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.
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.