Disclaimer: I'm writing this post as neutral as I know how. It's not a disrespect of the developers - merely a list of issues (both large and small) based on my short time with the game so far. I have ONLY played through a portion of the campaign so far - haven't even looked at the "actual" game. These are legitimate concerns / issues with the game (from my POV) - I'm not sitting up at 3:00am for the fun of it. If you don't agree with something I've said: that is your prerogative; don't start attacking me because Stardock is your bestest of buddies.
How about we start at campaign?
CAMPAIGN MAP PRESENTATION:
The campaign was designed to get players into the game and familiar with the core mechanics and basic gameplay. So far it has failed in both respects. The opening cutscene was fine, not amazing or anything but it did its job well enough. The problems arise as soon as the player is given control over his character:
- The game does not explain in anyway movement points, how to move characters on the map or anything at all really about what the player first sees.
- The game does not explain how turns function. It doesn't even point out where the "end turn" button is.
- The campaign makes uses of the harmafaf-thingy (encyclopedia): Fantastic! Too bad it doesn't tell the player how to actually find it, or that it even exists.
- Unless the player has found the encyclopedia, he will have no idea how to create a city - or that he's even supposed to!
- The player has managed to found a city: amazing. Too bad he's not told how cities work, what their stats mean or how they are improved. Food isn't explained. Houses, populations, recruitment isn't explained. Nothing is explained! The player is not told how to construct buildings even!
- Great the players finally managed to found his city and build up a population. Too bad an entire selling point of the game isn't explained: No where, not even once is the player told how to design units - He / shes not even told that it is possible. Nothing is explained yet again.
- Resources and how they are acquired, used, etc are not explained what so ever.
- This practice of not explaining shit continues: I could be here until next week talking about stuff that isn't explained.
TACTICAL MAP PRESENTATION:
The tactical maps, and how to even GET to a battle on a tactical map are not explained in any way:
- Basics of combat are not explained.
- Tactics movement is not explained.
- Combat attributes, weapons, armor, etc <- no explanations.
- Targeting enemies, with magic, melee or ranged weapons = no explanation.
- Tile bonuses = no explanation.
- Nothing is explained.
- Heroes (and indeed, what separates heroes from the rest of the units) = not explained.
- Experience, leveling up heroes and the such - not explained.
If I was new to the TBS genre I WOULD BE COMPLETELY lost. There is a very good chance I would abandon the game out of pure frustration / confusion. Even I was lost at times - not about the game play but what the actual campaign wanted from me. A tutorial itself should never confuse the player because then they're confused on two fronts: how the game works, and how to progress the tutorial.
I think that is enough talk about the campaign presentation. Again my experience has only been with the campaign, but now I will talk strictly about the game mechanics, features, etc.
There are a large number of issues with the tactical maps:
- First of all, characters should not be able to have a "destination" set that exceeds one turn of movement. It only leads to confusion (like where two units end up stacked on the same tile - which has happened to be more than once already).
- Show us the attack ranges for magic and arrows / bolts / whatever for our currently selected unit (or enemy unit). How the hell am I supposed to know where to position my archers otherwise?
- Tile bonuses: they're pretty straight forward EXCEPT there is no graphical indication of what tiles have bonuses. I have literally encountered a group of tiles that all look identical, BUT - two tiles had +50% defense while one tile had -25% defense. Am i supposed to drag my cursor along the entire battle field and memorize the location of every tile that has a bonus or penalty? Add graphical indications and STAY CONSISTENT.
- Unit move points: once one of my units has been moved - have him sit down or grey him out or SOMETHING. Don't force me to memorize which of my 8 archers have been used (especially since the camera goes crazy when using them). Give me some sort of graphical indication. (There is a chance that this is being covered by the character "list" on the side of the screen - but all I saw was health).
- Squads, companies, w/e: I don't care that their attacks are stacked - it kind of works out well. But why do the hell does the health / armor stack? I seem to remember screen shots of units flying through the air - and other dramatic visuals. When a squad is attacked, each unit should suffer damage individually. Individual units should die INDIVIDUALLY. On a side note: let us combine like units int squads.
- Unit positions: I've started tactical maps that have placed one or two of my units right next to the enemies army.... thanks?
- There are number of strategic spells that should be usable on the tactical map as well (just like in Master of Magic).
- Some units are removed from the map the second their dead body hits the ground (others a bit later). Why? If the computer had the resources to load them in to begin with, there can't be a need to suddenly start freeing up resources. Keep dead bodies on the tactical map. Remove them after the battle is over - this will also allow for spells with necromancy / etc in mind to exist.
- I know this is more of a stylistic complaint but it maddens me to no end when I have 4 archers all no more than 2 tiles away from a giant drake AND EACH ARCHER MISSES, and continues to miss round after round after round. The thing is huge and I know this is related to its defense rating but damn.
- Why are my spells missing? More importantly, why are my spells missing when being cast on my own units, from 1 tile away, 4 times in a row. Does my spearman just really hate being healed?
- Every single battle, the AI targets the same unit, over and over and over. They just gun for him. Boring and predictable frights.
- PLEASE let us turn off the auto-select for tactical battles. DRIVING ME CRAZY.
The strategic maps are probably the most polished aspect of the entire game:
- The purposes of tiles with bonuses / penalties on the tactical map is pretty clear: why does the strategic map have the same bonuses? How do those work. Confusing.
- Notable locations sometimes remain - mouse hover tooltips still show up after beating the area.
- Dead people seem to still make tooltips popup some times.
I guess a large portion of the budget when into developing the platform / (pretty) textures, models and modding tools (and yes, the core tech):
- Human unit acknowledgments: repetitive, boring, sometimes absurd.
- Enemies all share the same death sound effects. What the hell is going on: why do I hear the same thing when I kill a wolf, a spider, a troll and a drake.
- Archers - apparently they have figured out how to fire (invisible) arrows with out pulling the string back on their bows. And apparently their arrows glow.
- Tons of spells are missing sound effects. Just brings down the entire feeling of the game in terms of quality.
- The number of spells: I seem to remember a massive thread (http://forums.elementalgame.com/386025) where people spent their time and energy listing huge volumes of spells. Why are there so few spells in the game - The game is called WAR OF MAGIC. Disappointing honestly. (I'm basing the spell # off of posts I've read from other users since the game's release - if these numbers have been incorrect then I'm sorry).
- Tons of a little things: cursors graphics not changing when they need to, icons being used to represent the wrong things (a shield icon used to represent head-based objects during sovereign creations??), the mouse in general is inaccurate and is prone to fits of shaking.
- The game apparently makes use of the havok physics engine - if you're going to spend the money then use the damn thing. All I've yet to see anything in any of the tactical battles use the physics engine to any impressive degree. What happened to Sauron throwing groups of men through the air?
- Visual effects on spells: again for a game about magic (magic is in the title!) why do the spells have such generic effects? Some of them look cool - others far less so.
PERFORMANCE & BUGS:
- It's not a bad thing, but the game is visually simple. It is definitely no Crysis, or Farcry 2, or Mass Effect, Etc. So why then does my game's performance come crashing down (reduced to 10 - 20 fps) when something as simple as a level 2 city comes into view? Issue documented here: http://forums.elementalgame.com/391334
- I love the thought of tactical battles. so imagine my pain when every 3rd tactical battle I get into forces me to use the task managed to force-quit the game: http://forums.elementalgame.com/391302
- Menus and the GUI in general is rather sluggish. Menus should feel snappy when asked for, not slow.
- I've noticed some very odd balance issues pertaining to equipment used for trained troops. An example would be maces vs warhammers: warhammer supplies +24 to attack, while the mace supplies only +12. Yet, the warhammer actually costs 1 less metal unit than the mace - and 3 (or 4) more gold than the mace. In a game where gold quickly builds up, the extra gold of the warhammer is a non-issue.
- I've been reading lots of threads (not just ones here) and people everywhere want a flexible modding system. It seems like something Stardock / Brad is set on which is great. Get as much of the core-game mechanics exposed via Python as possible. Allow for brand new GUI screens, total conversion, radical modifications to the AI, etc. All this and more will turn Elemental into a great game and platform.
Well, it's not 4:14 am. You'll notice that large aspects of the game have been left out (research, diplomacy, etc) - like I said, I've only been playing the campaign. The game has great promise and I wish it to succeed in all possible ways (obviously since I paid for it). I wish the developers the best of luck and look forward to what they come up with. Hopefully my post hasn't been too ranty of everyone's taste and will be of some help.