There is a certain genre of games that I spent a lot of time playing in the late 1990s – that of the RTS game. Like many, Command & Conquer was my go-to game of choice, but I also had plenty of time for Warcraft, which I spent an absolute age with. In more recent times though there has been an upsurge of this style of title coming over to the old Xbox from the PC world. Fantasy General II: Invasion is a game that received high praise for its old-school roots when it first released on PC in 2019, but does it make the transition to console well?
Fantasy General II is probably the longest awaited sequel to be delivered for any franchise, as the first game was released way back in 1996. This new game harks back to its predecessor’s DNA, embracing the retro-style of the genre. It works as a good old turn-based hex RTS affair that puts you in charge of armies and heroes, fighting to get rid of the evil empire.
It all takes place in the world of Aer and it is here where there are two warring factions – the Barbarians and the Empire. In the main campaign mode – set over 30 odd missions – you get to play as one of the Barbarians, Falirson, who is about to rise up against the empire and become the hero he was always meant to be. Along his journey, he meets comrades and enemies as he takes in a grand adventure. The writing in the game, the characterisation and the epic tale it tells are done with elegance, obviously pushed along be a completely superb commitment by the whole team involved. It has, at times, some complex ideas thrown in alongside some deep themes, but it deals with them with skill and love. I relished the world and the stories the developers have told here with Fantasy General II.
Gameplay-wise it’s something we’ve all seen before – especially if you’ve been gaming over the last 30 years. With each level you are presented with a map divided into hexagons, and with several army units at your disposal, you must partake in turn-based combat and moves.
Firstly you have your units, or army, which include ‘younglings’ like the infantry. You’ll discover units with spears, or a cavalry, but then also your own hero and special characters, like mages you pick up on the way through the journey. Each of these groups of armies can be upgraded into better, stronger, more willing versions. For example, there is a group of female warriors – the Maidens – and these can be upgraded into shieldmaidens (defensive warriors), valkyries which utilise winged attacks, or magic-based units like a wolf mother who can, as you might have guessed, summon wolves.
In Fantasy General II you will accumulate points to spend with each turn, and it’s up to you how you use them. Moving across the landscape will see these points diminish, and if you move across tougher terrain like forest or mountains, it will all cost more points. And then when you approach an enemy force and you decide to attack, a battle takes place. It’s up to you how you attack your foes – perhaps through flanking, or utilising support units like archers or magic assists. If your units get injured in the melee then it’s not all doom and gloom, as if you rest for one turn then they can be healed, giving you time to regroup. However, if the group dies, then you will need to fall back on the likes of magic potions to revive them, or they will be out of the skirmish till the battle has concluded.
Exploration is key to much of Fantasy General II as well; there are loads of areas to explore around the map, and you can gather up plenty of valuable gold and resources in caves or shrines. You will also have some weighty decisions to make; in an early mission I came across a bunch of warriors fighting with some trolls, left to decide on which side I wanted to join in the hope that they will join you for the campaign. Of course if you come across the same situation and decide not to go with the trolls, you’d be wrong.
The UI works well throughout, with the translation into the console handled well; it’s a neat system that’s easy to get hold of and implement. I must warn you though: this isn’t a game for a genre newcomer, as those who have never experienced an RTS or strategy fantasy game previously might well struggle. The systems are complex, and the upgrades and how you fight will need a veteran’s mindset in order to see any form of progress.
Visually the game looks good – old-fashioned and keeping with its retro stylings. The artwork is of an extremely high standard with superb character drawings and presentations. I could have done with some of the text at times to be a bit bigger though, especially in the dense upgrade pages, as working through the detail is occasionally a little tricky. The soundtrack is as epic as you can imagine a game from this genre to be, complemented well by excellent effects throughout.
At the end of the day, Fantasy General II: Invasion on Xbox One is a tough one to really nail down. If you are an RTS fan then I would easily say that this is a must purchase; it is going to be more than delightful for those who live and breathe the genre. The campaign mode will take a while to complete and there are various levels of difficulty to conquer depending on your skill levels, alongside other modes including the likes of a Skirmish and Onslaught mode which provides a multitude of scenarios to complete, all with increasing difficulty. I do however feel that this won’t entice anyone new to the genre and might just be too tricky for those who don’t have the time to invest. But the fanbase should be very happy indeed with what Fantasy General II delivers to Xbox One.