Stardock didn't have to make Fallen Enchantress part of the "Elemental" series. Actually, there are plenty of reasons it shouldn't have, the biggest being that the original, Elemental: War of Magic, sort of sucked (read our Elemental: War of Magic review). Stardock admits it sucked. It admits that the game was rushed out early, filled with bugs and gameplay issues. It sucked.
But Stardock pulled itself up by its bootstraps, and is making Fallen Enchantress partially to regain the trust of its fans, partially to reestablish the Elemental brand, and partially to say that it's really, really sorry. Like, totally sorry.
Fallen Enchantress isn't a sequel or an expansion as much as it's a... well, it's sort of a remake. Stardock went back to the drawing board and decided to completely remake everything about Elemental, only keeping the things that worked and gutting everything else. If it didn't work, it was removed - even multiplayer, a major draw of the original, was cut in favor of fleshing out the singleplayer experience.
Part of fleshing out the gameplay meant adding in new spells and abilities. Lots... of spells and abilities. Stardock CEO Brad Wardell showed off the game's spellbook, which contained literally hundreds of different spells to choose from. Some were small-scale, like healing a group of units, while others summoned giant volcanoes that actually destroyed the earth itself. Wardell joked that casting some of the larger spells is akin to dropping a nuke in a game like Civilization because it not only screws over the player you landed on, but ruins the actual world. In other words: it's sort of a mean thing to do, but it looks cool, so you're totally going to do it anyway.
Above: That dark portal spawns neutral enemies that pour out and kill everything
From what we've seen of the game, it certainly looks like Stardock is making good on its promises. The unit customization is insane, allowing players to essentially build their own units from a few templates. Give a healing unit a mace, change their armor, and adjust some skills and suddenly you're controlling an army of armored paladins, ready to charge into tactical battles. Take away their gear, give them spears, and they're entirely different units. This is the sort of thing people wanted from the original game, and Stardock is coming through in a big way with Fallen Enchantress.
Will Fallen Enchantress win Stardock back any of its lost fans? Maybe. The fact that it's giving the game away for free to anyone who purchased War Of Magic before December 31, 2010 should definitely help, since everyone likes free stuff, but that's just a small part. It also has to deliver, and from the looks of things, it's well on its way to doing just that.