Published on August 2nd, 2013 | by Tony Odett0
Doing It Right: Fallen Enchantress
“If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.”
It’s a great motto for a 12 year old learning to play the piano, but in game development, not succeeding on the first try can often mean utter disaster for the company involved. Frequently, it results in the death of a franchise and an effort to cut and run as far as possible by the publisher. There are a number of reasons why an awful title reaches market, however, and occasionally, just occasionally, there’s enough love and support that leaving an effort to wither and die on the vine simply is not an option.
One such failed title was Elemental: War of Magic. Developer Stardock (best known for Galactic Civilizations and Sins of a Solar Empire) attempted to take their strategy know-how and design a strategy game in a high-fantasy setting, with tactical turn-based combat and a significant RPG element. What seemed to be an intriguing brew of options resulted in an absolute mess of a game. Critics agreed that while the game had some interesting ideas, it launched in an unfinished state, with non-functional multiplayer, numerous bugs, and lacked depth in a number of areas, especially in the combat.
Stardock, instead of pulling the plug, decided to redesign the game. The developer chose not to abandon the world which they had created, and instead, elected to improve on its concepts. Elemental was taken off the market for sale and redesigned, resulting in Fallen Enchantress. Fallen Enchantress took place in the world of Elemental, giving the series a reboot in terms of branding, but incorporating the same lore and general concepts in a way that was much more complete. Additionally, Stardock took care of its earlier customers, offering the new game free to anyone who had purchased its predecessor.
And yet, Stardock was not yet done. Though Fallen Enchantress was a decent game, the leveling systems for the heroes and combat both needed more depth and overhaul. And Stardock had loads of ideas for additional content and improvements. Thus was both the standalone expansion, Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes.
Legendary Heroes is my new addiction. This is an effort that finally fully realizes the concepts around which the series is built, providing a complete experience no matter which portion you analyze. The strategic level city building is more interesting than ever. Cities level up over time, allowing you to give them focuses like being a town (for commerce), fortress (for defense) or conclave (for research). As you build improvements and watch cities grow, they actually take up more physical space in the game world. Civilization has yet to actually model physical growth (while Civ V does show building and wonders on tiles outside of the one actually occupied by the city, this actually has no effect other than visual charm), giving Legendary Heroes a flavor all its own. Victories and improvements generate fame, which in turn causes heroes to seek out your kingdom and join in.
Too much growth also attracts the attention of not only the other civilizations, but also the game world itself. The world is a living and breathing thing, filled with monsters, bandits and quests of all sorts. Playing the game as a single civilization simply trying to brave these challenges, with their dragons and golems and all sorts of horrors, would be a compelling experience unto itself. But that is just another layer, set alongside the competition from other civilizations, trying to harness the powers of the world for themselves.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that the tactical battle system has finally come of age, resulting in fierce and bloody battles that are a delight to play. Mages and archers stand behind armies of soldiers, casting spells and launching arrows as huge creatures stalk the battlefield, tearing through your ranks. Fighting a dragon, or any of the other large creatures in the game, is a tough bet, even with elite troops. A successful battle against one of these beasts is a triumph to be savored.
I’m glad that Stardock stuck with this franchise. Instead of surrendering in the face of adversity, they elected to persevere, creating one of the most interesting 4X games to hit the market in a long time. We have all been rewarded by their persistence.