Fantasy Wars is the game you pick last in a three-for-$10 budget deal and end up enjoying more than the game you picked second. Those silly orcs, elves, men, and goblins are at each others' throats again. What was the spark this time? We honestly can’t remember. The campaign cutscenes that sandwich the scraps in this tight little turn-based wargame are so monstrously generic the only plot-related facts we seem to have retained are the names of the two human heroes. Be afeared Horde scum, Dexter and Derek (sorry, Derrick) are on the warpath!
The art direction and the unit roster are as hackneyed as the storyline. Lantern-jawed orcs, hook-nosed goblins, scaly dragons, leathery blimps... Ino-Co are one of those studios who seem to think fantasy starts and ends with Warcraft. Someone needs to send them a copy of Dominions 3.
Staleness that would have skewered a bog-standard RTS only dents Fantasy Wars’ breastplate. Yes, we’ve used mounted knights and giant eagles dozens of times before, but this is the first time in a long while we’ve had the time to ponder, really ponder, how we use them. If we put our bowmen on that knoll they’ll get a combat bonus against those goblin cavalry. If we hide our rangers in that forest hex we’ll be able to bushwhack anything fording that stream. That spellweaver is in trouble: we’ll try to screen him with our spearmen. There’s no panic, no rush to feed the meatgrinder; this is tactics pure and simple.
Too much complexity can ruin turn-based aggro. Happily, Ino-Co seem to know when to stop. Though terrain, morale, magic, and veterancy all have roles to play, you don’t have to consult the manual or do mental arithmetic before each move. Experience points are cashed in for equipment and skills upgrades in the midst of the mayhem, which might have been horribly distracting. It isn’t, because you’re never overwhelmed with choices. This is a war game with a dash of RPG, not some confused, ungainly genre hybrid.
Too much luck can also blight turn-based aggro. Again the devs seem wise to this. When a long-serving unit (surviving troops are carried over from one scenario to the next) succumbs to a flurry of club blows or a shower of arrows you curse your own idiocy, not the invisible dice.
On rare occasions, the AI may generate a grumble or two. It’s pretty solid and sly overall, but the retreat logic needs tweaking. Currently, broken units are too willing to leave fortifications and too ready to flee toward foes. This and a disappointingly slim selection of multiplayer and single scenarios are the game’s only bugbears. An editor already in circulation alleviates the scrap shortage. Hopefully the inevitable patch will fix the retreating, too.
So, remember the name Fantasy Wars. In 18 months’ time you’re going to find yourself standing in front of a display of budget games, searching for that elusive third purchase. Beowulf and Soldier of Fortune Payback will have more enticing cover art, but this is the one you should buy.
Feb 27, 2008