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Wot I Think: Fallen Enchantress - Legendary Heroes

Elevating Elemental

Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes is an evolution of Elemental: Fallen Enchantress, which was itself a complete overhaul of Elemental: War of Magic. This means that even with a colon and a subtitle, Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes is still a title lacking the full history of its struggle. This is, in effect, Elemental: Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes, although the desire to create a schism between the accomplished strategy role-playing of this latest release and its first incarnation is understandable. Legendary Heroes is the best of the three by some distance. Here's wot I think.

In baseball terms, War of Magic took a swing and a miss so absurd that it probably dislocated its own spine as it span and slumped at the plate. Fallen Enchantress took a couple of balls and a couple of strikes, then managed to hit for a base run, only to be caught stealing at second base. Legendary Heroes may not quite knock the ball out of the park, but it has power, a more balanced style of play and, crucially, it knows its own strengths.

If none of that meant anything to you, perhaps this will - Legendary Heroes recognises the best of Fallen Enchantress and has been restructured to bring those qualities to the fore. The improvements aren’t additions on the whole, instead representing a fundamental shift, with seemingly minor but far-reaching decisions that focus the design on the previous game's strongest aspects.

As the title suggests, Legendary Heroes places single-unit leaders centre stage, beginning with the ruler of a player’s people. As in the previous game, these mighty characters can be selected from several pinch-faced pre-designed folks or created, using a broad set of skills, attributes and equipment. Even the culture to which they belong can be hand-crafted and then saved, which means that after a few campaigns the game has a collection of user-made factions that can be added as AI opponents. The depth of customisation options extends to the randomised worlds as well, which can now be configured – if you fancy cutting down on the questing and exploration of the early game, that’s possible, but if you’d rather spend more time with the wandering monsters rather than the faction vs faction warfare and empire-building, create a world full of monsters and mysteries. Legendary Heroes will let you do that.

This goes some way to solving the previously problematic strategy-RPG divide. There was so much that was good in Fallen Enchantress that I almost surprised myself by being as critical as I was. I’d played several campaigns to completion and had a fairly good time but too many mechanics felt hollow or half-formed, and there was no compulsion to return. I'd spent so much time gathering loot for my solemn gothomancer that my settlements were neglected. The hassle of balancing them and the units they created wasn’t worthwhile when Karloff Munster was perfectly capable of conquering the world almost single-handed.

Legendary Heroes is immediately a much more involving game because the titular heroes are aspiring to become legends rather than already being demi-gods. They need support units and must plot their route across the world more carefully, levelling and collecting as they go. As they complete quests, the fame of the faction rises, attracting new heroes, which ties different kinds of progress together rather than leaving them disparate. Unlike its predecessor, Legendary Heroes prompts and pushes the player, ensuring that there are compelling decisions to make far more frequently.

While the features are mostly the same, those that felt like optional baggage in Fallen Enchantress are now essential to success and the component parts slot together far more neatly. Almost every aspect has been expanded or improved, including the tactical combat. The growth and branching development of cities is necessary, in order to bolster troops, physical resources and magical powers. There’s more variety in the world as well, which makes for less repetition at the beginning of each campaign. One game might begin with a spot of tomb raiding and the next might have your hero collecting wolf pelts so somebody can make a cloak for her. Legendary indeed.

A few hours later you’ll be raiding hell portals and hitting demons on their chitinous chins with magical hammers, which are precisely the sort of hobbies that legends are constructed around. The pelt thing might not make the cut – it’s no golden fleece – but by the end of a campaign, there will be stories worth sharing.

The actual story, the history of the world and its cataschism, isn’t worth telling so the game doesn’t really bother trying. Or maybe I wasn’t listening. Whatever the case, it doesn’t matter, because, for better and worse, Legendary Heroes is still a sort of DIY experience. I decided that Fallen Enchantress was “a strategy-RPG Airfix kit”, a collection of pieces that might eventually make something nifty but not without a lot of effort. Legendary Heroes is more like a toybox. You no longer have do the work - open it up and you’ll find something worth playing with straight away and the pieces combine to make new stories, like the time you made a plastic stormtrooper (Star Wars, hopefully) climb a Lego tower to kidnap a Sylvanian Family.

As with Fallen Enchantress, I’ve found myself enjoying the battle against the world and its wandering elements more than the larger conflict, which often seems a distraction rather than an epic war, but Legendary Heroes finally fulfils the promise of the deeply customisable fantasy strategy-RPG hybrid. In many ways the changes seem slight and some will argue that this should be a patch rather than a paid expansion, but it's a far different game than it would have been if the graphics had been completely overhauled and a million new monsters had been added. Despite appearances, a great deal has been rewritten. It isn’t the prettiest game at the ball and it still requires a commitment of time and effort, but it does provide a deep and varied collection of items and mechanics that are more than capable of keeping the turns ticking over late into the night.

Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes is available now. It’ll cost $39.99 if you’re new to the series but anyone who previously purchased Elemental or Fallen Enchantress should log in and check for a discount.

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