Fallen Enchantress #1: The Fearful Merchant
It’s the 24th of August, 2010, the day I’ve been eagerly awaiting for over three months, and there’s something heavy on my mind: which I should play first, Mafia II by 2K Games or Elemental: War of Magic by Stardock? They arrived together, shared the same potential-smelling cardboard box (cardboard always smells like potential to me though), and sat shrink-wrapped for nearly an hour while I wrestled the question back and forth. Yeah, I’m one of those, the sort who would rather do nothing than commit to just one, especially when the topic is games.
I played Elemental first, which turned out to be the right choice, as Mafia II seemed quite good after suffering through the trauma of four hours with Elemental. Now, two years plus change later, we have Fallen Enchantress, a sequel built over a foundation of lessons learned, better designers hired, and apologies delivered. And to my surprise, that’s a pretty decent foundation.
I’m playing as Magnar, one of the stock characters from Fallen Enchantress, and even on the character select screen he’s many times more memorable than the folks of the original game. He’s come to the Desolate East because (and this might be my imagination filling in the blanks) the West, where Elemental was set, was unimaginative and boring and unfinished. Heh, good one, Stardock. Anyway, like most creatures who wear black cloaks with menacing red lining and have horns not only on their head but growing from their cheekbones, Magnar is a slaver. This means defeating humanoid enemies will press them into the nearest city’s population rather than just killing them. In addition, he can recruit flimsy but unpaid slave militia, and that sounds like real fun. He also dabbles in death and fire magic, which is a nice perk, but Fallen Enchantress had me at “slave militia.”
Once the map is done loading, Magnar says some words, presumably to himself, about lore and being a descendent of a powerful master and why he’s come to the East to seek his fortune. He doesn’t mention a Fallen Enchantress, though I figure maybe he hasn’t met her yet. I skip his blathering to take a look at the Desolate East.
It’s pretty nice, actually. He’s standing on a small finger of land — well, alright, a thumb, and a pudgy one at that, but it still appears secure on two sides. The grass is green, the forests seem friendly, and the nearby locations inform me that they are an air shard, which provides mana and strengthens my empire’s air magic, a clump of iron, perfect for mining, and an unprotected treasure. Perfect! I found my first city, which gives Magnar the opportunity to just go wild and express himself. He names it Imperium. Good job Magnar, we’re all winners here.
It’s about now that I notice my settlement has pushed back the happy green grass in lieu of purplish decay, and I realize that I’m a “bad” team. Yeah yeah, I might have figured that from the whole “slaver” thing, or maybe from the cheek-horns, but hey, I don’t judge. A quick visit to the game’s encyclopedia tells me that there are two basic types of government in Fallen Enchantress: kingdoms, which are smugly heroic, and empires, which are smugly evil. Well, I’m glad I’m the latter, now let’s find some folks to enslave! I leave the people of Imperium busy building workshops and wells and head off to explore the wide and empty world around me. I almost immediately bump into an inn, and a man with distressingly dry skin milling around outside. His name is Kunsetti Kava, and he offers to join me for the entire contents of my treasury. I happily pay, and the two of us walk into the inn.
Inside the inn is a frightened merchant who informs me that Brunthus the Tenebrous has taken over his workshop, and if I take care of it he’ll give me an enchanted shield. I consider clicking “No,” in part because I remember the horrible quest system from the original Elemental, which generally handed out impossible quests that would kill your sovereign before the game had even properly begun, and in part because I take umbrage at being thought of as the heroic sort. I’m a slaver, after all. I think I’d be more likely to click the third (absent) option, and shackle the guy and send him to the iron mines, and take his silly enchanted shield too. The need for experience wins out and I agree to help. Not because I’m agreeing to the hero part, but because I notice that the quest has “weak” threat. Surely the great Magnar can handle “weak.” I alt-tab to look up Tenebrous (it means gloomy or murky) and then walk off with Kunsetti to handle this workshop, which happens to be nearby — right where Kunsetti was standing around earlier.
Turns out this workshop is ringed with sharpened wooden stakes. I figure I’ll need to ask the frightened merchant about that later, because right now Brunthus the Tenebrous and his six darkling buddies are making ready for combat. Looking through my options, I realize that I probably should have stopped in town to buy some armor or weapons or something, because none of my spells are very powerful, and most would drain my entire empire’s supply of mana in one go. I settle for “Wither,” which will decrease the enemy’s attack by two. I have no idea if this is a good amount or entirely negligible, but it seems like a better course of action than casting one instance of a flame spell that the game is telling me wouldn’t do much damage anyway.
Magnar begins to charge up the spell while Kunsetti moves out front to protect him, and the darklings begin moving up. When Magnar casts Wither, the darklings are weakened but Brunthus manages to resist it. Dang.
Kunsetti moves up and goes Berserk, which gradually hurts him but improves his attack power. This is predictably effective, and he kills two of the group of three in one attack. Unfortunately, the remaining darklings surround him and get in a lot of good slugs, leaving him nearly broken. Magnar runs up to help, and between the two of them they’re able to kill the six darklings, although the last one manages to kill Kunsetti. I wonder if I can loot his princely fee off his corpse while I charge Brunthus and engage in a slapfight that ends with Brunthus in the mud and Magnar two hit points away from death.
The battle ends and it turns out that Kunsetti wasn’t killed — just afflicted with a bout of pneumonia. Perhaps if Magnar had been a physician rather than a slaver, he could have declared hijinks, but it’s a bit late for that. Instead, I’m grumbling about the fact that darklings aren’t humanoid enough to enslave. At least he’ll get his enchanted shield. The merchant hands it over and disappears with the rest of the inn. Quite disconcerting.
At any rate, we’re off to a good start. For the next eighty years, Magnar and Kunsetti explore the region, questing and settling. Just a short distance to the east is a good fertile spot, and Curgen’s Hold is founded (don’t ask who Curgen is). In a valley to the west we found Khaffara, and in the next valley, Ryss. Other adventurers join our cause, and to my delight, a few parties of slave militia are soon tramping around the Desolate East with us. Surprisingly, it turns out that the Desolate East is desolate for the most part, and settlements can only be founded on top of a supply of food. This means that our empire soon contains wide gaps — while we eventually conquer some tribes to the north and found Rilkaz and Hagadez along a fertile river, we need to invest in outposts and roads to span the distance, otherwise it can take months to travel the breadth of our own territory. With some effort, we eventually have eight operating cities, all connected and protected, from Imperium and Curgen’s Hold in the east to the frontier colonies of Havelkar and Mithrash in the west.
At this point, a band of stupid adventurers opens a gate into the netherworld and angers a large demon. Realizing they’re out of their depth, they come before Magnar and plead for him to close the portal in exchange for their loyalty. I agree, and although I get a handful of useful heroes out of the bargain, I also find my empire beset by dozens of armies of darklings, poured out of the nether. That war lasts a decade, ending only once local slave militias manage to wipe out the last of the darkling invaders and my main army, led by Magnar and Kunsetti, enters the demon’s realm and defeats him, gaining his allegiance to our cause.
And it’s about now that I realize something about Fallen Enchantress. It isn’t only Magnar that’s growing in strength, learning new spells and abilities. And it isn’t only his soldiers and champions that are taking on their own specialties and histories. So too are my cities, except their experience points are their populations, and their abilities are the special structures that unlock with each passing “level” of growth. I’ve been playing for two hours, and been having a pleasant time. I’m pleased with the rough shape of my empire, forged according to mountainous barriers and circumstances of fertility — it’s distinctly personal, and each city is an individual with strengths and needs and long-term plans. I know that troops are best-trained in central Khaffara, which is also an excellent garrison, as its position is like the hub of a great wheel, with each other city located at the end of spokes of roads and outposts and exploited resources. At the same time, many of the best commodities are coming from my two cities in the fertile river valley up north, and much of my research from the university-town of Mithrash, and stunted Havelkar could use a population boost, and so on and so on.
And right then, when I realize this, I bump into another empire — a heroic “good” kingdom that calls themselves the Gilden, which seems appropriate once I check out the diplomacy screen and get a glimpse of their wealth. These guys are loaded, have a military rating that nearly doubles mine, and apparently they’re as aware of these details as I am. Our first conversation is them telling me to keep off their land, ending with Magnar’s proud army, complete with champions and now-elite slave militia and Pox the Demon, retreating in shame. The second comes the next season, and it’s them demanding tribute. Already these guys are spoiling my fun. I guess I’ll have to enslave them.
Next time, I’ll see about taking their city of Farhammer.