concentrated when my internet provider and Steam were both having difficulties. When those difficulties were resolved I had no crashes.

Overall Evaluation

This game rocks! It is the best 4x strategy game that I have ever played. It is deep and has a good combat system, magic system, economic system, research trees, and a good city development system. Monster lairs and wandering monsters are a tactical and strategic issue from the start of the game until the bitter end. There are many possible ways to win the game, but the player can alter the victory conditions to eliminate displeasing methods of winning.

The combination of powerful unrest, limited building locations, and a small number of champions makes the micro-management issues of this 4x game comparatively minor. The player has so few cities and champions that the city type chosen, the location of cities, the selection of champions, and the development of champions all involve important strategic choices. The importance of magic shards means that the magic strategy used by the player varies considerably from game to game.

The number of potential opponents is large, and with the easy-to-use faction building tool the ferocity and strength of your opponents can be easily adjusted. Players have the ability to design custom factions and troops with great ease. But the number of kingdoms bundled into the core game will satisfy many players.

This is also the first 4x game that has gotten RPG elements right. Your champions can vary considerably between games based on the path you choose and how trait points are allocated as they gain levels. The magic items discovered and the magic shards controlled profoundly impact champion development choices. Still, groups of powerful tactical combat troops without champions can be an important force by mid to late game.

Level 12 – Unpicked Traits 1

Level 12 – Unpicked Traits 1

 

Level 12 – Unpicked Traits 2

Level 12 – Unpicked Traits 2

The world and game difficulty is easily adjusted at the start of each new game. After 70 hours of play I still lose games. Ramping up the difficulty of the game makes obtaining victory a continuing challenge as your play skills increase.

Like most 4x games Fallen Enchantress is not designed for a single hour or two of play. The rules are not that complicated, but the game balance is so good and the various choices you make with your limited numbers of cities, champions, and units are so important that they largely determine your strategic success or failure. Let me take a moment and directly compare Fallen Enchantress with a number of other popular 4x games: Dominions; Warlock; Civilization; Heroes of Might and Magic.

The Dominions series may not be a game which can be mastered by mere mortals. The number of choices, the complexity of the magic system, and the sheer variety of playable factions make this the most complex, high-quality, battle oriented 4x game out there. But Dominions has no real RPG elements. You do not grow attached to specific commanders or troops. You don’t build up cities and economic management is trivial. Tactical combat is very complicated and you set up your commands at the start of the battle and then lose control over combat. Dominions is a game which can be studied for a lifetime and never really mastered. Absolutely awesome games, but many do not want to study a four hundred page rule and spell book.

Warlock is an excellent, combat- focused 4x game set in a fantasy setting. But the city building paths are pretty straight-forward. The commanders lack personality and economic development is almost overlooked.   Warlock is a great fantasy wargame with stripped down 4x game play elements.

The Civilization series has wonderful city building and beautiful technology trees. But tactical combat is trivial and your generals are almost an afterthought. There are little to no RPG elements.

Heroes of Might and Magic (HMM) has fun, tactical combat, and the use of items and spells in tactical combat is wonderful. HMM has interesting map resources including initial monster placement. But HMM lacks research trees, lacks important choices in city development paths, and the spell system is simple. The number of troops and resources which must be harvested every single week can become a tedious exercise in micro-management.

Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes is the first 4x game which successfully incorporates RPG elements into the game. The micro management is not excessive due to the limited number of cities and champions you can have. The magic system is complicated enough to be interesting and provide game variety, but not so complex that you need a PhD. to understand it. Monster lairs and wandering monsters play an important role throughout the game. The ability to change victory conditions, opponents, and game parameters is easy to do and provides considerable game variety. Your champions have such a high degree of customization as they gain levels that you become quite attached to them and will even assign different champions to different types of battles. Tactical combat is interesting, but the quick battle feature limits unnecessary tedium from mid-game on. You can easily design your own factions and faction leaders too.

No game is perfect. The achievement screen of Fallen Enchantress is indeed lame. There is no multi-player – though I doubt this type of game is suited to it. The use of missile units by the computer AI is sub-optimal. This is a 4x game and not a wargame, so players will not be able to complete a game in a single evening of play. This is a turn based strategy game and careful thought and a good plan are important ingredients of eventual victory.

In my opinion, Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes has done all of the small things right in a 4x game. The game also advances an almost twenty-five year old gaming niche by successfully incorporating RPG elements into a good 4x game. The game is engrossing and gave me that “just one more turn” feeling that caused me to lose sleep. Game balance is excellent, and each player can adjust the difficulty of the game with relative ease. The game can be modded. It is complex enough to be interesting, while lacking the tedium and difficulty which causes many 4x games to quickly wear out. If you like 4x games and enjoy a fantasy setting, you should purchase Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes. I give this game a 97 on a 100 point scale.

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


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