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Stardock’s designers address some of the critical response to Fallen Enchantress and Elemental: War of Magic.

Technically, this fantasy turn-based strategy game from Stardock has 4 titles. In 2010, Stardock released Elemental: War of Magic, designed by President Brad Wardell. That game was an utter mess, with no clear goals and a clunky interface and founder Wardell publicly called it a failure, even though there may have been extenuating circumstances. Last fall, after the company tapped notable Civ modder Derek Paxton to fix the game, Stardock made good with a “remake” entitled Fallen Enchantress that was actually pretty good and offered it for free to Elemental players. Building on that success, Stardock announced last week it was making a standalone expansion called Legendary Heroes, continuing the story line of the world of Elemental, adding new features, and revising some game systems.

If you’re counting along at home, the new game should be called Elemental: War of Magic: Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes. Thankfully, the official title is just the last two.

Legendary Heroes is due out in April and will go for $20 if you own Fallen Enchantress already or $40 as a “standalone expansion” which includes both FE and the new stuff.

Semantics aside, I’ve enjoyed the 20 or so hours I’ve put into Fallen Enchantress but there were a few things that bugged me. The champion system was a bit wonky in that you were often stuck with the guy or girl who happened to spawn next to you, even if he’s a melee fighter and you were specced for magic. Legendary Heroes changes that by removing champions from populating the map and adding a Fame rating for your faction that will govern how often heroes flock to your capital. Champions will come to you, and this change allows you to focus on building your empire how you want it rather than being forced to scout every inch of the map.

Tactical combat also gets an overhaul, with more available actions and spells for your units. Each of the provided factions have a special unique ability which will go a long way towards providing flavor. I’m especially happy with the promise of new items and monsters, the variety will do a lot to prevent the de ja vu of “Didn’t I already pick up 40 leather vambraces already?”

I pinged Derek Paxton from Stardock to ask him about the reception of Fallen Enchantress, his plans for Legendary Heroes and to explain some of the features in more detail:

Greg Tito: Fallen Enchantress seems like a different game compared to War of Magic, and the work has paid off with a decent critical reception. How does that feel?

Derek Paxton: We’ve been excited to see people playing and enjoying Fallen Enchantress, and to get positive coverage from reviewers and our fans. It was nerve wracking to think about pouring so much effort into a game that may be dismissed by players that had heard bad things about War of Magic, and we hoped we would get the opportunity to show what Stardock was capable of – we know we’re capable of amazing franchises (Galactic Civilizations II is one of the top ten highest rated PC games of all time, for example) and our core fans that have stuck with us know that. I’m thrilled to see that we were able to deliver on a high level, make good on our promise to our fans and make a game that we all love to play in our spare time.

Greg Tito: With Legendary Heroes being another big expansion, it seems the team is set up to keep supporting Elemental for years to come. Is that the plan?

Derek Paxton: Right now the plan is just to make Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes (LH) as good as possible. But yes, I think there is a lot of potential still to be explored in the world of Elemental. We’ve always gone above and beyond for post-release support for our titles. Bugs and issues we discovered while developing Legendary Heroes were backported and released for Fallen Enchantress. Brad Wardell (Stardock CEO and lead developer for Fallen Enchantress) even posts his own patches as he improves the AI and addresses issues before they get released normally through the patch channels.

Greg Tito: Is there anything in the game that you think critics saw that you’ve fixed for this new expansion?

Derek Paxton: Yes. One of the challenges of Fallen Enchantress was that there were two important games going on. One was the empire game, building your cities and expanding your empire. The other was the champion game, recruiting champions, going on quests for equipment and leveling them in battles with monsters.

Both parts worked well but they were disconnected from each other. So a player could largely ignore the empire game and win by focusing on champions throughout. Champions are supposed to be powerful. Having high level, well outfitted champions should be a good thing. But since the champions were randomly placed in the world it made that major part of the game unpredictable for pace and power, and it overshadowed the empire game.

The fix was to introduce the Fame mechanic. Champions are no longer found in the wild. Instead they will come to you when you have gathered enough Fame by building wonders, researching special techs, etc. This way the empire game controls the champion game. We can control the pace and make it more predictable (the amount of champions you have access to isn’t based on map generation, but on your empire choices).

Largely though, Fallen Enchantress‘ critical reception confirmed for us that our shift away from the original approach to War of Magic was the right one. We are continuing that process with Legendary Heroes to create something truly special.

Greg Tito: Legendary Heroes sounds like it may fall under the problem of the winning faction getting all that more powerful. If Champions seek you out only if your Fame is high, how can underdog factions react to recruit the best Champions?

Derek Paxton: It’s the opposite. Since Fame is per faction each faction will get access to champions if it gathers enough. Players that have dominated the map by training hordes of pioneers, or those that have invested in armies won’t be pursuing techs and improvements that draw more champions to your cause. A smaller empire can focus on wonders and hope to compete against larger opponents with a handful of powerful champions.

Click “Next” for more of my interview with Derek Paxton.

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Greg Tito: What kinds of spells or abilities are being added to the game?

Derek Paxton: One thing players requested is to add more depth to Tactical Battles. Fallen Enchantress has different damage types on different weapons. Hammers are blunt weapons, spears are pierce weapons, etc. Some armor protected better against different types, some monsters are more or less defended against different types. From a statistical standpoint there was some variety, it matters that you use your spearmen against the guys in plate mail and your warhammer against the guys in chain mail. But it wasn’t visceral enough, players didn’t feel the difference so most played without considering the statistical difference and therefor it was as if they didn’t exist.

For LH all weapons have special functions in combat. Rather than a spear doing more damage against plate armor it has an impale ability, which strikes an enemy and whoever is behind him. All factions have a special ability in tactical combat as well, so the player always has a few options to choose from (outside of just moving and attacking) in tactical combat. Wraiths can drain life from nearby enemies, Trogs can go berserk, which takes them out of the players control as they attack enemies as quickly and brutally as possible.

As for new spells, we have plenty of those too. Lightning bolts strike all enemies in a straight line from the caster, necromancers can summon hordes of undead into battle and casters can use Gust of Wind to knock back nearby enemies. A lot of the new spells play with the swarm mechanic that has been introduced in LH which gives bonuses when you attack enemies that are surrounded by your allies. Now controlling the battlefield and exactly what tile you are standing in becomes more important.

Greg Tito: Will there be more equipment? I found after playing about 20 hours of FE that I found the same stuff very often.

Derek Paxton: There are currently 13 new items to be found in LH like a ring that increases the amount of healing your healing spells do and an enchanted crossbow that fires through multiple enemies. But I expect that to grow between now and release.

Does Legendary Heroes update the implied setting? What happened on Elemental story wise to make these changes make sense?

Derek Paxton: In Fallen Enchantress Relias traveled to the East and encountered tragedy. I don’t want to spoil the storyline of the Fallen Enchantress scenario, but because of those events the dead have risen across the world of Elemental. The world has changed, and players that enjoy reading the background on the heroes and creatures will find new information about the events of the past game.

Greg Tito: I didn’t find any naval units in my play time with FE. Is that something you want to add?

Derek Paxton: We include some ships in custom maps and in the scenarios, but no real naval game. Naval combat is good in a game about a nation, with advanced armies. But, in my opinion, it doesn’t work as well in a game with such a strong RPG component. It doesn’t work as nicely if your champions are on that ship that sinks, or you would like to transport an army that has an Earth Elemental in it.

In my opinion the best thing about the naval game in other TBS games is the potential to discover a new continent halfway through the game that may have a new advanced or primitive faction for you to deal with. In LH we have added this by increasing the max world size beyond anything that we attempted with Fallen Enchantress. Making players unlikely to encounter those remote corners into well into the game. And of course we provide a variety of game creation options for adjusting the player count, frequency of monsters or dangerous wildland areas.

Greg Tito: Are new factions being introduced? Why or why not?

Derek Paxton: No new factions. Instead we focused on putting more detail into the existing factions. For example each faction has a unique ability that they can perform in tactical combat. So even your lowly spearman Altar gets the Rush ability that allows them to bypass their attack to get an additional action. All factions have a special ability in tactical combat as well, so the player always has a few options to choose from (outside of just moving and attacking) in tactical combat. Wraiths can drain life from nearby enemies, Trogs can go berserk, which takes them out of the players control as they attack enemies as quickly and brutally as possible.

There are also new sovereign and faction abilities for players that would like to create custom sovereigns and factions and these will be used by the AI when the player creates new games so if a player would like 10 new factions and sovereigns, he has only to create them in game and start playing.

Greg Tito: I’m confused by the pricing. As an expansion to FE: Legendary Heroes will cost $20, but as a standalone it will be $40. Does the standalone include everything in FE too? Are you worried $20 is too much to charge for an expansion pack?

Derek Paxton: Players who already own Fallen Enchantress can get Legendary Heroes for $20. If you don’t own Fallen Enchantress then it costs $40 because it includes the Fallen Enchantress content as well.

Developers previously offered deals like this for expansions that weren’t standalone (they installed on top of the main game) because in a retail world it was the way to enforce that you had to have the main game to buy the cheaper expansion. For example, if Civ 5 costs $50 and the expansion costs $30, they don’t want to charge people $80 for the expansion if they already have the main game. And they don’t want to let people have the full Civ 5 game for $30. So the expansion that installs on top of the main game model was born. But in a digital only world we already know if you own the main game or not. So we can give you the correct pricing for your expansion without having to deal with games installed on top of each other. That is easier for us (we can patch them separately from each other and don’t have compatibility issues) and for players, which can install them and play them separately.

For us, we didn’t set a price point and then base our scope on that. Instead we came up with the scope we wanted, and then priced according to that value and cost.

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