Fantasy Wars, by Russian developer Ino-co, is a turn-based strategy game set in a Tolkienesque fantasy setting with humans, orcs, elves, etc. The game was originally released in October of 2007 on GamersGate, and Atari published it in the U.S. shortly after, but it has been picked up by a few additional publishers (in other countries) and has recently shipped in the UK. While the graphics are a bit dated, and gameplay is rather standard for the genre, I found it to be a rather addicting title that I always wanted to come back to. The major setback, however, is that Fantasy Wars is extremely difficult.
I hadn’t heard much about Fantasy Wars
and actually haven’t played many turn-based strategy games but was interested when the game arrived. The single-player portion contains three different campaigns: the Human, Orc, and Elven campaign. These have to be played in that order. The game does contain a bit of a storyline, but it’s really not immersive or involving. It takes place hundreds of years ago after the collapse of the Empire of Eolia. Provincial Lords took over power and founded their own kingdoms on the old territory, which divided the humans and left them weaker to attacks from Orcs. In order to survive, humans have now formed an alliance with the Elves and Dwarves in order to defeat the powerful Orcs and Goblins.
"...experience is what really counts in Fantasy Wars."
Despite my lack of experience with the turn-based genre, the gameplay was exactly what I had anticipated. The only difference between this and other games in the genre is the inclusion of a couple of role-playing elements. As you conquer towns and castles and complete missions, you earn gold, which allows you to buy new units and improve your army. There are several different units to choose from, including many ground troops, but also things such as war eagles and dragons, catapults, and cannons. As you move along through the missions, more advanced units become available. The new units are always more expensive and better equipped, so my initial perception was that it was good to buy the best units when they become available. I soon realized, however, that experience is what really counts in Fantasy Wars. It’s very important to build up experience points with each unit, and it seemed much more effective to upgrade them, when upgrades were available, instead of just buying higher quality units, which don’t have any experience initially. In addition to experience, the other main role-playing elements in Fantasy Wars are the unit skills and abilities. As your units are gaining experience they’ll gain new abilities. When the time comes to gain a new skill or ability, a menu gives you three options which range from increased moving points to special attacks and massive healing.
The rest of the gameplay elements seemed very simple to understand, and it was relatively easy to begin with the default human campaign after a brief tutorial. Controls seemed quite simple, and changing the viewpoint seemed especially easy. You simply position your units on the hex map and take it from there. The ground troops have to be one hexagon away from an enemy in order to attack, but archers, catapults, etc. can be two-plus hexagons away. The “fog of war” plays an important role in Fantasy Wars and added to the difficulty, because often many enemies will seem to come out of nowhere, leaving you surrounded and in a world of hurt. Using scouts to see enemies ahead is a good way to manage this issue. You have the ability to give your units a rest to heal, but that takes a turn and can turn out to be a bad situation – face attacks, heal (or retreat), face attacks, heal…. Bringing in other units to help was essential in this situation, but often it frequently seemed like I simply lacked units to face the large number of enemy units. When an enemy attacks soldiers die, so you also have the option of recruiting new soldiers to a unit, if the unit you want to recruit for is close to a village or castle, but it costs money. I would always seem to run out of gold from recruiting very quickly in each mission, which hurt in the long run because I was then unable to buy or upgrade many units.
Besides capturing or defending your objectives, protecting your main hero is the most important part of every mission in each campaign. If your main hero dies, you fail the mission. You begin with one, but eventually acquire several additional heroes as the campaigns progress. If a secondary hero happens to “die” in a mission, they will be unavailable until the next mission. Heroes come in very useful in the game and are more powerful than your average unit. I would highly recommend trying to keep all of them protected in every mission because of their effectiveness.
"...I soon found it to be a very challenging game."
The aspect that will drive many players away from Fantasy Wars is the fact that the game is quite difficult. It started out okay, and I would play on the medium difficulty setting, but I soon found it to be a very challenging game. The enemy will always seem to attack your weakest unit and when three units pop up out of “nowhere,” it really takes a toll on your army. This, in combination with a lack of gold, is really what did it for me. You get to choose a difficulty level for each mission in the campaigns, and even if I selected “easy” further into a campaign, I found some missions nearly impossible with the condition of my army and the low amount of gold in the bank. I found it so impossible about half-way through the human campaign, that it drove me to find the cheat codes. When you have to find cheat codes for a game on the “easy” difficulty setting, there’s a problem. I don’t know if Ino-co just really wanted to make a super-challenging game but Fantasy Wars is difficult and after reading around a bit, I know I’m not the only one who found this to be the case.
Graphics in Fantasy Wars seem a bit dated, even if you compare it to other games released around Fall of 2007. It really looks a few years older, not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that, but if you enjoy high quality graphics, you won’t find them here. Besides being able to easily move the viewpoint around, you are also able to zoom in on your units. When zoomed out, a unit is represented by one character. When zoomed in, you get to see everyone. I didn’t think I would like this aspect at first, but after a while, it didn’t seem to make a difference. High and widescreen resolutions are supported in Fantasy Wars.
Sound and music seemed to work well for the most part. Music plays during all the missions and changes campaign to campaign. Voice acting seemed good for the human campaign, but as I moved on to the Orc campaign, the quality was degraded. I liked the sounds from the units and besides the voice acting, didn’t think anything was missing in this area.
Fantasy Wars is an addicting strategy game that I enjoyed playing once I found the cheat codes. It suffers from being too difficult and very generic – practically replicating a storyline from The Lord of the Rings. As far as replay value goes, there are three full campaigns, which would take many hours to complete, and there is also a multiplayer component. If you’re up for a big challenge and really enjoy the TBS genre, then I would definitely recommend Fantasy Wars to you. For the average strategy fan, however, I urge to exercise caution.