Starting the game
When you fire up Elemental: FE for the first time, you will notice a few things are different about the main menu. First, there is no more multiplayer. This is because it wasnít included in the original, despite being advertised, until a later patch introduced it, albeit only for small, specific maps capable of holding only a few players Ė a far cry from the 16-player maps and LAN functionality that was initially promised. This revision is fine as these types of strategy games donít work well in an online environment. The second thing you will notice is the darker palette and sharper style. This resonates throughout the gameís vastly improved interface, lending an air of sophistication and modernity over the originalís drab and confusing layout.
Like the original, when you start a sandbox game you pick one of ten different factions. Each half of these factions belongs to two sides: the Kingdoms and the Empires. The Kingdoms are the human controlled lands of the west, epitomizing freedom, peace, and prosperity. The Empires are the demon-infested realms of the east, embodying domination, power, and destruction. Each allegiance has its own unique buildings, resources, strengths, and weaknesses. Itís not as incredibly diverse as it sounds, as both sides share the majority of tech and units. However, unlike the original, each faction also contains specific traits that are unique to that one faction. Before, every faction in their respective allegiance was essentially the same.
You can also create your own faction, adding in different strengths and bonuses or even weaknesses in order to free up more points to add to your build. You can select the race of your faction, which adds another trait, and choose its allegiance to either the Kingdoms or the Empires. After that you need to create your leader, the Sovereign. Like with the creation of the faction, you pick your profession, various strengths and (optionally) weaknesses, any starting equipment, any magical power school(s), and his or her appearance.
Upon starting the game you will immediately find yourself in a much more detailed world. Unlike War of Magic
, FE presents us with multiple environments ranging from the average desert and forest to exotic lands full of crystals, swamps, snowy tundra, jungles, and more. The previous gameís randomly generated maps were almost exclusively a drab desert devoid of color. Expanding your cities will change the landscape under your area of control, introducing green pastures if youíre a Kingdom or a barren wasteland if youíre an Empire.
The most drastic change in Fallen Enchantress
, however, is with the user interface. In the original game the UI tried to resemble something of a journal, complete with the color scheme and layout of an old book. This served to confuse players by hiding entire portions of the game or having one mechanic confused with another. It took me awhile to actually figure out which side of the progress bar was for researching new technology and which one was for researching new spells. Thankfully FE makes it abundantly clear whatís what, giving important info enough space to be noticeable at a glance rather than mashing every little number into one box.
I cannot overstate just how significant the interface improvements impact the feel and flow of the game. On top of greater functionality, itís also infinitely better looking. The thin onyx black bars do not take up much real estate nor do they distract from the game. Itís subtle and sexy, and sends the message that Stardock really took to heart every criticism and did their best to address it.