Review

Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes Review (PC)

While marketed as a standalone expansion to last year’s Elemental: Fallen Enchantress, Legendary Heroes is better thought of as a revision, the latest step in a process stretching back to 2010 and the disastrous launch of the original Elemental. The tainted “E” word may have been dropped from the title, but at heart this is another attempt by Stardock to right the many flaws of that ill-fated game. But have they finally managed to craft a silk purse from Elemental’s sow's ear?

The core of the game remains much the same as Fallen Enchantress: choose a Sovereign hero character, found a capital city on a patch of land with high resource totals and then proceed to construct building additions to boost your economy and manage your population, while researching along a triple-pronged tech tree of Civilization, Warfare and Magic. Meanwhile, expanding your nascent kingdom’s borders brings you into contact - either violent or diplomatic - with other factions as you all seek to achieve victory by conquest, uniting the different kingdoms under you or casting the final game-ending super spell.

Border patrol in the Kingdom of Athica - not the most exciting posting for a soldier

The wrinkles added to the 4X format are the roaming monsters and quests. The former are visible on the strategic map, and rated on a five-point scale, from Weak to Epic, allowing you to judge when is the right time to take them out. The latter are simplistic RPG-style objectives such as fetch quests and clearing out bandit encampments, with the possibility of achieving final victory by completing all quests.

There’s a heavier than usual emphasis, due in part to the wandering monsters, on solving things in a martial manner in Legendary Heroes with the use of turn-based tactical combat. Right-click on an enemy unit cluster on the strategic map and you’re taken to a traditional isometric view where individual units can duke it out. It might not boast the depth of a Final Fantasy Tactics and its ilk, but it’s a serviceable combat system, helped by the addition of a scrolling turn ticker on the left hand side of the screen, making it easy to comprehend exactly which units are in play and when, and a Swarm mechanic that sees bonuses rack up for surrounding or flanking individual enemy units. There is an Autoresolve option for the impatient, but once the game progressed to higher level encounters between larger armies, I found the results unpredictable to say the least, as if the A.I. wasn’t taking into account all the various abilities, spells and tactics available for each unit.

The other big rejigging in Legendary Heroes is the Fame system and how it affects your recruitment of Heroes themselves. Fame can be earned by completing certain building projects, winning battles and taking on quests, and once you hit a certain level of renown you’ll attract an offer of service from two Heroes of differing abilities, allowing you to select the one who most suits your needs. The unwanted Hero disappears permanently from there on in though, so be sure to choose wisely.

Population unrest also now plays a part as well - the more cities you build, the more unruly your subjects become, preventing overly rapid expansion, though the effects can be mitigated through building certain monuments and creating a clergy. If your territory expands into an area where a monster resides, it will start roaming your lands and laying waste, so you have to be careful to mould your border around the Epic Dragon living down the road.

There’s a respectable tutorial on offer, covering the majority of the basic mechanics to get you started, and the option for in-game tooltips and reviewing the video tutorials as and when required during play itself. There’s also a comprehensive game encyclopedia, dubbed the Hiergamenon, available at any time by clicking on the question mark in the top right corner of the screen, though I found myself sorely missing some form of search function when scrolling through the huge list of material on offer.

Pick a fight and the game switches to a tactical combat viewpoint

And you’ll want to make yourself as familiar as possible with all the game’s elements, as customisation is very much key to getting the most out of Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes. From the Options menu to setting up a skirmish, there’s more tickboxes than a government census form, allowing you to craft the exact set of gameplay circumstances you require. You have the option of pre-designed or randomly generated maps, but beyond that you have control over parameters such as quest, monster and resource frequency as well as the likes of production pace. You’re not short of options to mull over in Legendary Heroes.

Beyond that, though, customisation stretches to your very Sovereign. A selection of ten pre-rolled characters are on offer, but click on “create your own” and you’re presented with a bewildering number of options to tweak attributes, profession, magical proficiencies and more. You can even write up your own backstory if you’re of a literary bent. Once in-game, you can also edit existing or create whole new unit types.

When you add in the fact that Sovereigns and Heroes have their own personal tech trees to upgrade along during the course of each game, the sheer flexibility on offer can border on the bewildering, though long term 4X fans will undoubtedly find much satisfaction from delving into the different mechanics.

Legendary Heroes is a completely single-player experience - no multiplayer or co-operative modes here - and with no campaign mode either, it’s good to see that it ships out of the box with a Workshop of modding tools for crafting new tiles, Factions, spells and maps to prolong the game’s life. These are the same tools Stardock’s internal team used, but are very much provided “as is” so don’t expect to be able to jump straight in without a modicum of modding experience, though tutorials are likely to rapidly proliferate on the official forums.

There’s also a Scenarios mode, but bizarrely it presently features just a single entry. Dubbed “The War for Anthys” it features a thin plotline shipwrecking your Sovereign onto a high Faction count map and requiring you to rapidly carve out your own slice of the continent, with Queen Procipinee occasionally sending a quest your way. It’s a decent showcase for the game, being especially testing early on as the other factions already have significant forces right on your borders, meaning you have to pick your battles and direction of expansion carefully. Presumably Stardock will add to the total number of scenarios in future updates, but it really should have shipped with several straight off the bat.

While the majority of issues that plagued the earlier incarnations have been smoothed out, some do remain. Beyond the Autoresolve Battle problems mentioned above, A.I. remains a mixed bag - sometimes cleverly poking at weak points along your borders while you have your hands full, sometimes oblivious to everything going on on their own doorstep - and there’s the occasional glitch with unit pathfinding and orders. Performance was also variable, especially once you hit mid-game and beyond, with my CPU occasionally struggling to churn through the calculations at the end of turn, leaving me staring at the sand glass icon for a worrying amount of time, before then shaking of the issue for the next few dozen turns. There’s also an odd and unpredictable input lag issue with both keyboard and mouse that can find you issuing multiple orders by accident.

Hmm, who should I be today? Why, a despotic tyrant of course!

Legendary Heroes isn’t the most visually arresting game either. There are some neat artwork, menu and spell effect touches throughout, but Elemental wasn’t exactly a looker even back in 2010, and the age of the underlying engine is beginning to shine through.

So, while it’s not quite a case of rescuing a victory from the ashes of an unmitigated disaster, Stardock should be complimented for refusing to admit defeat and not burying Elemental under the floorboards. Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes is now a solid fantasy 4X game with plenty of mechanical depth for those who delight in tweaking parameters, if still lacking that certain spark to elevate it into the top tier of the genre.

Top Game Moment: The turn-based tactical combat spices things up as you move into the mid- and late-game.

Comments

By Voqar (SI Core Veteran) on May 30, 2013
Voqar
I love Stardock as a company and love GalCiv I and II but I've never been able to fully get into FE. I kind of wish they'd stick to GC and make GC III. Recreating MoM is a potentially worthy endeavor but it doesn't seem like the best fit for them.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on May 30, 2013
herodotus
Unfortunately there is not enough on offer to have me purchase what is residentially a stand-alone expansion to "Fallen Enchantress", which I've not played of much to date. Still when on sale, and with a few more hours under my belt with the original this might be worth it. As for no MP, no loss here. I don't play well with others.
For those who only know StarDock for "Gal Civ" I feel pity. Give "Demigod" a go...some of the best SP and MP fun you'll ever have, with some of the best designed maps on offer. For those who want more MP, try the still-in-beta "Sins of a Dark Age" - you'll be surprised.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on May 31, 2013
herodotus
A couple of other questions I'd like to have seen addressed Simon, though the main one has been explained in the broadest of terms, is how it compares with "Fallen Enchantress" as a package. Basically, if you own that title, is this really worth splashing out the $19.99 (yes, 50% if you own the original, and by that I don't mean "Elemental") that's the asking price for the expansion? Besides having monsters and heroes, that is and a new skills tree system (or a new look anyway).
Another point that Stardock continually raise, and you touch on briefly at the end of the review is the visual look.
While many have stated that "FE" is simply serviceable and aside from the usual Stardock quality UI and in-game art screens, the game visuals are lack lustre. I find them to be acceptable and fit the game.
This one though, so Stardock claims, boasts a much improved graphics engine lending better visuals and allowing for faster battle animations. Is this the case, or is it simply a bump from "FE" rather than an overhaul?
Does it also use the extra map packs that were DLC for "FE"?