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Fallen Enchantress: Ultimate Edition

Fallen Enchantress: Ultimate Edition

Written by Tom Bitterman on 3/7/2016 for PC  
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This is the Ultimate Edition of Fallen Enchantress. That is a shame in two ways. First, one might hope that the Ultimate Edition would be way better than just the Normal Edition. This is not the case. Second, one might imagine all the bugs would have been ironed out by now. But before this review gets into gear, I am required to say that this is not the replacement for Master of Magic.

What does it mean to be the Ultimate Edition? In this case, it means getting all the content, starting with the original Fallen Enchantress and its add-on, Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes. Along for the ride is a passel of DLC: Battlegrounds, Leader Pack, The Dead World, Loot Pack, Quest Pack, and Map Pack. There are even some tweaks to the game itself. These include a stamina system for combat, new spells and abilities, and new racial modifiers. For 40 bucks, there is a lot of content here.

The real question is whether it is worth spending the money on. Admittedly, there just are not that many 4X fantasy games out there right now. Maybe a good Civ V or Civ: Beyond Earth mod will come out?

Fallen Enchantress is not content to be just a 4X fantasy game, however—it mixes in a good amount of RPG-style character development and questing, along with a dash of post-apocalyptic medieval world-rebuilding.

While the post-apocalyptic flavor should feel jarring against the 4X/fantasy/RPG elements, it actually does a good job of providing a lot of the world’s flavor. Especially at the beginning, the world is a harsh place. Your small, weak city is surrounded on all sides by unforgiving terrain and hostile monsters. Your only defense is your Sovereign (leader of your side and a character who can take action in-game) and maybe a Hero or two. Both your Sovereign and Heroes can level in a standard RPG way, but at the beginning of the game are barely better than standard units. Not that you have a lot of those, either. The world is big and bad, and your side is small and weak, and it will be a long time until your empire bestrides the world like a colossus. Until then, caution is required.

Your first order of business will be leveling up your Sovereign and building up your city. To some extent, your city will grow in the standard 4X way: given enough fertile land, food will be grown and new people will be born (or immigrate). Your Sovereign, however, will need to fight things and go on quests in order to gain experience points for leveling.

The simplest way to gain experience is to just pick up stuff that has been left lying around. For reasons that are unclear, the previous inhabitants of this desolate wasteland left important things like money and weaponry just lying around. The first rule of Fallen Enchantress is "finders, keepers."

The second rule is "you keep what you kill." Many monsters roam the map, and they also have good stuff stored up. Kill them and it is yours. For the most part, abandoned treasure and monster loot is fairly low-level stuff: just what is called for when starting out. The really good stuff, however, is found by completing quests.

Various buildings on the map contain NPCs that will give you a quest in returns for some sort of reward. The quests themselves are not that exciting—generally they have some flavor text, then a "go here and kill those guys and I will give you a reward" plot. They do not seem to be pieces of a bigger puzzle, or shed much light on the world’s background, or really be coherent in any way across the quests. For the most part, they function as an alternative way to gain experience and treasure, but not much more.

There is only so much a lone band of adventurers can do. At some point, your war bands will need the backing of civilization to learn powerful spells, raise troops, and generally create things that adventurers need, like weaponry and healing. This can become a virtuous cycle, where your adventuring bands scavenge the countryside for rare items and clean out monsters, while your cities raise troops, exploit resources, and do research. This keeps Fallen Enchantress from becoming too one-sided on either the RPG or TBS side.

This is not a title without flaws. Some are correctable; some will require some re-imagining when the sequel comes out.

The first and most annoying problem is that the game is either buggy or inscrutable. Or both. For example, my cities were near a patch of particularly dangerous territory. There were a ton of vicious monsters there, and they kept spawning. Ordinarily, this would be a good sign to stay well away, but the game provided an incentive. "Clear this area of monsters," it said, "and you get lots of good stuff." This was, I thought, a really neat mechanic. So my empire stopped its expansion and devoted its resources to building armies to kill the monsters. After many ill-advised attempts, we got lucky and cleared all the visible monsters and their nests in the area. But there was no indication that we had succeeded, no suddenly visible fertile valley to settle in. Nothing. I was left to wonder if I had missed something, or if the land itself was its own reward, or whether the game was just broken. In any case, the quest was never marked as completed and I could not tell why not.

A more difficult problem to fix is that the world itself, while pretty neat, still feels generic in a way that is hard to pin down. The races themselves are not very original, but not generic enough to be archetypal. On the one hand, this is no Endless Legend; on the other, it is not Warcraft, either.

The tactical combat is a bit of a mess, also. While the Ultimate Edition has done some work to make it more interesting, it runs into a problem with frequency. On the one hand, a strategy game requires a reasonable number of battles in order to keep the action moving. If each individual battle is fought at the tactical level, they must be short and interesting or else the bigger picture gets lost, players get bored, and the auto-resolve button becomes the default. This clashes with the RPG requirement that every battle be meaningful. Fallen Enchantress has not solved this problem, and it hurts pacing.

In summary, then, Fallen Enchantress: Ultimate Edition is not that bad of a name. It is about as far as the current framework can go. Sometimes a game is great despite just average components—this is a game that is just good despite having components that should add up to more. They just do not work as well together as one might hope. Fallen Enchantress is a much better game than Elemental, and if the next game continues this progress it could be a world-beater.

Like watching a hot new pitching prospect.  Most of the time he is good, but every once in a while does something incredible.  Worth picking up if you are a fan of 4X TBS fantasy.  Otherwise, watch this space for the best new game of 2017.

Rating: 8.5 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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Can write a better AI than anybody out there.  Your mom likes me better than you.  So does your girlfriend.  Better-looking than you.  Greatest living American author (except for Gene Wolfe.  maybe).  Humble.

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