We first talked
to Derek Paxton a few years ago when he first took up the producer reigns at Stardock a few years ago. Since then he's released the Fallen Enchantress expansion pack and is wrapping up development on Legendary Heroes, a soon to be released stand alone expansion pack for the franchise. With the release right around the corner we asked Derek about what we could expect from the game.
Can you give us a high level overview of Legendary Heroes? How does this expansion pack impact the core game?
Fallen Enchantress was well received by fans and reviewers. Legendary Heroes is our opportunity to provide more depth in the areas players enjoyed, and to smooth off the edges of any parts that were rough.
Overall it changes the hero leveling system, adds a fame mechanic for gaining champions and adds a variety of new monsters, spells and quests. We have also redone the way tactical combat occurs, adding the swarm mechanic and new special abilities to make the tactics of tactical combat more interesting.
Why the decision to make this a stand alone expansion pack instead of a traditional expansion pack? How did you come up with the pricing system for the game?
Traditionally expansions require the base game as a pricing mechanism. Publishers want someone new to the series to pay more than someone who already has the base game. They don't want to price the expansion at $20 and have someone new to the series be able to pick it up everything for $20. Likewise they don't want to price the expansion at $40 and have someone who bought the base game have to spend all that money again to get the expansion. They want both players to have to pay $60.
In the retail world the only way to do that is to have the expansion cost $20 but have it require the base game. There is no way for the guy at Best Buy to know if you have the base game or not and charge you different prices if you do or don’t.
In the digital world we don't have that problem. We do know if you have bought the base game or not so we can charge people that already have Fallen Enchantress one price and players that are new to the series another price.
The advantage of that is that we skip all the complexity of games installed on top of games. It's a headache for us, it’s a headache for our players. It's a challenge when are patching each game. Instead it's cleaner to make them separate installs and player can choose if they want to install one or both of them.
Are you at all worried about breaking up your fan base with all of the changes to in the expansion?
Not really. We have a lot of beta players because we gave a free copy of Fallen Enchantress and Legendary Heroes to anyone who preordered War of Magic. Add to those all the players that have preordered a copy of the game (which gets them into the Beta) and we have a large community that has been playing and providing feedback. The overwhelming response is that Fallen Enchantress is a good game and Legendary Heroes makes it even better.
How long has the idea for Legendary Heroes been percolating around the Stardock offices?
During the process of making Fallen Enchantress I kept a folder of crazy ideas that I put off for potential future use. Once Fallen Enchantress released we read the reviews, listed to player feedback and Brad Wardell (CEO of Stardock and all around nice guy) and I sat down to go over next steps. Brad had been building a similar list and we went through and identified the things we thought would take us to the next level.
We also contracted with Soren Johnson (Lead designer of Civilization IV, among other things) for feedback and critique. Soren was the one who suggested the Fame mechanic. The idea for Swarm came from the player community and Brad redid the tactical maps to make combat more immediate. Stardock is really an amazing place to work because we get to share ideas and everyone is focused making great games.
Given the title, what changes have you made to the hero system in the game? What led you to make those changes?
The biggest changes are around the hero system. Players enjoyed the champions in Fallen Enchantress, but in Legendary Heroes they have full skill trees that can pick traits out of when they level up. Heroes are also no longer limited just to human and fallen units, and there are now special monster champions you can recruit, equip and level.
On the smoothing off the edges aspect one of the challenges of Fallen Enchantress was that the hero game (recruiting champions and going out in the world to find treasure, kill monsters and gain levels) wasn't well connected to the empire game (founding cities and growing your empire). In Legendary Heroes, heroes are no long found randomly in the world. Instead they come to you when your Fame gets high enough. Fame is generated by clearing monster lairs, building improvements and researching certain techs. Meaning that your empire decisions play directly into your hero game.
What non-hero enhancements/changes have you made to the game?
The graphics engine has been a major focus for us. New mountains, new rivers, new oceans, dynamic shadows, new lighting and a general attempt to make the game more crisp and clear. Especially the parts that are important for game play, like notable locations and monsters are really highlighted.
Will all heroes have the same skill trees or will they vary from hero to hero? Is it possible to win the game without recruiting heroes?
Heroes have unique starting traits and access to different types of magic. So a champion with access to Fire and Life magic will be able to select different levelup traits then one with Water magic. Each champion also have a path (much like a class in a role playing game) that determines what traits they can get when they levelup. Commanders get abilities that boost your empire or army, Assassins have abilities to improve their speed, dodge and critical hit damage, etc.
And yes, heroes aren't required to win a game. One of your sovereigns starting spells is Steal spirit. The ability to sacrifice a champion to steal one of the their spell ranks for your sovereign. So instead of multiple heroes you could make your sovereign gather their power and conquer on his own. Players may also choose to ignore activities that give Fame and instead conquer the world with trained or summoned armies.
What new monsters will players find in Legendary Heroes? Is there one that stands out more than the others to you?
At the end of Fallen Enchantress Relias tries to resurrect Shirayn. The experience does not go well. That attempt has opened the way for undead to enter the world and there are a wide variety of skeletons, liches, cindercorpses and ghosts. The Banshee is my favorite, she is completely immune to physical weapons, players will have to bring in spell or weapons with magical attack to beat her. Meanwhile her wail damages all enemies in the battlefield making her very tough to deal with.
We also have Hergon's which smash into enemies and knock them into other tiles, playing havoc with the battle lines you try to hold to minimize swarm bonuses. Lightbringers blind surrounding enemies and unique creatures like Ongr the Unbound wander the world, destroying everything they find.
How have you changed the combat and magic system in the game?
Tactical combat has been redone to be more tactical. The swarm mechanic gives bonuses to damage and accuracy based on the amount of allies that are adjacent to the enemy you are attacking. Even weak creatures can become deadly if they get you surrounded.
We have also added a new combat ability all the factions and a new combat ability to all the weapon types. The Wraiths of Resoln can drain the life of adjacent enemies to heal themselves and Quendar units can breathe fire. Axes can cleave through up to 3 adjacent enemies and Crossbows can fire through multiple opponents in a straight line.
We have also added new tactical maps that have a variety of closer start locations so battle starts faster and get players right into the action.
Will Legendary Heroes be the last bit of content for the Elemental franchise? What’s next for Stardock after this?
Right now we are just focusing on making Legendary Heroes the best game it can be.
Is there anything we missed that you think is important?
Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes is coming in May of 2013. Players can preorder it now direct from Stardock or from Steam to get immediate access to the beta.
We'd like to thank Derek for taking the time to answer our questions as well as Stephanie for coordinating the interview.