I’ve not played Ashes of Erebus before and I’m not as familiar with Fall from Heaven 2 as I am with other Civ IV mods so my playthrough was a voyage of discovery. I’ve therefore bumped up against all the niggles that a new player might expect to also run into.
In this post, I’ll walk through game setup and some of the new gameplay elements, but it’s worth noting there’s simply too much to pack into a single blog post; this is not intended to be an exhaustive feature list or a play guide, but a taster of what you’re getting if you decide to dive into the world of AoE. Any of of the features mentioned below aren’t necessarily specific to AoE; as stated earlier, the intention of this post is as a primer to the community surrounding Fall from Heaven 2 with AoE as my modmod of choice to demonstrate this.
Scions of Patria
I decide to play as my old favourite civ: the Risen Emperor of the Scions of Patria.
One of the amazing things about FfH2 and its modmods is the huge amount of lore behind the game. Following the lore are civilisations that are very different to play. The Scions are no exception.
To begin with, the Scions are fallow, which means they don’t gain population through usual mechanisms. The primary means for raising the population is to acquire “Awakened” units. For flavour as much as instruction, I include the text from the Civilopedia:
Citizens of long-departed Patria, the Age of Magic’s greatest empire, are the the core population of the Scions of Patria. They have been given the Gift, but they still must be brought out of the Bottomless Tomb.
Read more about the Awakened
Awakened may be “built” in the capital. Structures much like bridges are extended into the Tomb and used to find and ferry the honored dead back into the world. But they are very expensive and inevitably temporary. After a short time they become animate and unalive, like everything in the Tomb, and may no longer be used. Awakened gained this way are expensive. But they honored dead are hard to predict – you’ll often be forced to go in after them.
The easiest way for the Scions to get population is for an Awakened just walk out of the capital’s Bottomless Tomb of it’s own free will. But while the Tomb is bottomless an endless army of Awakened won’t be coming: They have their own alien amusements there. The longer they stay the less willing they are to leave.
The frequency with which Awakened emerge is displayed near the mana bar and can be increased by the player’s actions. Building Shrines to Kylorin, Imperial Cenotaphs or Temples of the Gift, Halls of the Covenant, or the Flesh Studio all attract Awakened. Most luxuries will help lure Awakened. Of special note is the “Patrian Artifacts” resource. Only the Scions player can see these resources, and unlike the other luxuries each resource owned increases the odds. The larger, more bustling the Capital the more will Awakened are to emerge. And when society is explicitly run for the benefit of the Awakened, “Aristocracy”, Awakened are more likely to come forth.
Awakened may be used to increase the population of a city by one or to settle a new city. There is an extensive formula for the odds of generating an Awakened unit each turn, available in the Civilopedia in-game.
One may also acquire “Reborn” units:
Reborn are formerly living inhabitants of Erebus granted the Gift and transformed into undead Scions.
Read more about the Reborn
There are four ways to gain Reborn. First, Reborn can be created from combat with a priest of the Gift – A Legate, a Doomsayer, or a Doomgiver. The enemy unit is persuaded that unlife among the Scions is preferable to their present meager existence. Second, Reborn can be “built” in a city containing a Cathedral of Rebirth. Third, Pelemoc Goldtongue may persaude the citizens of other civilzations to join Patria Reborn. Fourth, once the Scions have Sorcery and Priesthood a razed city will yield a few Reborn.
Finally, the Dark Council generates three Reborn the turn it is established.
Already, you can see that the Scions will play much differently to a normal civilisation. One doesn’t have to worry about building growth-based buildings, such as the Granary, or growth-based improvements, such as farms, but you will spend time building some of the unique buildings such as the Shrines to Kylorin.
But there’s more! (I told you civs were very different!) If you’re playing as the Risen Emperor himself, you’re not able to convert to a religion. The in-universe explanation for this is that there is a personality cult surrounding the Emperor, so worshipping some deity or another is forbidden.
The Scions are also able to “terraform” the world to more closely match the ideal for their citizens. They do so by producing “Haunted Lands”.
It is the nature of the world that everything is itself. This may seem a truism, but it does not hold in the Haunted Lands. The Haunted Lands join everything together, in the Haunted Lands things *blur*. Notably the line between death and life. There life, of a sort, is found in death and death, of a sort, is found in life.
Read more about the Haunted Lands
Eating anything grown within the Haunted Lands is very difficult. The grain may scream when harvested and make bread that crumbles into something like bone meal when baked. Its beer could taste and smell of nightmares. Cattle tend to be stillborn, which makes it all the more disturbing as the herds continue to grow.
Nevertheless there is much wealth to be found in the Haunted Lands for the brave of heart and strong of stomach. Examples: A tree with branches that when aged and dried taste of nectar and honey, after being killed and cooked, of course. A stream lined with trainable, watchful stones. A pit full of knowledgeable darkness.
Use Haunted Lands to defend Patria Reborn or spoil the territories of your enemies. The Haunted Lands are not well suited to the living. The eldritch powers of the Haunted Lands often frighten, attack, or drive the living to various forms of insanity.
The Undead have a natural affinity to the Haunted Lands. Their senses are sharpened, their arms strong. The Haunted Lands are also a source of many wonders… often grotesque or terrible. The useful ones can be kept or traded so others may appreciate the Gift. The useless ones – and there are many – can be a burden to any nearby living land. The Haunted Lands will foster Unhealth in nearby cities.
Perhaps most disturbing, at least to those who haven’t accepted the Emperor’s Gift, is that those bearing wounds in the Haunted Lands do not always heal true. The substance of the Haunted Lands, or the lack thereof, enters their flesh. They become undead. Some carry on afterward, cleaving to their old gods and loyalties. Some go strange, eventually raising their hand – or whatever’s left – against all others.
Ghostwalkers can undergo a different transformation with the Haunted Lands. They share out part of their own substance and humanity to the surrounding terrain, drinking from even more of the territory’s inhuman nature. They become Haunts. Insubstantial, but hardly less terrible for that. Whip-fast, hard to see until it’s right on top of you, a Haunt’s airy frame can’t take your head off, but this is hardly a comfort when it roars through your army and sinks it’s claws into your skull.
The Scions come with a few leaders, but if you’re playing as the central figure, the Risen Emperor, you have a starting alignment of “Lawful Neutral”.
Lawful neutral characters act according to some law, tradition, or personal code. It means you’re reliable, honourable, but not a zealot. Examples include Boba Fett from Star Wars, T-800 from Terminator, and The Brotherhood of Steel from Fallout.
After installing Ashes of Erebus, you can launch it via the launcher, an executable located in the mod directory, which gives you some options to enable or disable additional modules before launching. It also allows you to launch into a specific save game rather than having to load one once you’re in-game.
I left all of the modules in their default configuration; my understanding is that the disabled modules include civilisations the modders deemed to be overpowered.
Once at the game menu, I setup a custom game. There are many options here, so it might be worth walking through a few of my choices. (I explore some of these in my C2C post, too; I imagine there are some parallels.)
- Challenge: Frozen World (Off): This sounds really interesting; the world starts frozen and slowly warms up throughout the game. I chose to keep it off because I had concerns it would interfere with some of the map settings I choose later.
- Require Complete Kills (On): I enjoy the idea of a particularly stubborn civ sending a Settler off into the far-flung expanse to eke out a meagre existence in defiance of their inevitable fall.
- Flexible Difficulty (Off): I initially liked the sound of this; it might stop the game getting too easy. I interpreted it, however, as having the difficulty change by one level either side of the chosen level, rather than continuing to increase as you remain in the top third of civs. The latter behaviour is the actual behaviour, however, so I soon ended up in a Deity level game with little hope of catching up with the various civs peeling ahead of me. The issue with this is that a civ, having spent some number of turns at Deity level, might have a significant enough lead on me that it would be impossible to catch-up.
- Religion Based Interfaces (On): A nice bit of flavour, although I’m unlikely to use it playing as the Risen Emperor.
- Broader Alignments (On): The flexible alignments mechanic is a big draw to AoE.
- Flavour Start (On): This makes sure civs start in lore-friendly locations. I find this helps immerse me in the fantasy world.
- All Unique Features (On): If you play on a large world, I imagine it’s safe to keep this on. The unique features have some bonuses, but they tend to be spaced out enough that you don’t gather too many of them in a moderately-sized civ.
There are many new maps and map scripts available in AoE. I chose the ErebusWorld mapscript, which has many parameters you can fine-tune to your liking. There is a guide to the parameters on the CivFanatics forum. A few notes about the way I set it up:
- Sea Level on low and Cohesion on medium to encourage some chunky continents but some viable islands, too.
- Huge world map with 14 civs (more civs recommended for this map type).
- Ancient Cities on for extra world-building.
- World Wrap east-west so this feels like a world map rather than a single continent.
- Advanced Terrain on and Smart Climate on (modify selection) so that the world is sculpted according to plate tectonics (giving realistic geography) and then moulded according to the civs present in the world so they get good flavour starts.
The last remaining options are the victory conditions. There are a few new ones (Gone To Hell, Tower of Mastery, and Altar of the Luonnotar), all of which I leave on. These victory conditions are met as follows:
- Gone To Hell: 90% of the map is covered with Hell terrain. Victory goes to the civ with the highest contribution to the Armageddon Counter.
- Tower of Mastery: Acquire various mana types, which enable you to build four different towers. After building these four towers, you may build the Tower of Mastery.
- Altar of the Luonnotar: This is a seven-step project. The first six steps must be completed by expending a Great Prophet, while the final step is a building project. This is only available to leaders of certain alignments.
The vanilla victory conditions are also valid options for victory! The above three allow for a more immersive experience, though.