I have already played several games with the beta (0.75) and would like to share my overall opinion on the current product. Even though I will heavily criticize the current state of the game, I hope that this will be taken as a constructive criticism aimed at improving the game. I would not even bother to write this otherwise.
I'm not going to speak about bugs, which will certainly be reported by others, but on a general feeling of the game.
Read this as a preview.
In an attempt to make myself clear, I'll review separately different aspects of the game, then make an overall assessment. I will also refer to predecessors of Fallen Enchantress, and in particular Master of Magic (refered later to as MoM) which is the reference for those of us old enough to have played it and War of Magic (WoM) on which FE was built. Other games of reference could include Age of Wonder or Dominion, but my memory of these games is not as clear to reference them.
It must also be clear that I've never been able to get past season 350. I've always finished the game before that date, usually much before (as soon as 200 even on hard). This means that I have no knowledge of late techs and late buildings because they could never enter play, beeing too expensive to research. I have also not explored several parts of the game, such as strategic spells ; these were never needed, and considering their awfull cost, these were never cast... I don't know many spells ; I mostly used growth, shrink, fireball, blizzard, burning hands, flame arrow, but I've read all of them (at least those which I could put my hands on, which is likely all.) : I've played Kingdom, never Empire.
1) THE MAP
The graphics are not top notch but quite acceptable. FE creates interesting maps, with a feature not seen before : special areas (marshes, deserts...) where lots of adventures can happen to those who dare to go inside. The idea is quite good. Rivers make an appearance for interesting boosts (special buildings, more production.)
One thing that has carried over from WoM is the inability to control how roads are layed down and the fact that said roads are almost invisible on the map.
The map also features intriguing rifts, wich are seemingly yet unusued. I just hope that these will more or less be equivalent to the gates that were found in MoM which led to another realm ; the existence of that second realm in MoM was a great strategic addition, because it allowed fast travel (through enchanted roads) and as long as it was not tamed, it was a constant danger as armies could just pop out from one gate at any unexpected moment.
On the map, several features can be seen : treasures that can just be picked up, special locations for quests, heroes for hire etc.
I have a problem with those special quest locations which one cannot enter until some specific level of research has been reached. It just doesn't make sense. Either a specific area is somehow locked and some research has to be done to unlock that specific place ; or one can enter any place an face it's dangers. The current scheme where a specific tech level unlocks all special quest locations of a given level doesn't feel good ; going that path, it would be much better that such research could reveal secret quest locations, not previously shown on the map. That tech could be researched repetitively for new secret quest locations (the closest one would likely be discovered, in preference to those on the other side of the earth!) These secret quest locations could also regularly spit out monsters, and thus bring uncertainties to an otherwise apparently safe realm.
I have other problems with heroes, which are just waiting on the map. First, they also sufffer from the fact that they can only be convinced to join your ranks for money (so not one single hero comes for the good cause), and only when you have reached some specific tech level. That doesn't make sense at all. When my group of 6 level 15+ heroes reaches a lone level 5 hero who just refuses to join them, I want to laugh. I'll speak about that in the next paragraph.
There is one special feature on the map that's clearly unused : the seas! I've yet to find a way to build boats and travel the seas, but have found none.
Overall 0: +2 for the special areas, -1 for the lack of control on building roads, -1 for lack of sea travel.
Heroes in FE are recruited from the map. They wait you in specific places and you have to have them money for them to serve you. While that's mostly okay, I have some remarks:
Some heroes should want to join for free. Just to stand on the side of their cause.
Tech level has nothing to do with a hero wanting or not to join your side ; as said before, when my level 20 sovereign is refused by a level 5 guy, I just think: doh! too bad for him. Recruitment should be done on the basis of the sovereign level. More money asked if the sovereign is of a too low level, less if he is high level. I'd say something like 150% * (hero level / sovereign level). This would prevent early hiring of high level heroes", but prevent ridiculous refusals later.
Heroes also only come as map features. Supposing you're not adventurous and want to build a powerfull but small kingdom, or more likely if the starting area is bad (locked between neighbours for exemple), you'll doomed to having but two or three of them. This doesn't feel okay. In WoM, heroes were plenty (you just did not know what to do with them) ; now, the reverse might happen. MoM dealt with that problem by using magic (you could call a hero) ; that did not come cheap, but it was very helpfull at times. Something of the like should exist. It might be done through research (you learn of some powerful individual), or if my suggestion of secret quest location were retained, some of them could also shelter a hero. Possibly, heroes could also come out of nowhere and offer their services.
Heroes in FE are much better done than in WoM ; still, there is much room for improvement.
First of all, heroes end up beeing more or less copies from each other. This is due to the fact that their paths are not separate enough and most of them start with some magic knowledge. This is also due to the unbalance that exists between might and magic ; I'll deal with that later.
I think that the current hero system would benefit from several improvements which can be derived from what currently exists. First of all, heroes should be stuck with but a max of two paths (I've had heroes with all five paths...) just so that the mages tend to stay mages and the fighters, well, fighters. No hero should start with any magic knowledge, except those with the magic path (3 schools if primary path, one if secondary path.) ; that's logical since magic is supposedly rare (but powerful) in the FE world.
- There should be a separate Governor Path, with specific governor benefits (more money, more production, more research, improved city defenses, better troops produced by the city) ; one would want to have a governor in all cities (think Master of Orion for those who know that one.) These governors would not want to adventure and would gain significant experience by staying in the city, everytime the city produces something or successfully defends against an assault. Governors could gain a secondary path, likely as mage or general, unlikely as any other.
- There should be a General Path, which doesn't yet exist (maybe that's the defender ? not sure) ; the idea is that a general leads and improves troops on the battlefield. I'm impressed as how little I want to use trained troops in this game (something that I'd not do in MoM.) ; on level up, he would give bonus to the whole army : attack, defense, initiative etc (two generals don't stack bonus.) This path could get any other path as secondary path. The idea is that a well led army can be quite deadly, even more than an army of heroes.
- The current Fighter, Mage and Assassin paths are okay. The mage path should offer (rarely) new magic disciplines (which it currently doesn't.)
It should be clear for the player what the advantages of each paths are, and in particular which upgrades a hero could get from each one.
In combat, heroes who fall should be maimed (if their side is victorious), or killed (if their side loses) ; a maimed hero could be healed (life magic) ; a killed hero could be resurrected (life magic) or raised as undead (death magic) with undead advantantages and weaknesses.
I find that groups of heroes are too powerful in FE (they were too in WoM.) ; still, it's not unlikely to lose one in some fights, so the previous change might be all that is needed to keep such groups in check.
Then, somehow, it feels bad that a hero killing a unit gets 100xp and that 6 heroes killing the same unit each get 100xp. Meaning, the more units one stacks, the more overall XP one gets. Something has to be done on that side. However, handing XP on the basis of damage dealt is unfair to support units ; handing XP on the basis on death blow is unfair to the other units (and may yield unsavory end of battle tricks.) The best might be to simply share the XP (and maybe increase the overall amount of XP handed.) Still, this has drawbacks too (one will want to master solo combat to increase one unit XP.) Perhaps best is an hybrid : give XP to two heroes (if present) AND any armies with them (if you go with only heroes, you lose the free XP your armies could get) ; if more than two heroes, share 2xXP between the heroes.
Overall 1: +2 for the way heroes level up, -1 for the lack of specialisation.
Lets say it ; while all the elements are in place for a truly great experience, the binding is not there and the magic system is still a huge failure. The problems are manyfold and entwined, and difficult to plainly lay out.
My feeling is that magic is not artillery but that an army that fails to use magic will be significantly inferior to one that does. Outside combat, magic should be able to boost diverse aspects ; boost city production, growth or economy. Change and heal/blast the land.
Magic in FE has almost the same problems it had with WoM.
- it is extraordinarily expensive
- direct damage spells are extraordinarily powerful
- other spells are usually both too expensive and not powerful enough
As it stands now, magic is both useless (in usual situations) and a game breaker (in large combats.)
That may be what the designer have in mind, but I believe that it doesn't yield the best possible experience.
Take Blizzard or Fireball ; provided you have a reasonable mage in your army, these spells will devastate an enemy army, except the most powerful opponents. This will cost you a reasonable amount of mana. On the other hand, a spell like regenerate will bring little to help you, at the cost of one precious mana per turn.
Furthermore, spells don't even now have to be individually researched (which led to choices), but they come "magically". This feature has the additional drawback that since the player doesn't individually pick the spells he researches, he doesn't really know them.
So what do I feel is missing ? Going back to MoM, what are the differences :
- enchantments are a no-no in FE. Too expensive to maintain
- tactical spells are a no in FE : Too expensive to cast
- direct damage spells are a big yes in FE : Too effective
- spell research is a no-no in FE : Doesn't exist
- multischool spells (spells that require more than one school, not necessarily at equal level) is a no-no in FE : Doesn't exist
The result is that mages in FE are heavy artillery and nothing more. Not bad, but could be better.
b ) Mages
Mages suffer from a significant problem ; their main statistic (Intelligence) does'nt seem to have any significant effect. Compare this to a fighter, where you know why you want more strength... Actually, some of my mages have as little as 7 and are quite deadly... Why bother ?
Better have a "mage" which can cast fireball and also boost a strength of 25...
Mana comes at a very slow rate. Mana can also be spent at leasure which means that you can store all of it the relinquish it as much as needed in a difficult fight.
The first problem eventually prevents an enchant only tactic (which was viable in MoM) : you'll never be making enough mana to keep your enchantments.
The second problem means that any big fight can be won with magic (i.e. heroes) provided you have competent mages (which usually is the case.) ; furthermore, beeing able to cast whatever you need lowers the value of precast spells (enchantments.)
d) So what ?
I'd like mana to be rare at the start of the game ; but I'd like to be able to build improvements that increase the mana regen rate. I'd like casters to be limited in the amount of mana they can use during one combat. I'd like spells to be researched individually. I'd like mages to rely more on their stats. I'd like magic not to be artillery.
- Give mages the ability to cast spells for up to (IQ-5) x 2 mana in a given combat. Mages with IQ 7 are out, as much as fighters with a strength of 7. The same limitation should apply for spells cast outside of combat (which means that strategic spells would usually take several seasons to be cast)
- Give improvements to cities that can increase the mana regen rate. This could be temples etc. (as in MoM) ; it could be linked with the magic research tree (alchemy lab or whatever...) ; ultimately, a city by itself might be producing maybe 4 to 6 mana. There could also be several level of extraction of mana on mana nodes (at least 4 levels) depending on one's magic research level.
- Give buildings (from the spell research tree) to cities that produce spell research. As long as you have no such building, you don't learn new spells and get stuck with the basic ones. This makes learning fireball and such a long shot. This also induces still more difficult choices on the game start.
- One might even imagine a building that reduces the maintenance of enchantments of stationned troops, making enemy cities tougher nuts to crack and friendly cities easier to defend.
- Reduce the effects of direct damage spells ; they currently wipe out entire armies...
- Apply the casting reduction of direct spells to spell maintenance too (which supposes that we can be sure of which caster is casting an enchantment.)
e) Other problems
In MoM, magic nodes were what Shards are in FE ; but in MoM there were comparatively more nodes, and nodes had to be conquered. I do not see why this would not be the same in FE ; air nodes could be defended with loads of air creatures etc. An unconquered node is a liability, which regularly spills out armies of nasties. You want it in your territory, but as long as it is untamed, it is a danger and keeps you on your toes... It worked well in MoM. Why not in FE ? And more nodes would alleviate the problem of mana regen rate.
The +50% damage boost that mages can get on level up should be changed to a +50% efficiency on all spells, so that a life mage could cast powerfull heals, or that army boosts that increase dodge (for exemple) get a benefit too. The current benefit only increases the value of the mage as artillery.
BTW, I've never ever seen a life node, even though I've seen many death nodes...
Overall -2: +1 for a good variety of spells (but far from MoM), -3 for a generaly broken system
4) CITY BUILDING / ECONOMICS
I like the way cities are built in FE, although I'm ambivalent about the "snake" tactics by which one stretches cities along it's roads to shorten the time of travel between them. Still, I find this rather positive, if somewhat unreal. However, city improvements are bland in FE (they were too in WoM), in that they usually just stack new stats on the existing city.
To be clearer, I'll go back to MoM ; there, if you built a temple, you'd get access to a new unit called priests, with it's own set of abilities (in addition to the standard effects of the temple, namely more mana an reduced unrest). This would happen for many buildings. In FE, it doesn't even happen once... You can even build docks, but cannot build boats...
It disturbs me that the city that I just made and augmented with some producing buildings, not even commercially connected, can build the latest units I have researched ; some units should only be produced in the cities that can produce them considering it's buildings.
On the purely economic side, I have a problem with caravans (which cities am I still allowed to connect ?)
I also have a global problem with money ; well actually I don't (plying mostly with heroes), but I would if I did build real armies ; the upkeep cost is too steep, and with a full grown empire (10+ cities fully developped and caravans running), I can hardly keep more than 15 units without running in the red. The AI blatantly cheats there (at least on hard), seeing that it can keep full garrison in all of it's cities...
Then I have a problem with conquered cities. I can accept that when, as a kingdom, I conquer another kingdom city, I can keep it more or less easily. It goes one step beyond in my imagination that the conquest went without destructions (I keep all buildings.) It goes two steps beyond when I can do the same with an empire city, which seemingly converts easily to the joys of beeing kingdom...
Overall 0: +1 for the way cities level up, +1 for the way they expand, -1 for bland buildings, -1 for missing features (religion, economics, magic)
Just like cities, standard units are mostly bland. We have classic archers, mounted troops, footmen. And that's pretty all. Granted I can customize them and build a great variety of human troops. But what is severely lacking is the fantasy side, except enchanted equipment which we have.
Coming back to MoM, I can have paladins (need a cathedral, get some special combat features and protections), archmages (need a magic academy, cast a spell then magic ranged attack similar to flame blast), griffin riders (don't remember requirements) and some others I forget. That's for the humans. But there are the orcs, elves, dark elves, draconians, dwarves etc... Each one coming with it's fantasy troop and each troop beeing quite unique (especially the highest tier) ; I remember nursing black elves (despite high unrest rate due to racial differences) just to get those pesky nightmares, fast flying mounted cavalry with nasty ranged magic attacks and good close combat ratings... Well, I just see nothing of the sort here (except for the specific military buildings which give generic military advantages)! Or if it is there, it is so well hidden that one doesn't see it.
So, while most of the mecanic is there, the flavor is not. I know that orcs, elves, dwarves etc have been overused. But what we have currently in FE doesn't really make for a worthwhile replacement and doesn't yet vividly capture a fantasy setting.
The game should consider going one step beyond piting humans vs humans. After all, we already have the dragons, the orgres and the trolls in the game... The rifts that we see in the map could have brought lots of other things, including non human races!
The game should also consider to include combat support unit, such as priests (for healing or buffs), or mages (for damage or bufs or debufs.) As of now, we only have various way for direct attacks.
As an aside, I also have a problem with the (large) amount of XP given by monster encounters as compared to human/heroes encounters. That may be on purpose (discourage fights between humans) but I'm unsure.
Overall 0: +3 for the customization, -1 for the failure to capture the fantastic side (races, magical units), -1 for the failure to have specific abilities attached to buildings, -1 for the lack of any support unit (beyond heroes)
When I compare this version of FE to the original WoM, there is no question that the cobat mecanism has seen a large overhaul. It mostly works well and I see little to say. Left without magic, heroes can even be in trouble to simple troops such as spearmen and archers.
Still, I believe that ranged units are too powerful and should account for some realities.
They should have a limited range (this doesn't seem to be the case, though I'm not quite sure) ; a good limit should be 3 for short bow and 4 for long bow. An alternative would be to severely decrease accuracy on the range (a unit at range 6+ should be effectively immune). This is important for two reasons:
- prevent weak units from beeing easily destroyed when out of range (retreating damaged unit, weak hero)
- force tactical movement to keep the ranged troop behind the frontline
In addition, ranged units firing behind a hill (there seem to be hills on the tactical map), friendly or enemy troops should get severe penalties. If positionned on a hill, it would not suffer these penalties and gain +1 range.
One other thing that has been missing even from WoM are flying units. These fantasy units bring a lot to tactical combat because a flying unit cannot be attacked unless by ranged attacks. However, bringing such units in the game has the incidence that a fight can end in a draw (if the flying unit refuses the fight), which I'm unsure the game supports now.
More generally, a lot of things are missing that could easily have been carried over from MoM, such as special combat abilities : flying, first strike, negate first strike, undead capabilities, uncorporeal opponents, shadow strikes, burrower, and I certainly miss others. All of these give a feel of rock/scisor/paper to the tactical action, whereas we are just stuck with the basic attack/defense/hit point combo. In FE, tactical combat is limited to I strike/you strike. Granted, initiative brings some interesting elements, which one can play with using spells such as haste or slow ; but so much is missing! I recall for exemple some fights which I would avoid against basic troops made of illusionnary warriors, even with seasonned heroes, just because these opponents had a bad habit of bypassing all normal defenses... Here, ranged combat saved the day.
Also, the lack of these elements also limits the magical system : abilities that exist in the tactical combat can be carried to a variety of spell. There is a symbiotic enrichment that is sorely missing.
Overall -1: +2 system working well, -3 limited tactical system
The general interface of the game works well as long as one has few units/cities. At some point, the lists exceed the screen capacity and checking becomes tedious.
An easy improvement would be to be able to have some of the unit disappear from the list:
- military units which are given a destination and who are not in view of an enemy unit.
- cities which are building something.
In addition, the game should automatically prompt me for idle units/cities. More than once I have discovered a city building nothing or units patiently waiting that I gave them orders.
For cities, I feel I am lacking important information. Maybe I have it, but it doesn't clearly show up.
- unrest (with effects on income and production)
- base income (popup for details) / maintenance (popup for details) / balance
- base production (popup for details) / maintenance (popup for details) / balance
- base growth (popup for details)
Typically, what one can see in most games of this kind (icons showing the base output, big icons for tens, red icons for lost to unrest etc.) works well: it's visual and instantly captured, as opposed to reading figures in a list.
The same can be said for units : a graphic depiction of it's abilities (attack, hits etc) is visually more appealing than raw figures.
Overall -1 : +1 for immediate access to most information, -1 for big lists, -1 for city/unit info
Even though many changes have been made, the game still has the look and feel of WoM. The best surprise I had was the special map areas : these give some personality to the game, and when I start a new game, I hope to be close to one of them. I also like how heroes evolve, even though there is room for improvement. The rest of the game still looks somewhat bland, and the magic system is still severely broken. The interface is adequate, no more. As it stands now, I would not recommend the game and do not yet consider it a worthy successor for Master of Magic.
Still, a lot of things are present in the game that only ask to be put and balanced together to make it a great experience.