Be careful with me, itís my first time
In July of 2010, Stardock released Elemental: War of Magic. Riddled with bugs and lacking any sort of polish, it was a disaster in almost every way. While many a game developer would have moved on, Stardock promised gamers who purchased the game that they would make things right. They brought in Derek Paxton, of Civ 4: Fall from Heaven fame to oversee work on Elemental: Fallen Enchantress, a reworked version of War of Magic that they would give away for free to those who bought the game that started it all. Unfortunately, Fallen Enchantress doesnít quite put its checkered past behind it.
I never got around to playing the original, so I started Fallen Enchantress mostly unburdened with its poor history. I own every other Stardock game ever made, and love what they have done with the Galactic Civilizations series, so while the game booted I was in a fairly positive, expectant mindset. It was not to last.
Tools of the trade
If you have ever played Master of Orion or Age of Wonders, then you have a fair idea what to expect playing Fallen Enchantress. You are thrust into the shoes of an ambitious ruler and set out to build a fantasy empire that outlasts every other. Founding new cities, you expand your territory harvesting and mining the precious resources required to build and maintain an army. In turn, that army is used to fend off incoming attacks by AI players and conquer towns thatÖ wellÖ letís say they no longer need to own.
So far, Fallen Enchantress sounds like your average turn-based 4X game but it comes with many different layers of depth. Your cities grow and when they do, you can assign them specific roles to form them into research, economic or military hubs. Specializing a town has a considerable impact on how you build it up, as for example military towns will be able to build an Armorer or a War College to train units both better and quicker, while economy focused towns can build Merchants and Tax Offices to optimize revenue streams.
As you would expect, many buildings arenít available until you research the accompanying technology and the same goes for units beyond the basic Spearmen. Through additional research, units remain useful throughout the game and your basic Horsemen unit for instance, can be customized to sport better armor or better weapons. You can even switch weapon types, exchanging their trusty swords with axes or even bows. Researching new military technologies does not replace your units, instead it gives you flexible upgrade paths that are fun to explore and put to the test in battle.
Building a mud-pire
Fallen Enchantress isnít a pretty game to look at. Depending on your faction of choice, your empire will slowly turn the land it settles into snowy whites, grassy greens or muddy browns. The latter color is the predominant tint in pretty much every building, unit or element on the map. The graphical style is appealing but the color setting and the complete lack of sharpness in any of the elements bring it down to a muddied mash of often nearly indistinguishable shapes. I often wondered if a unit on the campaign map was mine, or if it was the enemies. During combat, both armies are at least on opposite sides of the map but distinguishing between different heroes in your own army can be just as difficult as it is finding your armies on the campaign map.
Combat is simple, similar to Master of Magicís, but does not seem to have evolved much from when that game was released in 1994. You hurl magic at your foes, position your melee fighters in between the incoming troops and fire off arrows at the enemies ranged units. It can be fun when the two armies are evenly matched but more often than not, the strength assessment given to you prior to the attack is off by a mile or so. Instead of using the auto resolve option, you find yourself going through the motions with an overpowered army against a paltry foe.
When you are not ready to fight, there is always the option to negotiate with your adversaries. During peacetime, they will regularly pester you about one deal or another and you may not give them the time of day. But when you find yourself in a bind, you may have to grovel a little. The diplomatic system is workable but I doubt youíll spend much time in it.
Research that unlocks new items to customize your units with is lots of fun.
Cluttered interface and many inconsistencies deprive the game of immersion.