Just finished another 0.913 game, it went on for 375 seasons in total with Draginol (max?) score rating... but really, I had the game won by turn 150 or so. I just decided to go for the spell of making victory, so I didn't fight anyone. I repeat: DID. NOT. FIGHT. ANYONE. Didn't have to.
Game settings: Large Map, Temperate, 4 other AIs at Challenging (Altar, Tarth, Kraxis, Magnar), Sparse Monster, Dense Magic and Resources, Fast tech pacing
The idea was to have a lot of room for everyone to expand, thus letting everyone build up a decent amount before meeting. Sparse monster, dense magic/resources, and fast tech is meant to help make this easier. I mainly wanted to observe how the AI would handle the expansion phase if I didn't pummel them. I played Pariden with a custom Sovereign (Impulsive Brilliant Warlock with Air 2, Life, and Earth).
Magnar had the misfortune of being my closest neighbor, and was shutdown really early by my Arcane Monoliths, so I'm going to ignore their terrible playthrough (because they really didn't do anything the entire game).
Tarth started on a lone island in the corner of the map (I looked all over for them, and eventually had to use terraforming spells just to see them). They had one single spot aside their first city where they could settle (but didn't), the entire game they just built some units and stood around doing nothing. It seems they can't handle being on an island... I'm not surprised. The map generator seems like it still needs a bit of love.
Tarth's Starting Position: http://i107.photobucket.com/albums/m297/KStar099/Fallen%20Enchantress/FallenEnchantress_1336352086.jpg
So that basically just left me, Kraxis and Altar on the mainland doing things. Not quite what I had planned, but oh well.
Kraxis spammed pioneers and settled tons of cities (he had 13! by the time I was putting down my 4th). But due to harder leveling, his sovereign wasn't very high leveled (lv6 at endgame - so 3 prestige) as a result, his empire was stretched so thin it practically collapsed on itself and yet he kept trying to expand. At one point, several of his cities was stuck with 1 population. They were growing at 0.3 growth per season, and he kept building units from them (removing any population that does grow).
Altar started out cornered by Kraxis (had 4 cities to my 4 and Kraxis' 13), and got warred by Kraxis soon after. But, as mentioned, Kraxis pretty much imploded on itself, so Altar started taking Kraxis' cities one by one... only to run into the exact same problem Kraxis was having. That is, he too was stretched thin. Neither side could grow, and they kept switching cities back and forth (even further reducing their population). The entire game, the two kept going back and forth taking and retaking essentially worthless cities... It was so bad that I practically forgave them for having (2/2) and (2/3) cities... they never managed to fill them with people. Also, I did not see either side razing a single city, weren't they suppose to do that now?
I think we really need a mechanic to stop this from happening. I mean, when I expand, I make sure to build the proper infrastructure before doing so... there should be some prestige value that determines how many cities the AI should want/keep at any certain point (say if they drop below 1 prestige per city, they raze their crappiest one? Only if it's low level and worthless too, of course), and at the same time, it should invest in building prestige structures in its core cities and research prestige techs to support the empire growth.
For most of the game, I just minded my own business, exploring the map and putting down Arcane Monoliths all over the place (to use as teleport points for Cloud Walk) and hunted all the monsters and wild land bosses into extinction. I was roaming around the world with just 2 default spearmen parties (3), 2 custom spear maiden groups (5), and some Panca Archers I picked up from a quest, yet I had similar might rating to both of them until I started upgrading their stuff (and my might went through the roof). Only very late did I build some super units, that I used to almost finish the Master Quest (all but the last stage - wanted to win with SoM). I stuck with 4 cities for quite some time before expanding further. In the end I had 11 cities, 6 of which were level 5, one level 2 I had just started, and the rest at level 4. Where as, the best city the AI had was Altar's Capitol (400, just barely made lv4), Kraxis never even got his capitol to level 4 (he crippled himself early).
Part of that is because I had a massive tech advantage from never taxing (at least not until prisons and onyx thrones made it essentially free gildar), but it almost seems like the AI really doesn't develop it's cities aside from their capitol. I would see it trying to build units even when it takes 500+ turns (that's longer than the game's max duration) or even infinity (100% unrest due to tax and occupation penalty). Not once did I see them build a single wall, which I would think is what you'd want in cities that gets attacked a lot. The entire game, Kraxis only builds (away from capitol) 1) workshop 2) barracks and 3) black market... maybe a monument, and then it's troops until their tax rate can't handle it anymore. Altar adds Cleric, Inn, and Study on their higher level cities (lv3), but otherwise was happy with just pumping troops. Did not see a single Blacksmith (+1 mat, are you kidding me? It's the first thing I build on lv3), Almshouse (+1 prestige and influence... it's how I keep the empire growing), or Farmer Market (it's how I keep my empire funded with little or no tax). I understand that it's at war and needs troops, but you also need the stuff that builds/funds those troops as well.
1. Making it harder to level is having some pretty bad side effect on faction growth. Both Altar and Kraxis had their sovereign stuck at level 6 (Magnar and Tarth only got theirs to level 3, but they don't count). By hunting the entire map, and doing all the quests I was able to get mine to level 17, I was able to get past level 40 in 0.912. The result is a pretty drastic drop in faction prestige, one that I was able to adapt to, but the AI clearly couldn't. If leveling is to be kept at this current difficulty, perhaps each level should count as 1 prestige instead of every 2 levels? Or perhaps add more ways to gain prestige and have the AI focus more in them as part of it's strategy to expand.
2. Regardless of what you do with prestige, the AI needs to realize that it doesn't want crappy sub 30 population cities and 50 unrest. Just raze it, and build your own (I noticed that razing no longer leaves city tiles - that destroy base resources - is that a stealth patch or is that a bug?).
3. Map generation seems a bit odd particularly around wildlands (Tarth was probably suppose to connect to one, but didn't). I also think the surroundings of the wildlands need a bit more space (maybe one more tile). The AI really loves to build on those (2/2) and (2/3) spots right next to the edge of wildlands, most of these cities are worthless as a result, so maybe a bit more land around the edges would help?
4. Say what you will, but Arcane Monolith is OP as hell in its current form. I don't think it would be wise to put a mana maintenance on it, but there needs to be a range limitation at least (sight of caster seems fair). Dropping a monolith and cloud walking anywhere on the map is just way too strong. Also, it's simply way too easy to steal resources with Arcane Monoliths. Drop a couple and the only way the AI would get those resources back is if they build and develop a city nearby, and unfortunately, the AI isn't building their cities too well. Maybe bump the mana cost to 40 instead of 30 to make it harder to spam.
5. Amarian Blood is a little too powerful when you have some shards. In particular, Air boosting initiative and Earth boosting health (particularly on large groups) is really strong. I suggest having Air boosting accuracy and Earth boosting elemental resists instead.
This is right before I cast SoM. Cast it and hit enter 25 times, or just Cloud Walk to the Dragon Statue and finish it in one. Absolutely nothing is surviving that stack. If Waerloga and his dragons gives you trouble, cast slow on them, they'll never even move (brilliant + slow is pretty OP with lots of water shards).
Finally, why do I get the feeling that this is what Beta 4 is going to look like?
The map, littered with tiny worthless cities... while mine are pushing 1000+ people.