Truth be told, I have never played the original Fantasy General game which came out back in 1996. It just flew under the radar at a time when I had been focusing more on real-time strategy games and first-person shooters. Having said that, turn-based tactical offerings developed or published by Slitherine always remained a fixture in my library. That brings me to Fantasy General 2 — from developers Owned by Gravity but still published by Slitherine. Is this sequel worth the wait? Or is the 23-year hiatus a bit too much? Let’s find out in our official review.
Note: For more information and tips, you can check out our Fantasy General 2 guides and features hub.
The story so far
Fantasy General 2 combines the age-old concepts from the classic Panzer General series, wrapped up in a bundle of fantasy and RPG themes. In the game’s “Invasion” campaign, you play as Falirson, a young barbarian warrior who grows up to become the king of his own tribe. Your father has given you an unenviable responsibility: to lead your people to greatness and defeat the forces of the (very generic named) Empire.
Along the way, you’ll meet new friends and foes. Again, given the fantasy themes, you’re bound to encounter humongous trolls, magic-casting shaman, shapeshifting werekin, valkyries, and more.
In terms of the role-playing aspect, you’ll follow Fantasy General 2‘s narrative as you progress through over 30 scenarios/missions. There are times when you’re presented with various decisions — whether it’s your choice of which mission to take (causing the other options to be locked out) or a dialogue that’d lead to a certain result. For instance, during one of the earlier missions, Falirson witnesses a fight between trolls and humans. If you side with the trolls, you’ll earn their respect. Later on, you’d meet a troll hero character and you can mention rescuing his buddies from the previous mission.
Fantasy General 2 – Fancy some strategy?
The meat and potatoes of Fantasy General 2 will be its turn-based battles. It’s one of Slitherine’s published titles, after all, and they’re masters at their craft.
The game’s mechanics are fairly easy to learn. You’ve got your usual hex-based unit placement, one-tile melee attacks, ranged attacks from two to three hexes away, and you’d even spot some siege units that can obliterate opponents from further away. Units have one movement point and one action point (attacks or spells), and some have a free action such as razing a settlement on the tactical map.
Naturally, no fantasy-themed game would be complete without magic-based units and spells, and Fantasy General 2 has several of them. Certain spells include the means to reveal a section of the map, shroud yourself in mist, terraform an area into a forest, as well as summons.
Units, wounds, kills, and replenishment
Units come in a few varieties. Your Younglings (male early-game infantry) can become Berserkers, Werebeasts, Axemen, Skirmishers, or even a Thane hero. Meanwhile, your Maidens (female early-game infantry) could become Stag Chargers (shock cavalry), Wind Riders (magic ranged cavalry), Winged Maidens (valkyries), Shield Maidens, as well as a Wolf Mother (support unit that can summon wolves). A couple of missions down the line and you’d be able to recruit troll units (monster infantry) that can become artillery units or monstrous shock infantry.
Additional noteworthy mechanics would be “wounds” and “kills.” When units take damage, they’d suffer “wounds” which can be replenished if you take a turn to rest. However, taking too much damage would lead to suffering “kills.” Most of your regular units (outside of Falirson and other heroes) are comprised of squads, and their numbers would dwindle should troops get killed.
Unlike wounds, killed troopers won’t replenish even when you rest during a battle. You can only get them back if you use a special potion, if you spend gold to restore troops in a camp or castle, or once you finish the battle itself. However, finishing battles after a unit has lost troops would mean it’d lose experience points as well (to represent having to recruit fresh newcomers). Needless to say, this creates an intriguing dynamic where you’d try to play more defensively. Safeguarding your units to avoid XP losses is a must.
Exploring your surroundings
Almost all of Fantasy General 2‘s maps are gigantic in scale. Even better, the maps themselves are dotted with various points of interest. Ruins and caves can net you gold, artifacts (accessories), or upgrade materials like weapons and armor. The same goes when you raze an enemy’s settlement (and you’ll be razing often since you’re a savage barbarian, after all).
You can also spot shrines that can confer army-wide buffs and mana pools that add MP each turn that can be used for your spells. Likewise, some missions may even have a small village, witch’s hut, or various locales that can provide an additional sidequest or dialogue options (such as killing harpies or talking to a hag so she can provide boons).
When you combine the above with Fantasy General 2‘s strategy mechanics while fighting your foes, you can spend 30 minutes to an hour just finishing certain missions. That’s because some of these rewards are completely randomized. For instance, razing a certain settlement in the battlefield might net you 150 gold. But, reloading the save and committing the same action might provide you some weapons for unit upgrades on the next attempt.
Finding a balance
As you mow down your enemies, you’ll notice a counter on the right-hand side that’s ticking down. That’s the amount of gold that’ll be available once you finish a battle. You’ll need to strike a balance between:
- pushing forward on the offensive versus playing defensively
- exploring points of interests versus finishing the mission
Rushing to complete the scenario might net you a ton of gold (the number on the counter will be multiplied by 25), but you might end up lacking upgrade materials. Dawdling around or exploring every nook and cranny might net you some cool stuff, but you could end up without any bonus gold once the fight’s over.
Therein lies one of the major flaws in Fantasy General 2. Given that many of these rewards are randomized, I found myself reloading earlier saves just to ensure that I had a lot of materials (weapons and armor) for unit upgrades. I was swimming in gold — but I barely had the other requirements that were needed to hit the next tier.
Fantasy General 2 also has no towns, hubs, or shops. It’s just one battle after another, with a break in between on the overworld map if you want to manage your army. You could have dozens of items that aren’t in use, and you could have thousands of gold without anything to exchange using the currency. If the game did have a shop or an item/resource exchange feature, that would lessen the need to keep reloading just so the player can find the materials that they need.
Perhaps the biggest downside I’ve experienced while reviewing Fantasy General 2 was how egregiously repetitive it had become as time passed. In most cases, I found myself peppering the Empire’s troops with boulders from trolls or arrows from my skirmishers.
I’d put my heroes in front to tank hits. Then, I’d place them behind my melee units once more if they need to heal for a turn. I’d use a magic spell to reveal parts of the map for ruins or caves, and I’d summon a floating specter that could reach those areas. I’ll kill the troops from the Empire or rival barbarian tribes, and maybe even some undead. Later, rinse, repeat.
After 20 or so missions, I found myself more enthralled by reloading earlier saves to get upgrade materials, especially the very rare “liquid mana” material for magic-based units. When you spend more time reloading saves in the middle of a battle, that’s never a good sign.
The further I progressed, the more I noticed that the game was also starting to slow down. During the early to mid-game experience, Fantasy General 2 played smoothly and I was clocking in over 80 FPS. Past a certain point and once I had 25 or so units, that’s when framerates started dropping especially on the world map. There are even times when I could hardly unequip or replace an item due to slowdowns. Note that Fantasy General 2‘s system requirements aren’t even demanding, so these technical hiccups were quite a surprise.
The Empire strikes wack
As mentioned, Fantasy General 2 will have you playing as the barbarians led by Falirson for the single-player “Invasion” campaign. That’s basically it. All 30+ missions are from the perspective of the same faction from start to finish. Sooner, rather than later, you might find the experience tiresome. There’s also a short prequel campaign which has you playing as the barbarians… again.
The other playable faction is the Empire, but these lords and ladies are only available for skirmish and multiplayer. Variety for the single-player campaign is sorely lacking, especially once you’ve spent hours going through the motions.
Fantasy General 2 is not a bad game, per se. But, it is sorely lacking in what can be considered as a full-fledged fantasy RPG or fantasy strategy experience. It tries to be both, but without succeeding in either goal. With fantasy themes, it feels like a never-ending story as it is also a never-ending slog to reach the finale.
Don’t forget to check out our Fantasy General 2 nifty guides and features hub for more tips and tricks in the game. If you’re interested, can find Fantasy General 2 via its Steam store page. It’s available today, September 5.