REVIEW: Fantasy General II

Sep
05

REVIEW: Fantasy General II

It’s been 23 years since the last game. Was this a series worth reviving?

Released: Steam GOG
Type: Single-player, Multi-player
Genre: Strategy
Developer: Owned by Gravity
Publisher: Slitherine Ltd.
Release date: 5 Sep, 2019

The original Fantasy General was released all the way back in 1996, to critical praise, and has over the years attracted a bit of a cult following. A few attempts has been made by different companies to create a spiritual successor to Fantasy General, including Ino-Co’s Fantasy Wars and Elven Legacy. Now Owned by Gravity, a company with no previous games to its name, has taken up the mantle, and have made a sequel to the beloved classic. The developers have been smart in how they handled the sequel though, they set it 300 years after the first game, so the events of the first game are treated like ancient history. There are some references to what happened sprinkled through Fantasy General 2, and a few of the important characters of the first game gets mentioned by name, but you really don’t have to have played the first game to enjoy the second.

Fantasy General 2 is a turn-based strategy game that lands somewhere in-between the likes of Panzer Corps and Fire Emblem in terms of both complexity and gameplay. You’ve got units that stay with you (until they die), and that levels up and get stronger with use, but with a few exceptions, these are generic, replaceable units. You also have a few heroic individuals with special powers that can help turn the tide of battle, be it leaders who strengthens friendly units around them, or powerful magicians who can summon magical creatures and cast destructive spells.

Graphics & sound

While Fantasy General 2 might not have the most technically impressive graphics, with 3D models that are not as detailed as those of many other modern games, like Age of Wonders: Planetfall, and somewhat low-res textures, it makes up for that with a strong and consistent art style. Nothing looks out of place, and the developers have managed to inject a fare amount of personality into the game just with how they’ve designed the different units and regions. They were also not afraid of using bright, contrasting colours, which helps make the battlefield surprisingly easy to read, even when it gets crowded.

Trying to sneak up on Hadrian’s Wall! (Or at least this world’s counterpart). Notice how varied the different units actually look, despite most of them being early game human units from the same faction.

When talking about music, one can’t help but compare what’s in Fantasy General 2 to Fantasy General 1. The first Fantasy General had an outstanding soundtrack, and sadly the sequel does not have one that’s quite as memorable. There’s nothing wrong with the soundtrack, it works well, and unlike the soundtrack in the first game, the one in the sequel is unlikely to ever be distracting, but I do miss the choir (it is still there for the main track at least).

The sound effects are also nothing to really write home about. They do the job well, and when regular units fight, it sounds good, but I would have wished for a louder sound with a lot of base for the siege weapons, to really show that you’re hitting someone with a big exploding metal sphere.
The game also lacks voice acting. Apart from the intro, it’s all text. This is understandable, as it’s a small studio that made the game, and hiring professional voice actors can be expensive, but it’s still something that’s worth pointing out. Not going with voice acting was probably the right choice though, as no voice acting is usually better than bad voice acting.

Story & setting

300 years has passed since the first game. The world of Aer has been mostly stable since the Shadowlord was defeated by the four heroes. But now conflict stirs again.
The world of Fantasy General 2 is one that seems to be quite heavily inspired by 1st century Europe, with the Empire clearly borrowing a lot of its aesthetics from the Romans, and the Barbarians more closely resembling a mix between the Celtic and Germanic tribes that the Romans historically fought.

The setting does feel a bit under-developed, as not a whole lot of time is dedicated to expanding on it beyond what’s necessary for the main story. You get an idea about how the Empire works, and how the different tribes have been mostly been avoiding full scale war, but for the most part the story focuses on the main character, Falirson, and his band of warriors, and don’t dedicate a lot of time to truly flesh out the setting. Personally, I would have liked to see more time dedicated to expanding on the setting, because there is an interesting one in there.
As you progress through the game, you’ll at times be presented with some options. You might in one level stumble upon a few trolls and humans who are fighting, and you’re given the option to help one side or the other. And your choices do matter, to an extent, as characters will react in different ways to them, sometimes a few levels after you made the choice, and you’ll be given different rewards.

An example of a very minor choice early in the game.

The story is mostly there as a way to give you a reason to fight, and it’s okay, but nothing spectacular. Most of the characters do at least feel like they have logical motivations. While I would not go so far as to say that the story is bad, it is the weakest part of this game.

Gameplay

If there’s one area where Fantasy General 2 really shines, then it’s in the gameplay. At its core, Fantasy General 2 is really a rather simple turn-based tactics game. You’ve got an ever expanding army of troops, some mundane, like humans with spears or slings, and some more fantastical, like trolls and even big monsters, and you need, through good positioning, using the terrain to your advantage and by using the right units against the different units the opponent has, defeat their army. But what makes Fantasy General 2 really stand apart is just how varied the different units are on the battlefield.

The barbarian spear unit upgrade paths.

As the Barbarians, which the campaign focuses on, you’ve got two main unit types, with surprisingly large, branching upgrade trees, and how you upgrade your units completely alters the way they work (these are by the way not the only units you have access to). Taking the spear line as an example, you can upgrade them to stag riders, which excel at hit & run attacks, and which can attack most enemies without fearing retaliation, shield maidens, which are slow moving units that can stop a charging cavalry unit in its tracks, or skirmishers, which are light infantry units that can ambush the enemy and are great at using terrain to their advantage. For this review, I went with a force that contained almost all the different unit types, and was impressed by how well balanced they felt. I think that had I played the game casually, I would likely have gone for a force that featured plenty of stag riders, as that was a unit that I thought was very fun to use, but I could easily see someone else building a force consisting of mostly heavy infantry backed up by slingers and having great success with that.

Speaking of the campaign, as mentioned above, it’s focused on the barbarians. It’s a bit disappointing that the Empire did not get a campaign of their own, but knowing Slitherine, they’ll likely release a DLC that covers the Empire at a later point. What we get here is still a lengthy and well made campaign, that has a good amount of variety to it. In one level you might be trying to take a huge wall, with well dug in defenders, and in another you’ll move through a treacherous swamp, where both your forces, and the forces of the Empire constantly gets attacked by lizardmen, who can move unhindered through the difficult terrain.

An example of a 3-way battle. Imperial units are purple, lizardfolk are green and the player’s forces are blue.

While you can’t play the Empire during the campaign, they are available as a faction in skirmish and multiplayer. Here you play standalone maps, where you build an army beforehand, and then fight over a randomly generated map. The randomly generated maps do often turn out pretty good, but the skirmish mode does have one big flaw: The AI. The AI is not all that good at seeing the bigger picture, does not really know how to take and hold ground, and I was able to win some skirmish levels without even fighting, as the AI would simply ignore the objectives. That being said, the AI does a good enough job at actually fighting, knowing what to attack and finding weak spots in your lines. In the campaign, the map designers were able to work around the AI limitations, and even embraced them, but in the skirmish mode, the AI quite simply does not hold up. So if you want to play as the Empire, you’ll have to either venture out online, or play a skirmish map. That is, until the inevitable DLC comes out that gives us a full length campaign that focuses on them.

An imperial army. For now only playable in skirmish and multiplayer. Notice the slightly anachronistic looking shields on the heavy cavalry

One thing that often gets overlooked when talking about strategy games is the value of a good interface. You don’t really tend to think of the interface until you run into issues with it. The developers of Fantasy General 2 should really be commended for their interface, it’s clear, easy to read and gives you all the information you need to make informed decisions right from the get-go, and this makes it really easy to get into the game. I’ve played games that are far less complex than this that were harder to get into

Closing thoughts

I had a lot of fun with Fantasy General 2. It was one of those games where I would sit down, start it and then suddenly realize that nearly 4 hours had passed. That’s the sign of a good turn-based strategy/tactics game, and it’s been a while since a new game managed to sink its teeth so deeply into me. I might have sounded hard on the game at times in the review, but I still genuinely think that this is an excellent game, and the flaws the game has are more than made up for by its strengths. No matter if you’re a newcomer to strategy games, or a veteran with hundreds of games under your belt, I would feel confident in recommending this one. And I hope we’ll be seeing a lot more from Owned by Gravity in the future.

And to anyone who played the first game, don’t go in expecting this to be a carbon copy of it. While Fantasy General 2 does have a lot in common with Fantasy General 1, it’s still its own thing.

But to answer the original question of if this was a series worth reviving: Yes, absolutely!

About Fnord

I cut my gaming teeth back in 1989 on a crusty second hand Atari 2600, and I've been actively gaming ever since. These days I tend to gravitate towards strategy games, RPGs and Metroidvanias, although as long as the game is good, I'll gladly play just about anything.

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