With latest patch, Fallen Enchantress does things it didn’t do before

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Fallen Enchantress’ latest patch, which focuses on making the AI players less passive, has just been released. Go here to read the changes in version 1.3, dubbed the “empires” patch. Or read on for an account of the AI doing things I haven’t seen before.

After the jump, cleaning up the Scrapyard

When you start a game of Fallen Enchantress, it seeds the random map with hand-made “modules”. These are themed areas populated with powerful monsters, choice city sites, and high-end loot. You’ll recognize some of these as you play. I hate the fire demon area. Please stop showing up in my games. I’m not going in there until I’m playing Magnar with their innate fire resistance. The modules are mostly end-game goals for you to clean up and plant a bitchin’ new city in their place. Sometimes they’ll spill out attackers that might mess up your mid-game plans, but you can mostly go around them and resent the space they take up.

The Scrapyard is one such module. It’s situated in the center of a six-player map I started when the 1.3 patch was available as a beta. Picture a long horizontal valley between two mountain ranges. If you zoom out, it looks like puckered lips or an ugly wound. The interior looks like a city dump, but instead of trash bags and seagulls, it’s peppered with treasure and monster lairs. You can get into the Scrapyard through passes from the east and west. I’ve ducked in occasionally to snatch at bits of treasure, challenging the skittering hordes of darklings at the edges. But I haven’t come in with an army tough enough to plow through the darklings to the tougher monsters — and greater treasures — farther in. I’ve got better things to do with my armies. Namely, subjugating the five AI players’ kingdoms. I’m in this game specifically for the Steam achievement for a conquest victory. If Fallen Enchantress can’t be arsed to save my high scores, at least I can go for the achievements.

One of my favorite things about conquering another player in Fallen Enchantress is that you don’t have to simply wipe them from the map. You can instead demand their surrender. The AI is smart enough to know when the jig is up. It will accept your demand. At which point it disbands its last cities and gives you control of its leveled up hero. Do you want to mop up and seize developed cities, or do you want a brand new uber hero? It’s your call. I’ve faced Kulan, Emperor Karavox, and Lord Relias in battle. Now they fight on my side.

My last rival is Gilden. They’re the dwarves of the Fallen Enchantress universe, but not as short and not as bearded. We’re not officially at war yet, but it’s going to come to that, especially since they’re gearing up to cast the game winning spell. This is an extended process, with publicly visible steps. But I’ve got time, and I’ve got a powerful army ready to start grabbing their cities. Maybe I’ll wait to research a few more steps of the refined attack bonus at the end of the magic tech tree. There’s no hurry. I own half the map, and most of my cities are channeling their resources into gold and research, with a few developed fortresses cranking out powerful units. I’ve also got a 200 point lead on the power score. And if I want, I can start the game winning spell. The game is all over but the crying.

It’s no surprise when Gilden declares war. What else is he going to do? But it is a surprise when six full armies emerge from Gilden’s borders heading towards my developing frontier.

Let me explain what I mean by armies. A unit in Fallen Enchantress is a squad. At the beginning of the game, a squad consists of three dudes, each of which gets an attack during combat. The attack’s base damage is the weapon it’s using. For example, a short sword does 9 damage. So a squad of three dudes will do 27 damage. One of the most powerful military advances, which is actually in the civilization tech tree instead of the warfare tech tree, increases the size of your squads up to six dudes. This means six separate attacks in combat. That short sword squad does 36, then 45, and finally 54 points of damage. And, of course, the squad has more hit points to soak up more attacks.

But that’s not an army. An army is a stack of squads and/or heroes. Another powerful military advance is army size. At the beginning of the game, an army is limited to five slots. Certain technologies add to your army limit. You can eventually raise your army limit to nine slots. Each with up to six dudes. I’ve got one of these stacks — eight armies of six dudes, led by my former rival Lord Relias — poised to attack Gilden’s cities when the war starts. My own hero, General Carrodus, is faffing about with spells and whatnot, getting ready to call forth a volcano under Gilden’s capital city.

And now here comes Gilden with six armies. Six full armies. Not a stack with six slots. But six separate stacks, each with nine slots, each full. His squad size doesn’t seem to be maxed out, but that hasn’t stopped him from mustering a whole mess of troops. And many of them don’t suck. He’s got heavily armored cenotaphs with pikes, sons of the forge with slow but powerful sledge hammers, and coalwatch maidens with flaming staves. Gilden’s ironeer blood gives them extra hit points and powerful magic resistance. This won’t be easy. Hopefully I can pin the AI in the tactical battles behind some sort of unfair chokepoint. That’s how it works when you fight in a city.

But then a curious thing happens as I gather all my units to defend the city closest to the oncoming stack of doom. Gilden doesn’t attack. Does he not realize the odds are in his favor? Will the cost be too high? Is he moving toward a less defended city? Did he just get cold feet?

Sometimes an AI does something stupid, made all the more apparent because it’s so obviously stupid. I don’t need to tell you what game I’m thinking of. But in this case, Gilden is doing something that might not be stupid. He’s going for another target. He’s going into the Scrapyard. I follow him with Lord Relias’ army, trying to hang back at a respectable distance. He spreads out in the Scrapyard, knocking back the darklings and worse. He’s picking up treasures. He’s actually doing it. He’s clearing out one of the modules. He’s playing endgame content. I don’t follow him all the way in, since I figure he’ll die in there. Is it a stupid move? Who knows. At least it’s an obvious goal and not the sort of pointless faffing I’ve seen in some games.

And then it happens. He finishes the Scrapyard quest. The junkyard terrain disappears in a flash and is replaced by an ideal spot for a city. I wait at the exit for any survivors to emerge. And I wait. And wait. And he doesn’t come out. Instead, he emerges from the other side with a single surviving army, right in the middle of all my undefended towns and research conclaves churning out gold and science. Oops.

Of course, as anyone who’s played Civilization knows, infrastructure favors the defender. I’m able to bring my army around for a game of “use my roads to easily chase down the slow attacker’s stack”. That’s where I am now. His army has been shredded, a volcano just popped up under his capital, and my assembled vassalized lords will be moving out shortly with their own armies.

But I’m delighted to see that version 1.3 did two things the Fallen Enchantress’ AI hasn’t previously done. It efficiently assembled a powerful army and it used it to claim one of the most important resources available on the map. Now to find out what treasures Gilden has brought me from the Scrapyard.

And then I have to decide whether to finish him off, or whether to find out what’s behind these gates: