Challenging, but still fun
The Fantasy Wars name doesn't leave doubt what this game is about. Fantasy themed turn-based strategy is of course the idea behind here. Actually not too different from Heroes of Might and Magic and Disciples series. Can not really distinguish the difference further since I've played only the early version of these aforementioned games.
My version of Fantasy Wars is from the fine people of Good Old Games. Game is available on most other major online distributors as well. Originally game was published by 1C and developed by south Russian Ino-Co who is most known for Elven Legacy and Majesty 2.
Objective in each level varies between getting to a certain location or conquering one. The turn-based action takes place in hexagons and the enemies are hidden in the fog-of-war. Maps are always the same size, but these never feel too small or similar. Thanks to the good amount of enemies, varying landscape and even secrets hidden. Objective is rated with gold-silver-bronze medals based on turns used. The less turns used will rank a gold medal rating which again rewards more money and items. Items can be allocated to units giving various boosts and abilities. The money is used to buy new units and improving existing. Money can be used at any point in the game. Units spawning from already conquered cities. The number of units are always limited to about 5 to 15 units per level.
Player is in charge of couple of hero characters and number of more disposable soldier characters. All of these gaining experience and gaining levels on the traditional roleplaying style. Camera can be rotated freely around the map and zooming will either show the detailed squad or just placeholder character. For example: when zoomed closest the battle will show the full animations where another hexagon is attacking another. Showing the battle animations in detail. When zoomed out it will be just a placeholder character versus opponent, ie. chess style. Game consists of five factions. Each faction having a large squad rosters. Units differ from melee, spy, ranged, mount, machinery and even to a flying units. Often multiple types in single character class. Using traditional rock paper scissors tactics, just more complicated with the vast number of classes. Add here the massive impact of the environment and different skill and item based buffs game will never feel simple. Fantasy Wars and its prequels Elven Legacy game have a reputation of being difficult games. After completing the campaign I can definably agree with that. A one miscalculation can get your hero killed and end the game. Often the hero's are the strongest characters and absolutely mandatory in the front line. Allows at least good share of strategy to be used when going forward. Which is of course keeps the game interesting.
Campaign consists of 28 missions that are split into 3 factions story lines. Here the first human story and its orc counter-part path play the same events from different angles which feels slightly repetition. Luckily the final Alliance story adds new story with the elf and dwarf coalition that escalates to a greater threat. Here the strains from two first campaigns are included as well. The difficulty clearly ramps up even further on the Alliance story line as well.
Game is from 2007 which is not really apparent on the visual presentation. Sure characters and environment might be slightly blocky at times. Still good amount of detail in the animations good range of variations in the environment and different factions. The story is shown in cutscenes done with in-game engine and often slighlty crude. Game uses lush range of colours which is nice change from the standard bleak strategy games.
On audio front there is some mixed extremes. Starting wit the bad. Game has voice acting which is only handful voices who do different characters. Most being very flat and dry English. One certain orc hexer getting high notes for the hilarious teenage-Gollum voice. Nothing so bad that would make one turn the sound. Times slightly cringe-worthy and just average in general. The music on the other end is very well done. The compositions might as well something from John Williams or Howard Shore. Perfect majestic symphonic music.
In the end, there isn't much wrong here. At first glance the difficulty can be bit too much. Especially when the fun of levelling up your army looses whole purpose if it gets wiped every time. The fore I would give Fantasy Stars 3 stars.
There is however a simple tweak that will improve the game significantly. Every character have relatively low health meaning it is too easy loose soldiers. The health skills and items are unlocked so late in the game that these won't help too much. Characters have heal ability that can be used in beginning of the turn, but this will not allow the character to be moved again on this turn. Often heal not returning full health either. Luckily there is an easy fix where small change in games .xml file will enable for you to heal and move on same turn. With this improvement game becomes much enjoyable and balanced experience and will get a full star more. 4 stars that is