There's been a lot of discussion around topics relating to the sovereign - whether dying should end the game, whether the sovereign should be customizable, and how powerful the sovereign should be, among others. Having a sovereign as a playable unit adds an RPG element to the game, and many of the discussion points on all sides of these discussions seem to be where along the RPG/strategy spectrum the game should be. There are no right or wrong answers to this question, just what the development team envisions for the game. However, I feel like we should step back and re-analyze what all of these detailed game design decisions are meant to do - make the game as fun as possible.
But what makes a game fun? That is a difficult question to answer. Without attempting to answer that question, though, neither the dev team nor the community will be able to make logical game design recommendation or decisions. At the end of the process, we won't have a cohesive set of gameplay elements supporting of an overall vision for the game. I've seen this happen in many software applications (not just games). When it comes time to make detailed design decisions, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture, which in this case is maximizing the entertainment value. Unfortunately, what makes an RPG game fun is not the same as what makes a strategy game fun. To make this point a little more concrete, let me provide some specifics.
Here are a few of the top items in my list of what I enjoy in strategy games:
- Making decisions with different tradeoffs, but no obvious "right" answer
- Sufficient complexity that optimizing build strategies or using pre-built playbooks will not generally lead to victory - adaption and improvisation must be a necessary component of victory
- Building complex cities/empires that have different dynamics different every game (due to resource allocations, military strengths/weaknesses, growth characteristics, etc)
Here is what I like about role playing games:
- Optimizing character builds for maximum effectiveness
- Exploring interesting dungeons and towns
- Challenging battles (especially boss battles) where victory by the player isn't assured
Note that Strategy item 2 is directly at odds with RPG item 1. In strategy games, I don't enjoy playing the game when it is clear there is an optimum strategy, and there aren't many interesting decisions to make, just execution. In RPG's though, much of the fun is maximizing the damage potential and finding the optimum build. This is partly because the RPG's use the same character for many, many hours of gameplay, whereas strategy games are meant to be replayed over and over, where each game would be much shorter. Also, and perhaps more importantly, the effectiveness of the RPG characters are much more closely correlated to the characters' stats in the game, whereas the effectiveness of units in strategy games is much more related to the player's ability. Trying to mix those two models can be dangerous.
Given that, I worry about adding too many RPG elements into Elemental because the game becomes much less strategic, and much more about optimizing the sovereign. With a typical RPG game, the player characters are much more powerful than all of the other units in the game except for a few bosses, which have the ability to really threaten the player. If Elemental has that dynamic, most of the units in the game will be practically useless against the sovereign, and the game would only be interesting when the sovereign was challenged. However, if those challenges resulted in a game over, the game would hold little appeal for me in the long run, because recovering from a failure (aka starting over) would take a long time with little entertainment value. This would encourage me to be very conservative over the course of a game, or very risky early on, so that the game would be decided very early, both of which may not take advantage of many features of the game.
Furthermore, a super-powerful sovereign really makes a lot of the other strategic decisions much less relevant. If the sovereign can't reasonably be killed, the only decisions that really count are the ones about the sovereign. If that happens, the game will be poorly equipped to be an RPG, since most of the base gameplay features are the strategic aspects of the game, which would be uninteresting with a super-powerful sovereign.
To conclude, RPG aspects are fine as long as they don't impact the fun of making the strategic decisions. But too much focus on the sovereign could put a lot of the strategic fun of the game in jeopardy.