unlike most players, I think this game is too easy, or at least it seems to be easy to abuse the system, while the only way for the AI to overcome player abuse is by insane bonuses that might make the game frustrating on further difficulties.
I have not played any Beta.
I started my first game challenging/challenging because I read in a couple of games this was a difficult difficulty and the rest are even harder. No custom race - Tarth was used, I think medium sized map and 4 opponents? I didn't know how to play at all so at first I didn't understand what was going on other than using heroes - I watched some u-tube video that explained resources in cities - I was set after that.
I realized that this race is considered overpowered by most - after reading some posts but at the same time its not as good as making a custom race which is what most power players will do.
The problem with the game stems from the fact that while making cities and developing them as well as building pioneers - the only use I found for them so far is ROADS - which are way overpowered! especially with Tarth. You can sneak in a pioneer somewhere and have an instant elevator into enemy territory! I didn't realize how to build roads at first but having them pop automatically is just silly.
On to the problem - I was able to steamroll the AI easily without making a single unit, just from recruiting heroes, quests and taming a couple of beasts. There is just no balance between units you can recruit - already leveled up and units you can build and have to research many techs to build - I am on turn 88 and The AI while having built up its cities with everything available had very poor units that were no match for mine.
I never researched anything in the military tree and never recruited high level heroes - I only have 4 one out of which is a merchant sitting in my capitol.
I dont think it makes sense to continue with this game - I only met 2 AIs one has a score of 22, other HAD a score of 60 - now 20 after losing their stuff to me.
I must say I did play with saves and reloads but did not abuse the system - simply because I did not know how strong units are etc.
Before I get flamed - I understand that I did not perhaps play on the right settings, but at the same time I really did not understand much about the game so I don't think I did well at all given the 88 turns (first pioneer I built was just wondering around while I was desperately trying to understand why I cannot settle anything - among the 100s useless popups, couldnt they have one pop up when you build your first pioneer saying something like "you must look for new lands to settle, most cannot be settled, etc"
On to the things that are just wrong:
*this game is totally not intuitive for a new player, could just be me though.
*Map is big but "empty" simply because all these lairs are "just another lair". Individual tiles dont matter - if you have a game that allows stacking, you should make every tile in the game count! - I really dont see why make everything be 1-2-3-4-5 on one tile - that gives you either very poor or every overpowered cities - this could seem relatively minor but at the same time the game experience suffers from that - you just dont get that feeling "MY CITY IS BADDASS" because you know the AI always gets a 5-4-2 location(at least it did for its cities in my game) - you could take cities out, replace them with forts that can be enchanted and can purchase units for gold and do away with the city mess the way it is now, leave pioneers for outposts and improvements!
*if this is you vs environment type game then why the hell no one attacks your cities for the first 70 turns- AI understandably cant get to you, and once you clear out the NPCs(and you really want to do that since you need the xp, items,gold)
*Also, whats up with all the useless artifacts and why you never get gold as victory spoils? its totally useless having all those 100032 items non of which feels special - wolf/bear pelts to sell?! come on, why make it more complicated.
*Combat feels unbalanced simply because they are trying to balance it within a huge system of units having anywhere from 2 to 200HP. Why not make things a little more simple akin to civ or MOM? - you can have a lot of fun with unit design even if a unit is never more than 30hp - just make it more varied with abilities and perks not stupid meaningless numbers.
I dont think combat is totally bad but rather than being focused, its all over the place - feels like 2-3 different people worked on this separately and then just meshed up their ideas.
*I almost did not use any magic even though I have magic casters - the balance of mana cost to easy of getting manage to spells to benefit in combat is just not right. You want to have spells in the system and you want people that play a mage use them every battle- just make the caster weaker in other ways - you simply cannot use spells that cost 15 mana every battle when your income of mana is 1-5 a turn.
*City buildings are very "stat-oriented" rather than flavor oriented - you just have 5 buildings all doing the same thing for one of the stats with different names to them !?
*I really like the fact that you have techs that unlock abilities - thats very good in a game like this BUT I feel some are not well balanced in the grand scheme of things.
*it is completely and utterly stupid that should you want to play a military faction or a magic oriented one you still need to research a lot of the civic techs right away simply to be able to research the other stuff - this is not CIV. There should be different research points for the different tech trees based on how you play - shard/mana based research for the spell stuff, civic based research for civics, military/civic for military.. That way you could play as a magic caster or warrior ignoring some of the other stuff.
*if this game is supposed to be mostly player vs environment (this is what the game design/balance leans to it seems) then the game should take note from other great games such as HOMM and others with many monsters of different strength guarding various sites close and far - this is very different than the current situation of easy monsters close to player, bad ass monsters far away. It makes for no incentive to come back and even restock in your cities.
*if some of these are because I was playing Tarth - their bonus should be taken out of the game.
*FYI I did not lose a single unit in the game(I think, if I did I don't remember that) - there is no incentive in getting into fights that would make you lose units - this is bad. and of course the AI should present enough of a challenge and rewards to make you lose units - but as of right now you just gain useless cities that are unhappy and cannot produce anything that you couldn't before
To sum this up - it feels like this game suffers from bad design choices where there was no coherent vision of what the game was supposed to be. I think a lot can be changed with balancing though to make it a much better game.
I will try to start another game with a different race - I have no intention of finishing this game because while there are other quests(with dragons) and other AIs I dont feel that it will be very interesting to play on. - If that doesn't go well I will just consider this unplayable till mods/further balancing patches come out.
Please feel free to suggest more fun settings to play on, or suggest why my analysis might be wrong.