A strategy game set in the D&D universe. A sequel of Stronghold? No - Fantasy Empires follows the futuristic footsteps of Cyber Empires. On the surface, not a lot has changed in the gameplay: Competing armies are strategically shuffled around a world map... until they meet, which is when the games zooms into a real-time battle screen on which the player can even control one soldier himself.
Nevertheless, there have been quite a number of noteworthy changes in the details. Just like in Stronghold, the player can create his own 'character': The class and the attributes of this commander will influence the playing style. For example, chaotic characters have the benefit of strong necromancy spells with which they can build up large undead armies quickly. On the other hand, their provinces don't generate as much income. Magicians can weave global spells more easily. Dwarves command stronger conventional troops of their own race. And so on.
What's the nicest feature about these characters, though, is that they don't just last for one game: They can be carried over into the next one, too. This makes for automatic scaling of the difficulty level: A new character would usually try his luck against similarly weak opponents. After defeating these beginners, stronger ones are already waiting for the next round.
On the level of the armies themselves, there has been a diversification. On the one hand, they are much more quantity-driven: Without thousands of fighters, archers, dwarves and dark elves, no player can possibly win. On the other hand, there are heroes: individual characters who have the strength of many, who can be sent on quests to 'level up', who can carry magical items and who can turn the tide of battles: Magicians blast away the walls of the enemy fortresses so that the heavily armoured fighters can waltz inside; fighter heroes, however, can kill hundreds of regulars without as much as a scratch.
This separation of 'important' units and 'cannon fodder' works well within the battles: Although the player can switch the unit he controls at any time, it makes perfect sense to take over the role of a hero to have him carry out the essential sting operations while the computer controls all the regular units who simply go after the enemies directly - the kind of units which are expendable if anything goes wrong.
All of this makes Fantasy Empires an interesting variant of the original, but of course, it doesn't come without new issues as well. First and foremost, it is the strategic map which becomes bothersome. In a completely incomprehensible move, the zoom factor of this map is higher than in the first part - meaning lots of scrolling is necessary and overview remains limited. Another problem lies in the mentioned quest system for heroes: You have to send new hero units on quests for them to become strong enough to be useful in battles and to find magical weapons. However, these quests are completely random: You send the heroes out and a few turns later, you will get the message that they either returned successfully (with more experience points) or that they died. Not very exciting. Last, but not least, the terrain types on which the battles can take place have become much more generic. The only really structuring factor are the artificially built fortresses; 'natural' differences in the landscape, like the city sectors of Cyber Empires cannot be found anymore.
It is hard to answer the question whether Fantasy Empires surpasses its predecessor. In the end, it remains a question of taste: Both are excellent strategy/tactics games which offer great balance and long-lasting fun. What is better: science fiction or fantasy? There, see? It's impossible to answer in general.