To give a little background, not too long ago I found myself once again loading up (the original) Age of Wonders and sending my leader storming around the countryside for some fantasy rpg strategy fun. It was never much of a challenge, and is even less so after replaying again and again, but I still get the desire to recapture the enjoyment I got from it. So this time, I decided to see what was out there to fill the gap.
So I discover FE:LH, and reading the description of what they’re trying to achieve with the balance between empire building strategy and champion led rpg game play, I decide to give it a try. I set things up to go rolling through the world with a warrior type sovereign, and start exploring…
…to cut the story short, the experience was not quite what I expected or hoped, but, there was enough promise for me to want to experiment and try different options to see what I could get out of the game. I’ve enough thoughts in general to fill many, many threads, but what I want to discuss here is the champion’s paths and the ability to get a satisfying rpg experience from this very promising strategy game. So here are my thoughts on the different options from my experience so far.
Of the five options, this one currently seems the most rounded, complete and rewarding. The focus on magic rather than combat instantly sets your champion aside from the rank and file of trained units and gives your champion both the uniqueness that the rpg side of the game should offer and a range of additional tactical options that give depth to the gaming experience.
Each of the three main branches of the path represents a viable option depending on whether you wish to focus on damage, support, or summoning. 25% off mana cost and a one trait option for 25% extra experience alone make this a very easy choice of path under any circumstances.
My only real complaint is that if you want your sov/champ to be even semi-focused on providing spell based tactical support, then this is basically the only choice. Why when there are five options is only one of them at all magic based? You can use a Defender or Commander as a caster type if you choose, but there are far too few reasons to regularly do so.
This is everything the Mage isn’t, and not just in the obvious ways. Whilst Mage gives you a range of abilities trained units will never have, a Warrior (unless he gets lucky with finding rare loot) will spend most of the game just trying to keep up to the raw combat performance of trained units.
Far too much of the Warrior trait tree is filled with options to just slightly improve damage or survivability, which even mid game trained units surpass. The likes of Reap and Revenge are underwhelming, the occasional good choice like Decimate is hidden beyond two traits boosting the one weapon type I personally would be least likely to use on a champion, and the sword/counter attack trait options seem far better suited for Defender than Warrior. Blade Rush is ok, but considering the overall state of champions and swarming, it’s as likely to be suicidal as inspired.
In short, warrior seems lacking. The path needs something to make Warrior champions stand out from regular troops. I must admit I’m not sure what the answer is, though personally I’d like to see a couple of support type choices – a champion leading from the front should be able to inspire his soldiers to greater things, not just be another soldier.
In many ways my thoughts regarding Warrior could also be said of the Assassin, although at least the crit based attacks of the Assassin give a different ‘feel’ than a Warrior/trained unit. Ultimately though, as often as not you’re still left directly comparing performance against trained units. Big crits are nice, but the single figure blows in-between are very uninspiring.
The biggest issue with the Assassin tree in my opinion is that you need all of it, so there isn’t actually as much choice as there seems. All the +crit traits are a must to be effective, you’re very vulnerable without picking up some bonus dodge, and then you need to try and grab some of the usable abilities that actual make you stand out from a regular grunt. An under-levelled Assassin is simply a liability, and this needs to change.
I’ve lots of thoughts on all the paths, but if there is one thing I could pick over all others to get implemented in game, it would be this:
Give Assassins an ability to move again after they’ve killed a unit. This would greatly add to the shadowy, hit and run feel of the class, and also give the added tactical depth it’s screaming for. Who wouldn’t love to avoid ‘wasting’ an attack to finish off the last few hp left on an enemy before sweeping through to the back lines to take out some archers?
Defender I struggle with. The class has a lot going for it, and in many ways seems a very strong choice for a champion. Additional survivability and options to boost the rest of your army? Yes please. Somehow though, I don’t seem to be able to make it work in a satisfactory way.
Abilities like Rescue, Guard and Arching Shield Bash are great, and can make even a low level Defender useful, or make mixing Defender traits with spell traits viable. Further into the tree it gets worse though. Every time I try and level a Defender I get so frustrated having to pick multiple less than useful stat boosts to get to the interesting abilities. The biggest single problem though is that in the current state of the game, successful tanking depends so much on tactical use of the defensive stance. This means trying to use a Defender as a front line tank leaves you feeling very passive hitting pass every turn, and not using the abilities that make the path so worthwhile. Surely it shouldn’t just be Ironeers that can use this class effectively?
Mostly I think it’s just a little reworking needed to make this class great. Tidy up the tree to give better clarity between a support role and front line tank. Please give some options to allow more ‘active’ use of defensive stance. Oh, and please, please steal the sword/counter attack traits from Warriors.
If there’s a path that is simultaneously really good and really bad at the same time, then it’s the Commander. As often as not my first recruited hero follows my sov around long enough to get levelled once, then gets dumped in a city to provide -20% unrest. The closest they get to action is being moved to a non-contiguous city where they’re needed more.
Occasionally, I feel adventurous and let my Commander get a couple more levels to get the genuinely excellent Command skill, but after that I almost instantly feel like giving up. Other than relatively worthless boosts to unrest, gold or research, the only option for a developing Commander is through three trait points increasing the accuracy of your army. Unfortunately, once you have an improved fortress, that’s three completely wasted and unnecessary trait points. After that it gets slightly better, but the lack of options makes it feel not worth it to get there.
In principle, the class is ok, but simply needs more, better options to make it feel worthwhile levelling a Commander champion in the field. At the moment Commander is mostly a one point wonder for dumping in a city, which reflects far too badly on the state of Champions in the game as a whole for this to remain the case.
If you’ve managed to read through all of the above (congratulations!), then you should roughly know that a few tweaks and extra options here and there and I’d be quite happy. If it was completely up to me though, I’d be tempted to go a bit further.
One thing I’d love to see is an additional mage-type path. One possibility would be a Loremaster class. I’d probably give it a default bonus of +mana per turn, making it a viable alternative against a Mage’s -25% to tactical spells, but giving it more of a strategic/support twist. I’d probably take the summoner line from the Mage, the +research line from the Commander, possibly with some extra +mana traits, and then add some boosts and extra spell options to fill out the class. I’d even be tempted to throw in some +shard traits right at the end of the tree. It should be a class that doesn’t give you so much of a direct boost in combat, but rewards you for going through the effort of levelling.
Obviously this would leave a big gap in the Mage path, but there seems to be a fair bit of support in the community for improving the structure of the elemental traits within the mage tree, so this would give an opportunity to do so.
If there isn’t room for a sixth path, then personally I’d be tempted to get rid of the Commander. If so then I’d move some of the support type abilities to the Defender and possibly Warrior paths. Both could do with a little extra, particularly when you pick up a third/fourth champion etc further into the game who you’ve no idea what to with.
Slightly off topic (can you be off your own topic?) but the other one thing I find lacking from the first time I read about FE:LH is that developing your empire does not improve your champions. I’d quite like if there was a technology deep into each of the three trees that allowed you to build a world wonder/ one per faction building that directly boosted all your champions. Maybe +hp for Civilization, +attack for Warfare, +initiative for Magic, for example. This would encourage those wanting powerful heroes to work on the empire building side of the game (part of the stated ethos of LH), help heroes stay competitive with trained units late game, and also actually help make it viable to throw those heroes you haven’t got around to levelling into combat in the later game without them dying to arrows in the first turn.
I don’t see any of this happening anytime soon though to be fair, but no harm in throwing the ideas out there.
Wow, longer than I thought it would be. Thank you for reading.
TL:DR? Mostly it’s my opinions on the various champion paths and what I think is required to make them feel great. Hope you enjoy the game anyway.