May 20, 2009

Elven Nationalism Ideology

There are five games in the Fantasy Wars series and I have already covered the first one - Fantasy Wars. This time I am going to review the Fantasy Wars successor, Elven Legacy.

Elven Legacy - There Will Be Blood

Fantasy Wars established itself as a very intelligent wargame with a memorable story and lovable heroes. Elven Legacy continues the tradition, but brings exiting innovations and is quite different from the original. One thing found its way to the sequel unaltered - the game mechanics which made the game so amiable in the first place.

As can be derived from the title, the game story pivots around the Elf folk. The noble Elves were introduced back in Fantasy Wars as one of the playable races of the Alliance Campaign. Instead of having a full-blown army of mighty Elves, we were served only a few Elven units and had to rely on a Dwarven-Elven-Human vinaigrette overall. This time around it's going to be Elves exclusively, new types of units come into play.

Elven army can't boast with heavily armored units ready to charge in and meet an enemy face to face, it rather depends on light soldiers to move fast and deliver deadly strikes from the cover of a forest. Almost every unit has its stats increased when positioned in the forest. The biggest highlight of the Elven army is the airforce. The airships, after gaining some experience and reaching new levels, can be taught one of the most powerful abilities seen in the whole game - an areal bombing attack of an immerse power. Overall, Elven army is incredibly mighty, it can move fast, withstand the most overwhelming attacks and smite their enemies with almost no effort at all. No other race can stand up to such power, but a lot will try. This brings us to the story of blood, murder and intrigues.

First of all, the storytelling device has been given a delicate facelift - the game became nonlinear. While advancing through the story, you will face several bifurcations and will have to pick one of the suggested paths. There are always no more than two choices, two different levels to select from. For example, you can decide to sneak your army though a forest or march on a plain. There are only three occurrences of a story fork, and no matter which route you take, major events will not be affected in any way. In general, this feature increases the replay value of the game, if only a bit. Nonlinearity doesn't end there though.

Elven Legacy also boasts with two various endings. Sadly, the decisions made prior to the final level do not affect the story outcome. Instead, it is possible to lean towards one ending or another two turns before completing the game. Peeking ahead, only one turn of events is supported by the story told in the forthcoming games. Developers could have came up with separate storylines in the future, each following one of the finales (actually, they will even use the literally device suitable for the purpose for one of the add-ons). A great idea, but too bothersome to implement, no doubt, seeing as the Fantasy Wars saga is enormous and several independent scripts co-existing in all the future games could have led to a mess.

Another new feature is how side stories are treated. There is only a single campaign, wholly devoted to the Elves, but still, it's possible to lay the Elven army aside and play Dwarves (leading Dwarnrock), Humans (assuming the role of two different commanders, Magister Brennock and King Victor, a level for each) and Orcs (returning to the lovable Ugraum). We've already seen such a storytelling technique in Fantasy Wars when, during the course of the Alliance Campaign, we got to lead Ugraum, the unbreakable leader of the Orcs. Back then it was a mandatory level, while now every secondary story is treated as a Bonus. Such levels can be completely ignored, their only purpose is to cover the story in depth or to just let you take a break from a pointy-eared folk.

And finally, lets take a peek at the story itself. It introduces two new heroes, Gylven, a powerful sorceress of the Order of Watchers, and Lord Sagittel, a legendary warrior, skilled with a bow and sword, the protector of Quendaylon's forests. After the events of Fantasy Wars, Teya has ordered Gylven to watch over the Sumgan stronghold and the lands surrounding it. A wise precaution. One evening Gylven reports to her mistress that a Human mage was able to sneak into Sumgan and used a powerful sorcery to escape afterwards. Without knowing what secrets the intruder was able to steal, Teya decides to send Sagittel to aid Gylven. Together they have to chase the escapee. The mage must be stopped at all cost. The Elven knowledge he stole can't fall into the wrong hands!

On the whole, the featured story is enjoyable. It's not something you haven't heard somewhere before, but is far from boring. In the end, I found it solid with the exception of one moment. The following paragraph might be regarded as a spoiler, so you can chose to skip it.

Gylven and Lord Sagittel set off on their chase after the thieving mage. Sagittel is not only a skilled fighter, but also a sage. He lived long enough to see the rise and fall of his race, but remained strong thanks to his sturdy beliefs. Sagacious Elf cares a great deal about the future of his kind, but doesn't acknowledge violence as the way to establish that future. He turns to arms only if there is no other way to be found. That's why his men are following him, they wholly rely on their leader and admire him. Gylven is a different case. She is devious and will stoop to anything in order to have everything play in her favor. It's a well known fact that in almost every relationship there is a master and a slave. Between Gylven and Sagittel, we clearly see the latter is the slave. The sorceress tells beautiful lies to her companion, turning him into a toy short of will power. She draws a wonderful future where Elves regain their former glory. Sagittel, fast to forget about his owner principles, blindly follows Gylven, killing everyone on their path. A touching story and a believable one if only it wasn't to the events of the final battle. Without an apparent reason, Lord Sagittel starts having doubts so very late. He already passed the Rubicon long time ago, and one could only wonder how is it even possible for him to reconsider. You, together with Sagittel, have to decide to either carry on helping Gylven or turn against her. This sudden change of heart after the massacre which was Sagittel's adventure, is barely plausible. What is even worse is that, even though an option, helping Gylven is not treated as the right solution. The history tells how Sagittel turned against his own long-time companion and prevented the appearance of yet another evil. He became a wanted outcast in the end nonetheless, but still, who cares?

Regardless the unconceivable moment in the story (someone might think differently of it), Elven Legacy is a unique game, dare I say, a masterpiece. The storytelling technique is fresh, the gameplay is undoubtedly perfect, the heroes and almost every single unit are graphic. I consider this title to be even greater than its predecessor. Remember that it's a stand-alone expansion, and the original game is not required to play it. You sure would miss on a story though.