Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes Review — Third Time’s The Charm

In the beginning, Stardock created Elemental: War of Magic, and it was bad. Poor reviews — an abysmal 53/100 on Metacritic — prompted developer Stardock to remake the game. Two years later, the company released Elemental: Fallen Enchantress, and it was… better, holding a respectable 78 on Metacritic. But the developer knew that the game had yet to reach its full potential. Seven months later, Stardock has released Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes, a stand-alone expansion pack to Fallen Enchantress. Third time’s the charm, right? Well, maybe. There’s still room for improvement, but Stardock has continued to take steps in the right direction.

Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes
Platforms: PC
Developer: Stardock Entertainment
Publisher: Stardock Entertainment
Released: May 22, 2013
MSRP: $19.99 (upgrade), $39.99 (new)

Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes is a single player 4X turn-based strategy game that takes place in the fantasy universe of Elemental. Following a magical apocalypse, civilization is trying to recover and reestablish itself in a world now filled with bandits, monsters, and rival factions. These are all just flavor details, of course — without a real “campaign” to play through, the setting and back story are largely irrelevant, but the effort is nonetheless appreciated.

Players set out to found a fledgling kingdom, scout out the world for resources to gather, grow their empire, and ultimately eliminate any opposition — your standard 4X fare. What set this game apart from most in the 4X genre are the titular legendary heroes, the first of which is the sovereign of your nation. RPG-like mechanics allow you to embark on mini-quests, recruit new heroes, level them up, and find loot with which to equip them — an exciting addition to the base 4X gameplay.

This breaks the game down into two main components: empire building and tactical combat. Building your empire involves founding new cities, researching technology, building city upgrades, and managing resources. Various “buff” spells can be cast on a city to boost it in some way, the research paths allow you to unlock numerous upgrades, and cities can be augmented into military fortresses, arcane research centers, or expansionist metropolises.

The empire building aspect of the game is par for the course in the genre — no major flaws, but nothing exceptional either. After a few games, I realized that selecting upgrades and research paths will ultimately become repetitive, but thankfully there’s a lot more that Fallen Heroes has to offer to keep a player engaged.

That’s where combat comes in, the basis of which is building units and, more importantly, recruiting heroes. This also happens to be where Legendary Heroes comes into its own. By expanding your towns and completing quests, you will gain “fame,” which will grant you access to new hero units. All units gain experience points and levels, but heroes can be upgraded into different classes such as Assassin or Defender, gain access to skill trees, and equip items much like an RPG character. The choices here are diverse and exciting, and even your base units can be upgraded with weapons and armor of your choosing as you unlock technologies.

When your army clashes with an enemy’s, a neutral faction’s, or a wandering monster, you’ll enter a turn-based tactical combat phase. Units take turns moving around the combat grid, attacking, using abilities and items, and casting spells. Initiative, defense, attack, hit points and more all factor into how combat plays out, as well as the specific gear your units have equipped. Even base units have access to an ability or two, depending on their equipped weapon — a spear may grant a piercing strike that hits two enemies at once, while a club may grant a devastating power attack that costs the attacking unit its next turn. The system finds a perfect balance between mechanical complexity and ease of use — I never found myself confused, but neither did I find the system overly simple.

Heroes have even greater access to gear and specialized weapons: shields that grant spell resistance, rings that add fire damage to attacks, staves that increase spell damage, scrolls that summon golems, and much, much more. As they level up, they unlock your choice of new spells and abilities, both active and passive, that grant increased precision, weaken an enemy’s defenses, heal a unit, summon a skeletal army… the depth is truly impressive.

Combats themselves are strategic, diverse, and just plain fun. A “swarm” mechanic acts somewhat like the “flanking bonus” other game systems use, imparting a bonus to an attack made against a foe adjacent to one or more allied units. This makes tactical positioning and smart use of the battlefield an important part of the game, and using the right ability or spell at the right time can be crucial to victory.

But if combat isn’t your thing, a handy “auto-resolve” option is always available, allowing you to skip through a battle entirely or quickly finish off a battle that’s in progress. This option becomes more inviting the further you are into the game, as your powerful army tends to run into wandering critters or stragglers that pose no threat to you. Rather than force you to play out an irrelevant battle, “auto-resolve” adds a degree of convenience often lacking from other games.

If combat really isn’t your thing — as in, you’re a pacifist — then you will be disappointed in Legendary Heroes’ diplomatic alternatives. Diplomatic options are included in the game, but are underwhelming at best and don’t serve to add any real value. There’s little need to interact with other kingdoms and little to gain from these interactions that wouldn’t be easier to achieve through warfare. A diplomatic win seems to involve investing more gold than winning through brute force. Perhaps this was a design decision to encourage players to select the much more engaging and satisfying combat option, but it just feels as though the diplomacy system was included because, well, this is a 4X game, right?

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