As of version 1.09 Elemental lacks personality

By on October 10, 2010 5:37:20 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Das123

Join Date 05/2003
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I've put the game down for quite an extended period now to try and approach it fresh again. The beta process was incredibly frustrating and I wanted to approach the game with a set of new eyes. On top of that I gave myself a few house rules so that the exploits were minimised. For example, I didn't allow myself to use the Imbue spell so that I couldn't create a super stack of summoned creatures.

So over the weekend I tried to get back into it...

But it simply lacks personality - and I don't think the coming 1.1 version can really address this in any meaningful way (although I hope I'm wrong).

Here is a list of the impressions I had while playing again. I hope they help the devs in some way...

The Races/Factions/Allegiances or whatever you want to call them

This has been my biggest issue with the game since early beta. Playing again I resigned myself to the fact that we will not get unique species within the races. So I set my expectations to the sort of differentiation you get while playing the vanilla Civilization series rather than the racial diversity you get while playing [inset name of any other fantasy game here].

So I'm playing along trying to keep an open mind and each faction/race/what-ever I meet interacts with me in exactly the same fashion as each other. They sort of all approach you - even if you are in the opposing allegiance - with the banal 'Will you be my friend and trade with me?' sort of opening question. Where is the personality? Where are the threats? Even the backgrounds they stand behind all look the same. They may be different - but they don't look it.

I declare war early to gobble up the cities and resources (not that my aggression has any bearing on how anyone else interacts with me) and I get attacked by units where the only differentiation between factions is that one is bald and another isn't. I find myself looking at units on the map wondering who they belong to. And even when I find out, the answer is meaningless because there are no differences between the factions anyway.

The lack of racial personality in Elemental is so bloody frustrating and boring that it is extremely difficult to get immersed in the game in any sort of RPG sense.

'Not fair!' I hear you cry. You're right - I was going to approach the game as if I was playing Civ. And I was, until the lack of personality even in the Civ sense got me back on my 'racial differentiation' horse. In Civ, most of the personality between races comes from the leaders. Each leader plays the game differently and you need to interact with each in a correspondingly different way. The game injects personality through the differences and you get drawn in. Unfortunately, Elemental simply doesn't even come close to getting this right.

Will this be addressed in some way in version 1.1? I don't think so because to change this would strike right at the core of the Elemental design. My bet is this is at the very bottom of the 'too hard' basket.

The Tech Tree

Why would I choose anything other than spamming the Combat techs? There is no impetus from the game to approach the tech tree in any different way - game after game after game. Techs are also linear. Why can I research Sharp Weapons as an example before I've researched Mining? By the way - I don't even know if Mining is a tech - I rarely research anything other than the Combat stream.

The tech tree should be a choice - not a process. The choices should be important based on your neighbours and available resources.

It would also be good if each race/faction had its own unique techs.

This should be easier to fix than the racial issues. My hope is that 1.1 will address this in some way.

The Spell Books

Like the tech tree, the approach to spells is very similar where the same things are researched in the same order game after game. How much more fun/surprising would it be as an example if you could choose to study from a book but the spell you researched was random. 'Damn, didn't get my Fire Giant.' When you research all the spells of one level within the book you chose you then start learning the next level.

Also, why are all leaders automatically given all the spell books? If you where trying hard to make all the races/factions the same boring shade of grey then the first thing you would do is give all races access to the same spells. This is such a 'no-brainer' I can't see any good reason to have changed this during beta other than letting the testers try out all the spells.

Restrict each race/faction access to limited books at the start and then tie in the others to tech or quests (or both). This should be an easy fix.

In Conclusion

Elemental should be one of the 'must have' games. A game that gets loaded first onto your computer. It has so much going for it but it has not reached anywhere close to its potential. I know Stardock is trying hard to reshape Elemental (and I do appreciate the efforts) and I trust that the mechanics will be close to being right in version 1.1. My main concern is that the flavour will still be the same.

Hate to say it but instead of a beautiful and flavoursome three course meal, it feels like someone got all the right ingredients and then put them in the blender.

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October 10, 2010 6:05:41 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Races: yeah, when you allow the kind of freedom in development of soldiers that Elemental does, it risks homogenizing things quite a bit.  It's a design decision.  Maybe they can get around it by offering stronger factional bonuses to, say, particular armor and weapons choices for the different factions.  Currently, they aren't very noticeable and don't affect my play much.

Tech Tree: as for the spamming combat techs remarks, I completely disagree.  I think is it easier to win by focusing on the adventure and diplomacy trees than warfare and civics.  Only the magic tree I don't find really useful unless I'm going for the Spell of Making.  There are plenty of games I've done perfectly fine on with only a couple of the warfare techs.

Spells: it sounds like magic it getting reworked so commenting on the current system is beating a dead horse.  I agree with your point though: I don't know what my next game of elemental will be like, human vs. fallen, what sovereign, what size map, what tech tree to focus on, what strategy to win or what victory condition--I'll figure all of those things out when I get there.  But I DO know exactly what spells I will be researching and in what order.  Spells get rather monotonous.

 

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October 10, 2010 6:32:34 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I couldn't believe it when I first heard Elemental wouldn't have races in the same way MOM or MOO does. Despite it being "the lore" I have a feeling this has to do with the art budget. If you look at Elemental there just aren't very many different models in it. I still secretly hope that Stardock will scrap the lore and just start over with unique races like MOM or any other great fantasy TBS.

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October 10, 2010 6:45:47 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I'd be happy with a compromise, like Resoln being able to recruit zombies, which would only require one new model, or Tarth being able to recruit wilderness creatures--which wouldn't require any new models.  Stuff like that.  Races just need a little spice, they don't need to be curries.

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October 10, 2010 6:53:25 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Actually, I agree that they are, in my opinion, a bit too much in love with their own storyline. Yeah, it's great and all, but a game like this does not really profit from that much background story. Look at GalCiv, look at the Dominions-Series, heck, the Heroes of Might and Magic series had less backstory than this one - and it worked just fine. I feel that Elemental's backstory is a tad too specific and spends more time explaining what happened to the world instead of fleshing out the factions. I could actually live with Orcs vs. Humans in that regard, as you immediately know what those are about. (Doesn't even need to be boring, see AoW:Shadow Magic)

Point being: Less is more. Less original world might have meant more personality.

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October 10, 2010 7:04:36 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Brad's said something recently about thinking that the lack of a global mana pool was the biggest pre-release design mistake the team made. I definitely hope to see some improvement in the game by changing that, but the parent of that problem was the fact that 'content' was treated as a secondary aspect of the game when it should have been valued right alongside the underlying engine work. Think a game as a travel agency and 'content' as 'possible destinations,' and then you can see how an engine should not be the driving force of a game design project. How you get there should not be nearly as noticeable as where you want to go and what happens along the way.

As a reader of many different styles of fantasy prose, I have no objection to the 'race' stuff per se, but so far the game seems a lot like early GC2 in that it seriously lacks AI diversity/personality. I'm much less interested in being able to design four-armed warriors than I am in having a game where I can learn that Kraxis monarchs tend to do X while Capitar monarchs tend to do Y. Right now, they all seem to flounder about in more or less the same way and the Human vs Fallen distinction seems little more than a math detail for the diplo screen. The AI personalities are content that should have been started when the end-game options were sketched out and steadily tweaked throughout development according to their preferences for how they wanted the post-cataclysm world to work.

The magic system is perhaps even more crucial content than AI 'personalities.' Without an underlying cosmology, magic in the game is a grab bag of special effects and wargame numbers. Those work fine on a superficial level, but do nothing for immersion and hence tend to undermine replayability, or at best fail to enhance it in the way that MoM's magic system made for big-time replayability.

I'm hoping to see the first full expansion pack focus on these problems, even if it means annoying a bunch of Metaverse types who care most about how to 'win' a game and resent seeing a new, interesting, complicated 'mess' replace what we get with 1.x builds of the base Elemental.

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October 10, 2010 7:22:10 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Both Galciv2 and Elemental offer something that gives the game almost infinite replay value: The ability to craft your own story. Unfortunately Elemental isn't capitalising on that offer as well as Galciv2 with all the expansions did.

I still remember with a smile how I would put detailed backstories into the designs of various craft and construct naming systems for my ship designs (such as the' LDIII - Gargoyle', the third generation design of a Large Defensive focused ship, with a backstory describing how its predecessor was an effective invasion deterrent, but had to be upgraded in the wake of Drengin aggression using missile tech, something it was ill suited for). Looking back over the game you could recall the various pivotal moments in galactic history, such as the barely thwarted Yor invasion, where the tide was only turned by convincing the Arcaeans to enter the battle on your side.

Unfortunately Elemental doesn't have this. The only time I've ever done more than "Lightly armoured archers" and "Heavily armoured infantry with swords" in my armies was in a recent game where I didn't have access to enough metal due to geographic luck, but I DID have crystal, and was attacked by an empire four times my size. I ended up creating 'Rangers', with extremely high map movement and sight radius, who would stand at the entrance to the three passes the enemy had to take to reach my settlements and watch for incoming armies. With their slow movement I was able to get my defensive armies in place to intercept them. THAT game had character, but unfortunately it is in the minority.

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October 10, 2010 7:30:43 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Thanks for your comments.

Quoting Fearzone,
Tech Tree: as for the spamming combat techs remarks, I completely disagree.  I think is it easier to win by focusing on the adventure and diplomacy trees than warfare and civics.

I thought there might be some disagreement about the specifics of research. Point is though that the world doesn't require you to do anything differently.

Quoting Fearzone,
I'd be happy with a compromise, like Resoln being able to recruit zombies, which would only require one new model, or Tarth being able to recruit wilderness creatures--which wouldn't require any new models.  Stuff like that.  Races just need a little spice, they don't need to be curries.

Yes! This is the answer I think to races. Even if there were just a few for each race it would make such a massive difference. And if they were 'cheaper' than the default human models then we would see more of them. Tie them to resources or buildings and we start to get city specialization.

Quoting monsterfurby,
Actually, I agree that they are, in my opinion, a bit too much in love with their own storyline ... I feel that Elemental's backstory is a tad too specific and spends more time explaining what happened to the world instead of fleshing out the factions. I could actually live with Orcs vs. Humans in that regard, as you immediately know what those are about. (Doesn't even need to be boring, see AoW:Shadow Magic)

Point being: Less is more. Less original world might have meant more personality.

Agree 100%.

Quoting GW Swicord,
... I'm much less interested in being able to design four-armed warriors than I am in having a game where I can learn that Kraxis monarchs tend to do X while Capitar monarchs tend to do Y. Right now, they all seem to flounder about in more or less the same way and the Human vs Fallen distinction seems little more than a math detail for the diplo screen.

... The magic system is perhaps even more crucial content than AI 'personalities.' Without an underlying cosmology, magic in the game is a grab bag of special effects and wargame numbers. Those work fine on a superficial level, but do nothing for immersion and hence tend to undermine replayability, or at best fail to enhance it in the way that MoM's magic system made for big-time replayability.

I'm hoping to see the first full expansion pack focus on these problems, even if it means annoying a bunch of Metaverse types who care most about how to 'win' a game and resent seeing a new, interesting, complicated 'mess' replace what we get with 1.x builds of the base Elemental.

Interesting points. Without the graphics Elemental plays like an extremely simplistic spreadsheet game but where an attempt has been made to keep the underlying numbers and calculations hidden. I like spreadsheet style games btw, but if you head down this track then the numbers need to be seen and explained aka Europa Universalis.

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October 10, 2010 7:31:23 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

How much more fun/surprising would it be as an example if you could choose to study from a book but the spell you researched was random. 'Damn, didn't get my Fire Giant.' When you research all the spells of one level within the book you chose you then start learning the next level.

I agree with everything you said except for the above part. I feel that above all else, Elemental needs to keep to a structured and concrete path as much as possible. This means every mechanic must be, from the game designer's point of view, predictable and meaningful. Introducing probability-based elements in a game that can't even get the simplest mechanics off the ground will give the development team unnecessary headaches - especially in the balance department.

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October 10, 2010 7:58:17 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Marlowe i think what you are saying is a good point so i am refraining from giving any new suggestions atm - not that i know if my suggestions are new or not because i have not been following the beta. So i am eagerly awaiting the next big patch and will enjoy what i have right now.

There is such a rich media of lore  - real world and fantasy - for stardock to draw on, and so many games in the past to draw inspiration from and study what they did right and what they did wrong, and why they made those choices, combined with the company's reputation for *really* supporting their games, that I have hight hopes for what this game will become. (note: i made a capital i, i usually don't because i'm lazy but that was a special enunciated letter i)

so i am going to button my lip, keep my thoughts to myself for the moment and wait.

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October 10, 2010 8:06:02 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting marlowwe,
... I agree with everything you said except for the above part. I feel that above all else, Elemental needs to keep to a structured and concrete path as much as possible. This means every mechanic must be, from the game designer's point of view, predictable and meaningful. Introducing probability-based elements in a game that can't even get the simplest mechanics off the ground will give the development team unnecessary headaches - especially in the balance department.

Balance, schmalance. From the gitgo, Elemental was supposed to be first and foremost a single-player game with 'deliberately unbalancing' magic as a big part of late game experiences. This balance thing is for folks who favor multi-player and/or want to 'win' versus an AI instead of just wanting AIs to make the Nth game you play seem new and interesting.

If a so-called AI can't be built to manage something as simple as the idea that not all spells on the complete list will be available in any given game, then it is definitely not worth flattering with the label AI, even for folks who've never heard of the Turing test.

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October 10, 2010 8:45:00 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Balance, schmalance. From the gitgo, Elemental was supposed to be first and foremost a single-player game with 'deliberately unbalancing' magic as a big part of late game experiences. This balance thing is for folks who favor multi-player and/or want to 'win' versus an AI instead of just wanting AIs to make the Nth game you play seem new and interesting.

Balance is not a discrete and tangible element that one can temporarily suspend or take out. It is a fundamental and persistent component of any game. I do not believe that balance and epic late-game experiences are mutually exclusive. How far a game succeeds in having both largely depends on the skill of the game designers.

I've noticed your reasoning for excluding balance in favor of the "single-player experience" repeated several times on these forums but I don't think such a debate actually exists at Stardock. Even if Brad has said something similar along these lines, I don't think that deep down he really believes it as anyone who is even moderately versed in game design theory knows that balance is integral to making a fun and engaging game.

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October 10, 2010 9:16:07 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Fantastic comments. This is probably the most important thread I've seen this month (brewing off-topic semantic debate about the word "balance" notwithstanding).

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October 10, 2010 9:28:49 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting GW Swicord,
 This balance thing is for folks who favor multi-player and/or want to 'win' versus an AI instead of just wanting AIs to make the Nth game you play seem new and interesting. 

As a very solitary, non-multiplayer gamer, I agree 110% with that statement.

I never aim to 'win' versus the A.I.

As the poster states, it is all about experiencing "new and interesting" gameplay, in dynamic interaction with the A.I.

In reality, there is no A.I. : We are interacting with the smart humans who coded the A.I.

Let us take into account that A.I.-programming genius Brad Wardell is not responsible for most of the A.I. coding prior to the upcoming version 1.10. I suspect that when Dr Wardell unleashes his extremely creative A.I.-coding genius, we SP gamers are in for a challenging ride.

I still have a deep and immense faith in the Elemental development team.

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October 10, 2010 9:38:11 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Homogenization isn't just restricted to the sides, it's all the way up the tree.

 

Every unit can have one weapon, no multi-classing.  Combat is so simplified that there are no roles for units to take, so what weapon they have comes down to a simple numbers game.  Every champion you imbue gets access to the same sphere of spells you have.

 

In the midst of our massively customizable game, our options all boil down to zip because the underlying mechanics are vapid, even if the systems built on top of them are fucking fantastic.

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October 10, 2010 9:49:39 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting psychoak,
Every champion you imbue gets access to the same sphere of spells you have.

Who else now is imagining the Imbue spell grant champions access to only a single spell book of your choosing, and if you want to give them more you have to cast Imbue AGAIN.

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October 10, 2010 10:07:34 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting marlowwe,


Balance, schmalance. From the gitgo, Elemental was supposed to be first and foremost a single-player game with 'deliberately unbalancing' magic as a big part of late game experiences. This balance thing is for folks who favor multi-player and/or want to 'win' versus an AI instead of just wanting AIs to make the Nth game you play seem new and interesting.



Balance is not a discrete and tangible element that one can temporarily suspend or take out. It is a fundamental and persistent component of any game. I do not believe that balance and epic late-game experiences are mutually exclusive. How far a game succeeds in having both largely depends on the skill of the game designers.

I've noticed your reasoning for excluding balance in favor of the "single-player experience" repeated several times on these forums but I don't think such a debate actually exists at Stardock. Even if Brad has said something similar along these lines, I don't think that deep down he really believes it as anyone who is even moderately versed in game design theory knows that balance is integral to making a fun and engaging game.

I also disagree with this argument. Balance does NOT equate to fun. Master of Magic was NOT a balanced game, as anyone can admit after playing it for a while. It is still my preferred choice for a fantasy strategy game. Why? Because it's fun. There were some races that you just didn't take, unless you wanted a challenge (Klakkon) and there were some junky heroes, no doubt; but it kept the game interesting. I liked the fact that there was a few killer spells, depending on the color you choice, that you would always take because they were so fun. If it was completely balanced, a lot of the fun might be lost. Sure, now the game is balanced so it's more difficult (you can't go for your killer units/heroes/race anymore) and that will take out a lot of the fun for the game. Now, they can still have a unique and balanced game that is still fun, but they have to fix that unique part first. A completely balanced game would be boring, because it wouldn't matter what you choose in the game, everything will be similar.

And as far as I know, the single player and multi player in elemental are slightly different anyway. Something that works fine in single player might not make it into the multi player, based on how the team views its benefits in a competitive game.

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October 10, 2010 10:21:26 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I agree all the factions behave the same, and none of their leaders have a personality, this needs correction down the line.

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October 10, 2010 10:25:47 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Lot of truth here.  I think these are the major issues that need to be improved to truly make the game great.

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October 10, 2010 11:32:06 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Pretty much everything the OP brought up has been mentioned in most of the threads, I would add extremely weak AI and extremely weak tactical battles at this point (move first you win). Those are the top two things that need fixing everything else is second behind these two in my opinion, but still certainly important.

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October 11, 2010 1:16:26 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Elemental is not that far removed at all from Gal Civ 2's way of envisioning factions. It's just got an added split between Kingdom/Faction. So I guess I wasn't too surprised (though I was slightly disappointed.)

Gal Civ 2 at least had the freedom to give you alien races, so you could have some varied flavor. Elemental has stuck itself with all humanoid races. That, plus the art aesthetic, the model variety and the AI. There are too few faction traits (and sovereign traits), and the costs aren't balanced so even making your own factions, you end up taking a lot of the same stuff. , All that equals a general sense of sameness and blandness.

(As an aside, one thing Elemental does do is restrict clothing by faction....except it does it in FACTION design too, so it can generate some basic clothes for your faction's people and troops. It'd be nice, in faction design, not to be shackled to one look, or to let us define what looks our faction uses. Some mods have already opened up this capability.)

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October 11, 2010 2:09:46 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I find one of things that causes a feeling of "lack of personality" is a lack of "oh shit" moments.  This is partly the AI being dumb (waiting on 1.1) and partly a lack of "random" events, which the AI can cause some of.

For example, I was recently playing MoM and was playing a custom wizard with Sss'ra's (sp?) face and Myrran with life magic (so incredibly unbalanced ) I had planar seal cast so that the entire plane to myself.  There was a magic disjunction which of course killed my spell while I was in the middle of casting a very expensive create artifact spell I didn't want to cancel and another wizard suddenly moved in and declared war.  Needless to say I was not prepared for this and it caused a major "oh shit" moment.  In the same game I had a group of wandering monsters spawn and start rampaging through my cities.

Or a common thing in other TBS games I've played where I'm at war with X faction and suddenly Y faction declares war on me and I have to figure out how to defend 2 fronts or make peace with X (who I'm usually dominating) to turn around and fend off Y... and sometimes X refuses peace.

These "oh shit" moments give players something to react to.  An enemy to hate.  Or possibly a friend to care about if another faction helps you out when you need it.

As CrazyHarlequin mentioned above, there's some element of "story writing" in these types of games.  Even players that don't actually write detailed stories usually still have some sort of internal 'story' going in their mind.  Like spending 50 turns building up an army to go wipe out that rat bastard that destroyed your fire crystal (if only this actually happened )

So far every game of elemental I've played I've never had my plans or strategies derailed by anything, except maybe an AI builds a city where I don't want one so I nuke it.  But generally everything goes according to plan.  Which may produce a great feeling in some games, but without the possibility, and a strong one, that things won't go according to plan there's no sense of victory and the world seems lifeless and boring.

Overall, I don't think clothing, or other graphical issues are what is at the heart of the problem of 'lack of personality'.  I find it's a lack of "shit happens".

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October 11, 2010 2:22:58 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

you can have models that made races look different. - eg.. elves / dwarves / lizards, etc.  though that's probably a cost issue.

 

you can have equipment models that make factions look different or use different stuff. eg... lacquerred weapons vs ore weapons (a la feist's magician).. heavier weapons vs lighter.. longer vs shorter.

 

that has nothing to do with unit customisation making everything samey.

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October 11, 2010 2:28:27 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I find it's a lack of "shit happens".

"Shit happens", it's just the annoying kind that makes you want to reload your save. Heroes dying in autobattles. Ugly, unmoddable children. Heroes you can't redesign visually. Occasionally the AI has gotten the drop on me, and taken a city, but that again becomes more of a "ah, reload it" situation because it's a problem you created through movement only 1 to 2 turns ago.

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October 11, 2010 6:24:34 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Wisdom in this thread,

especially in comparisons to GalCiv2 about missing fun-drivers

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October 11, 2010 6:44:02 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I agree with a lot of this. And I would also add that the map/world is very lacking in personality.

 

I think the zoomed out overview map is PERFECT. (is there an option which allows me to zoom in a little more while still using the map display?)

 

But once you zoom in, the world is just boring. Wasn't there meant to be some sort of apocalypse? Surely we could have some giant chasms, towering mountain ranges, rolling hills. Old battlefield sites from the pre-cataclysm war? Ruined fortifications? The world of Elemental comes across more as a blank slate, rather than either a living world, or a destroyed world. What about the rubble left from the remains of an ancient city. Dark and forbidding forests, which you'll really think twice about entering as there's a good chance your units will never make it out. Expanses of desert.

 

I'm guessing the engine (as it is currently) wouldn't be able to support more complex scenery? Something more interesting than "goodie hut" tiles that give quests. Something that gives a sense of place and location. Ruined cities wouldn't be too hard And maybe some grey tiles, for ruined stoney expanses, while the yellow tiles can be arid desert land.

Go read, or watch, Lord of the Rings. You could make a good argument that the story is only there to show of the rich, fantastic world. Go play the first 50 turns of FfH and notice how dangerous and wild the world feels.

 

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