Well I'm talking more about the PLAYER CONTROLLED units not about how the developers gave it the illusion that each individual little man plays a part in the whole. You only CONTROL 16-20 units period. Wherever you tell or what you tell to those 16-20 units is what they ALL do in that stack and that is all you get to do. Same with MOM you had 9 units you controlled not each individual little man or creature unless that is all they represented was one lil man (heroes) and creatures (the big ones). Thus as you said the rest is cosmetic and merely graphics candy that bogs down a lot of players computers.
My point is that you could just as easily make ONE little man/creature with ALL the hit points of the other units like from a MTW/RTW etc. give that ONE little man/creature 100 strikes per round and it would be the same outcome as having 100 little animations on the screen doing one strike individually. Same with the moral value until it runs or retreats. If you've ever played Paradoxs Crusader Kings you'd see just what I am talking about. They have ONE unit on the map that represents thousands fighting one unit on the map that represents thousands as well. When you go into the battle scene it starts to break down that one animation by individual units until one breaks and runs from the province. While the combat scheme is different it still represents what I'm getting at. You don't need thousands of little animations to drive the combat. But, today graphics candy sells, but, hurts more gamers than it helps.
Watching the illusion of 25000 lil animated men going at it is quite entertaining, but, when you really break it down you know each little man is just a mathematical number thrown into the equation divided by 100 or however many men are in the unit stack. The only way it would really be 25000 men is if they were individual and you could break them off 1 little man at a time. Then you could see parts of a stack break off from INDIVIDUAL moral and fear and that would look and be more realistic than ok we're half strength time for ALL of us to run and get chopped down anyway by the enemy cavalry. I always thought that part rather funny that instead of just fighting to the death (cause they are gonna die anyways from the enemy cavalry) they run for the border. I solved that issue with the ai by just turning morale off. Made for a lot better battles and more challenging an entertaining.
Also my take on turn based or real time for Elemental from what I've seen and read is it LOOKS like that it's turn based IF THE PLAYER CHOOSES (from a page I had read from the dev diary) and then also when two units collided there is an UP CLOSE ANIMATION of what happens. Kind of like the zoomin effect of the Total Wars only it's game controlled for each individual combat sceen. I like that idea if that is what it is going to be because in the Total Wars you miss so much of the action because of all the clicking and jerking you have to do to keep your army intact and fighting. The combat map I've seen looks pratically just like MOMs only it's a putrid green (probably just production color) and all the units are bland looking as well. But, it certainly looks turn based.
I'm definitely for turn based option. I think Battlefront used this choice/option method in Combat Mission Shock Force didn't they? (anyone played it?) You could use the new style rts or the old style wego. I'm ok with Wego, but, I'm not a big fan of it because you end up having to play the little movie over and over an over an over again to see what happened everywhere. I'm like this if the game is going to have a pause or a start and stop feature like Wego it might as well have been turn based to begin with. All these alternative versions of turn based are just a waste of programming time.