While it certainly won’t win any awards for title creativity, the turn-based strategy Fantasy Wars delivers exactly what its name promises—straightforward, low-frills fantasy battles that bring about all the warm fuzzy feelings of a solid tabletop miniatures game.
Game play takes place on a hex-based map, dotted with hills, forest, and fantasy towns. Players decide which of their units to drop around their starting base (up to the missions quota), and then the fun begins. Factions take turns commanding each of their units with a move and/or attack order. Since all the units of a single side get a move before the enemy can respond, care must be taken not only in the attack, but also in preparation for enemy retaliation. Leaving poorly-defended support units in a vulnerable position can lead to complete mission disaster in a single turn’s time. And the AI is pretty good about honing in on those weak links in formation, to a point where frequent saves and reloads become necessary, especially when trying to achieve the almost Herculean tasks of achieving the “silver” or “gold” turn-limit objectives.
The units are a decent mix of fantasy stereotypes, from human archers and knights to gibbering goblins and hulking trolls. Most of the units can are one of three types: ranged, melee, or skirmish. Ranged units can attack from afar, melee fighters get up close and personal with the chance for enemy retaliation, and skirmish fighters get unopposed melee attacks against all but other skirmish units. The units only have a few stats, such as movement range, attack strength, and defense. What teases each unit apart are the perks—different abilities and weaknesses based on unit type. Armor piercing attacks, spells, movement bonuses and terrain specialties are common positive perks, while negatives include “impetuous”, meaning units blindly charge into battle against a nearby enemy, or “lazy”, reducing overall movement points. In addition to basic units, which actually represent a squad of individuals, there are also Hero units. These hero units are often much stronger than their basic unit counterparts, and they gain a wider range of abilities and perks.
Units gain experience as they damage their foes, and in doing so they gain levels. A level-up means the units gets a little better in their abilities, in addition to gaining their choice of a beneficial perk. These level-ups allow players to customize units to their strategic liking, perhaps focusing some units on sieges, while allowing others to excel in woodland or hill combat. Since units can be carried from mission to mission, it’s vital to keep these alive as much as possible, as a high-level unit is much more valuable than a just-purchased newbie. As campaigns progress, the units can also be upgraded to more powerful forms, further adding to veteran unit value.
The campaigns themselves are pretty well done, although the story tying everything together is quickly forgettable: the Humans and Orcs are once again at odds, and there’s a big demon rampaging around mucking everything up, as seems to happen in just about every game with a fantasy twist. Each mission is detailed through an opening briefing, giving the primary objectives and possibly some of the optional quests. Each mission also has a bonus for completion under a certain turn-limit, but these are brutal requirements. I like to take my time and completely explore the map, and reaching even a “silver” victory often means that I had to forego all interesting side-notes and barrel almost recklessly toward my objective. Perhaps with greater experience I could field my armies to efficiently tackle these bonuses, but at my current skill level I have no chance.
The graphics are bright, colorful, and cartoony, which works fairly well with the feel of the game. While they aren’t the best I’ve seen, they do give me the pleasant feeling like I’m pouring over a nice table-top miniatures game. In a nice twist, giant pieces represent entire squads of units, but zooming in allows players to see the every individual in the squad. Attacks are frequently shown with some cinematic flair, which I actually liked, and even more I was impressed that these tiny cutscenes could be skipped with a quick mouse click. Sounds effects are generally solid, and the voice work isn’t too bad. I found the interface to be nice and clean, with simple navigation and control. I was a bit disappointed with the manual, however, as it seemed to lack a nice chart of the various perks and abilities, making it tricky to try to plan out my units’ progression.
Although Fantasy Wars is quite solid, and I found very little to complain about, I also was never “wowed” by any moments in the game. A great game will drag me in with story or gameplay or overall atmosphere, and this just never happened here. Much like a table-top miniatures game, I enjoyed myself while playing, but I could quickly pack up and move on to something a bit more intriguing and not give much of a glance back. Those looking for solid turn-based tactical fantasy battles will find that, and not much else. Fantasy Wars is a decent title, but it won’t be winning any converts to the turn-based fold.
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A solid turn-based outing in a generic fantasy setting, Fantasy Wars offers some good, but not great, tactical fun.
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