Fantasy General II Invasion Preview

When you think turn-based squad/army strategy games – sci-fi usually comes to mind. And, similarly, when fantasy and turn-based strategy are mixed it is often in the form of a civilisation builder experience. So, when a new Fantasy General game was announced, I was personally excited to see what we would get. With the resurgent popularity of high fantasy RPGs, in the form of Dungeons and Dragons, in the last few years alongside the success of turn-based games such as X-Com II in 2016 – Fantasy General II is an exciting upcoming feature in my Steam library.

We were given the chance to charge straight into the ‘Invasion’ campaign to see what this new game has to offer and, so far, it has been a genuine pleasure to play. Here is a detailed look at what this new title is all about.

This new addition to the franchise is once again set in the fictional land of Keldonia, 300 years after the events of the original, 1996 game, Fantasy General. It bears many similarities to its predecessor, including the combat style and general gameplay loop. For the barbarian campaign, you play as Falirson and his war band which consists of Falirson himself, alongside other heroes and recruits or mercenaries gathered along the way. Falirson is the son of Falir One-eye, as his name would suggest, who is the head of the Baileach tribe – one of the fragmented Norse-inspired barbarian groups of the Fareach Highlands to the North of Keldonia. Beginning the Fantasy General II campaign, you are tasked with finding your sister, Ailsa, defending your tribe and investigating some strange goings-on which hark back to the evils that players battled in the first game.

Fantasy General II does a fantastic job of world building, which is exactly what you’d hope for in a high fantasy setting. Dialogue between missions act as more than a thinly-veiled gameplay justification, and instead introduces the player to new characters, concepts, species, or types of warrior. Several hours in, and the story has still yet to slow to a grind-filled halt as X-Com II did at times. Of course, Fantasy General II is (at least at this stage) is largely linear, albeit with some choices which do affect the story to some extent. But the structure of the campaign so far appears to work well and, frankly, I’m totally hooked. Personally, as a sucker for a campaign map, looking far ahead and seeing the magic and undead-wielding behemoth of ‘The Empire’ looming far on the Eastern side helps keep me motivated to keep barbarianing on. As much as the mystery of a more open strategy game does create excitement, there’s nothing quite like a no-nonsense, well-made, linear story with a clear goal.

As Falirsonyou are in charge of the fighting force of the Baileach tribe. With gold acquired from pillaging, exploring caves and other means you can purchase new units and upgrade your existing ones. Like managing an army in a Total War title, the player has a limit to the number of units they can lead at a time – so a balancing act between heroes, elite units and sheer numbers must be struck. Gold, weapons, armour and mana are the currencies used to recruit and upgrade units and they are all fairly scarce. Uniquely, completing a mission is not a guarantee of loot if it is completed too slowly. Instead of giving the player a fail timer for levels, they are instead punished for being too slow by being unable to replenish their army. This is problematic on ‘General’ (hard) difficulty, where enemies are tough, and gold is especially hard to come by.

The gameplay itself finds itself well balanced between complexity, ease of access and addictiveness. Players of turn-based strategy games will be able to jump right in and given the straightforward nature of Fantasy General II’s early levels – newbies will find themselves clubbing, slinging and pillaging in no time. As is typical in the genre, characters can move and perform another action per turn as standard. Each type of unit has different uses, with those higher up the upgrade tree having more unique and powerful abilities such as magic or berserking. Scouting characters, in particular, are invaluable in Fantasy General II as they are instrumental in preventing the player from running headfirst into a large army, or a bear den.

While there are some fairly random, and sizeable, difficulty spikes, each mission is largely one-shottable if you don’t (as I do) run gung-ho to where the loot is. One issue with the game so far, however, is the absence of hotkeys and rebindable controls. In games such as Fantasy General II, the gameplay is made significantly quicker and more convenient if the player does not need to be constantly clicking around the screen. That said, the interface is easy enough to understand that this does not pose a crippling problem – more of a minor means for improvement.

Boasting significant depth, there are plenty of mechanics for wannabe highland barbarian players to sink their unbrushed teeth into: stealth, ambushes, flying units, buffs, summoning, direct damage magic. As developer Jan Wagner stated on the Slitherine Games YouTube channel, this edition of the game emphasises ‘logic’ in the interactions between units: spears are good against charges, forests give projectile cover, etc. Given the diversity of characters, particularly where heroes are concerned, when the army is down to just your unique units it is like controlling a whole D&D party; and, whilst Falirson’s warband is at full strength, players can play the role of a strategic mastermind over a large and varied army.

For example, on one level, my army was cut down to just three hero characters who all had to survive to complete the level: a bear-riding barbarian, a giant earth troll and a witch. Up against an army of undead and a summoner, I had to lure the army away from a mana pool, then capture it to give supplies to the witch who, in turn, could then summon some spectral help to win the day. Constantly switching out which hero was on the front lines so others could heal, and nearly losing each of them every turn, was an intense experience but immensely satisfying to pull off. Similarly, another missions involved defending the Baileach home, while acting as a way to introduce the player to the mercenary mechanic. This was much more of an army-on-army way of playing and was a nice shake-up from the often smaller-scale fights which constitute the majority of the early parts of Fantasy General II.

From the limited parts of what we have seen so far, Fantasy General II, overall, is hard to fault. What it aims to do it does incredibly successfully. A modern yet undoubtedly nostalgic title, I cannot wait to get my hands on the final version, planned for September.

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Summary

We look at the campaign for upcoming turn-based strategy game Fantasy General II, where Total War meets Civ meets X-Com: but with more barbarian yelling.

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