As has been mentioned numerous times already, this thread was supposed to be about reviews and has become a math lesson. I spent quite a while doing what the OP suggested he'd do and scouring the internet for reviews. Finding none except the math criticism lambasted above and its follow-up, I've decided to write my own brief review for your reading and/or trolling pleasure.
I have to start by telling you a little bit about (I promise, just a little bit) about me. I'm an avid gamer and have been for many years. I grew up on King's Quest and playing Sim City on a commodore 64. Last sentence about me: I played Master of Magic to death and loved nearly everything about it (kudos on the Sss'ra avatar killer105).
Onto my experience with Elemental and my review. Elemental was introduced to me as a sort of meta-sequel coming out of the aether of the long dead, greatly missed MoM. As such, I pre-ordered it immediately upon hearing about it last September. I tried to play in the early stages of the beta but for various reasons (lack of a game, for instance) gave up on that pretty quickly. I picked it back up in beta 4 with particularly renewed vigor in the few days leading up to release. I was immediately amazed by the lack of... well, pretty much anything that worked right. I chalked it up to beta stage (albeit beta stage within 96 hours of release) and pressed on through the bugs and quirks, trying to learn enough about the game mechanics to hit the ground running on my day early download of the full version.
Fast forward to the full version. I was again amazed at how high fidelity the conceptual copy of MoM was - right down to the terrible post-production bugs (you remember those, right?). A wave of nostalgia washed over me as not 30 seconds into game play alt-Tab caused it to crash down around me - just like the wraiths and shadow demons used to do! Quickly I realized, however, that the bugs and quirks were not confined to the few ruins and temples that contained monsters who played corrupted sound files - they were everywhere. Everything from buildings landing in the wrong slot due to the camera recentering during the click to place them to wonky recognition of which square or unit the cursor is pointing to in battle to event notifications stumbling over one another in their frenzy to let you know what happened to, yes, weird math with unexplained numbers. In several cases, stated bonuses on buildings or techs or units had either no effect (for instance heroes with the royalty ability (cities get +1 prestige)) the wrong effect (the school building is supposed to increase tech knowledge by 15% according to the description in the notes, economy by 15% according to the tooltip, and seems to do neither on the city summary screen) or something else entirely.
Ok, so maybe these quirks can be looked over. MoM, after all, did have problems beyond high level death magic units. So let's look at an area in which Elemental seems to offer an improvement over its unofficial predecessor: it has a campaign! During the beta, I had no idea there would be a campaign (this is admittedly my second visit to this forum, the first being to learn when I could begin my (albeit misused) beta testing) so when I loaded up the full version the first time I was beyond excited. The excitement was slightly dampened when the intro 'movie' consisted of a voice over stills being panned or zoomed, but even that I can forgive - onto the campaign!
I found my character beached after a shipwreck with dire news to share with the sovereigns of mankind. Immediately I was confronted by another survivor who joined my party. Then a farmer who gave me the power to form my capital - fantastic! The other companion suggested what I was already thinking, that the nearby open space between the farmable fertile land and the gold mine would be a fantastic place to build. And it was all downhill from there. During the course of the campaign (as much of it was included in the release package anyway) you could not build any buildings other than the workshop (to provide building materials) and huts (for population). Further, you could not research any tech, nor any magic. For me, anyway, advancing through the various tech trees and spell books is one of the joys of 4x type strategy games. The complete absence of the ability to do so in the campaign was mind-boggling. As you progressed through the poorly written storyline, you were offered scant bits of tech and a handful of spells, enough to train some new units and amuse yourself with a little fire. If I'm recalling correctly, the spells came in three installments and the unit tech (which included various armaments, the ability to train multiple units at once, and to train 'experienced' units) came in two. I made something like 3-4 groups of the toughest guys I could - and with them, was able to stamp out the rest of the campaign. All 2 hours of it (well, 2 hours less the time previous to their training - so we're talking maybe ~45 minutes with the new bad lads). At the end of the campaign I felt I'd accomplished virtually nothing, that the storyline (...) hadn't really advanced, and that my uncompelling protagonist was sorely in need of something more. ANYTHING more.
However, at the same time, as may be totally obvious by now, I didn't want any more. The game felt so wretched while being played that I was looking at it as a trial of my endurance. I had so much hope for this game and I feel all kinds of let down. While the graphics are very attractive, just about every other aspect of the game lacks anything worth having in a game. This thread is ripe with 'there will be a patch' type defenses of Stardock's endeavor - and in fact there was a patch. What it fixed, I have no idea, although it seems to have added a launcher with a button to search for additional patches (which doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me since you have to play through impulse, which does that already, but..whatever) and now alt-Tab only sometimes causes a fatal error. Unfortunately for all, the flaws in this puppy go way deeper than any amount of patching is going to fix. Sure some things will be improved, like information inconsistencies between different sources within the game or the length of the campaign (they ARE going to add more, right?) but neither of those things nor anything else that hasn't been already rolled into the project by now is likely to save it.
I guess it's a good thing dos-box is around along with a good MoM port. Seems like someone even fixed some of the bugs.