The Imperfect, the Unbalanced, the Exploit
I would like to add my view on the shortcomings of elemental to the sea of critics and reviews we had the past days/hours. Many of the things I write have been mentioned before, I repeat them, partly so the devs see why we are not too happy about the game and what we expect they improve on and partly as a form of catharsis for me after playing the game since Monday without break except for around 5-6 hours sleep. I also always kept the game up to date and checked out the changes that had been made up until now. I have to say every patch made the game better, but they are still just scratching on the surface. There are so many game parts which are not up to snuff, that I doubt that Stardock will be able to fix in the next coming months.
Elementals basic concept is nice and sounds great on paper but execution of it was lacking and there wasn’t much of polish going on. Everything feels of being strapped together on last minute.
Basically: it’s first a rushed product and secondly flawed with a lot of obvious imbalances
Would have been more time for polish and some serious design flaws corrected we would have an awesome game. Currently I would rate it at 6/10 – rather an average score.
As there is so much to say I will group it categories for a better overview.
About City management
Overall city management is enjoyable. There is really something pleasant about the way outposts grow to towns and cities.
But sadly there some shortcomings:
- There is not much to build past the initial phase, almost no building dilemmas. I like all those lvl1 buildings at the beginning, they speed things up and they provide interesting choice of what to build next (as everything is needed early on). I regularly adapt my build order according what I need most and what would be the most efficient way of improving my economy. But after the initial building phase there is not much to do. You research the occasional civilization tech, then construct the researched building in all appropriate cities and wait for the next tech advancement. The cities don’t differ much as every city will easily have all the buildings there is with just a few exceptions. Basically the promising start turns into Auto-Mode.
Suggestion: Apart of introducing more buildings with more varied abilities I would appreciate the introduction of special building slots the city acquires when it levels up (perhaps as a dedicated level up option). You can use those slots you acquire to build special and powerful buildings but I can’t build more of these special buildings as you have special slots. So perhaps a level 5 city has about 4 special slot and can build therefore 4 of these buildings. Obvious there should be more than just 4 special buildings (8 to 12 are good numbers) in game to choose from and not just copy-cat buildings like: material prod. +30%, material prod. +40%. Refrain from buildings with kingdom-wide effects a la +10% food production in all cities as such boni easily grow out of control.
Alternative: limit the buildable tile amount according to city level. Level 1 cities can build on 10 tiles, lvl 2 on 15, lvl 3 lvl 4 on 20, lvl 5 on 25 for example.
- The level-up boni for cities are a great idea. But unfortunately I rarely take anything then the gildar bonus. The guardian creature bonus is worthless. Just cut it out. Absolute waste of of level-up. Don’t think about beefing up the guardian creatures here: as long they are weak or mediocre no one will take them and the option is just clutter in the menu (though I don’t like clutter) But if those creatures become strong they will change the game in a negative way. People will just rush up the city levels to get as many as possible and rush down their neighbors. It would be game breaking. So just cut the option out (perhaps replacing the option with the option acquiring those special building slots)
The player can easily raise all cities from level 1 to 2 and 3 sometimes even to level 4 regardless of the number of food recourses beyond the first. With every city level-up cities receive a considerably housing bonus. Therefore you can demolish all huts you have build without fearing that the city level drops. The freed up food can be spend on housing in other cities up to the point they won’t grow any further. After that you repeat the demolishing process up and build up another city’s level. Although I find that on larger maps food is not an issue and rather abundant.
It had been said again and again in the forum and I back that up: weak, way too expensive to maintain and have no character. They just don’t add much beyond the first 50 turns.
The reasons are:
- Champions Hitpoints are way too low. Already at the beginning they aren’t much stronger then a peasant, after a few military techs they fall behind. Things really become bad when leveled Squads show up. They have so much HP and such high attack rating that champions don’t have much hope of survival.
Suggestion: raise the base Hitpoints of all heroes and add a small boost for each levelup
- Levelup effects aren’t balanced: I have the feeling that putting points into constitution is not of much effect as there is no amplifier gear like it is handled for Strength and Dextery. The mere effect of raising it by one on level up isn’t worth much.
- The equipment you have to buy for them is ridiculously expensive and too weak (later on). You can spend fortunes of money for just keeping one champion somewhat on par with you average peasant squad armed with sticks your cities chuck out every few turns for just a fraction of the cost.
- Equipment option for heroes shouldn’t be linked to techs in Magic and Warfare techtree. At most linked with certain techs in the Adventure/Domination Techtree.
- Champions lack abilities. Most champions either have no abilities or of minor effect. Those minor effect abilities are fine at the beginning. Later they suck
Suggestion: add abilities table the player can choose from when they level up a champion. That would balance out the effect of champions early in the game and late game.
- Leveling up champions is very time & resource consuming up to the point it would only be reasonably to level one or two
Suggestion: let Champions receive free experience every turn up to a max level determined by some tech in the adventure/domination tech tree, so they could better scale with the common soldier
Even though it is not really cost efficient there is a exploit with hero equipment. There is no limit on the accessories (rings, packs, charms…) your heroes can put on. So you could spend 2000 Gilden for 10 Medical packs and equipping them all on the hero for a whooping 50 extra Hitpoints and +10 Hitpoint Regeneration. How about spending 3000 Gilden for 10 Bands of Agility on top of that? Given you have the gold only the sky is the limit. As you see it is not cost effective but still somewhat broken. The only equipment that currently really shines with that exploit is the band of eagle-eyed for 10 gilden. For just 100 gold you get +10 vision. Spend a bit more and you have the feeling of saurons all seeing eye overlooking whole Middle Earth.
Somewhat linked with champions problem. The only thing I can hope for getting more underperforming champions? Oh great… On top of that it takes ages until a child grows up. In most sandbox games I finished it in before the second child grown up when I’ve married right at the beginning of the game. Most of the time I don’t bother with the feature as it doesn’t provide much in terms of game advantage. On top of it:
- Should you spouse ever die the dynasty feature turns itself off for the rest of the game. There is no divorcement, no new marriage with another person possible. You’re out of luck. You’re stuck. But no big deal as mentioned: right now dynasties don’t add much anyway
Suggestion: Add Divorcement in! At least give us the possibility to remarry should the sovereigns spouse die!
The techtrees aren’t in particular long. The real useful ones are the civilization and warfare ones, followed after by Adventure/Domination, Magic and on the bottom diplomacy.
Although the idea of the Likeliness of some techs to appear is neat, currently it is basically not used. In my past sandbox games it never had much of an effect. As the techtrees are way too lean anyway there is not much room for research randomization anyway.
Here you research the main part of the buildings you will ever build. Usually it’s one building per Tech. Which later on means: there is a huge gap between each civ tech as all your cities already build that one building and there is basically nothing left to build most of the time. About level 8 in civilization techs you picked up all the essential/interesting stuff, everything post that are mostly of the same or civ-wide boni.
Although full of important techs that make your game live easier basically 80% of the complete tech tree are copies of one of the first few techs you research only offering the improved version. Also on part it relies too heavy on civ-wide boni (all these troop size levels & experience levels…), could have been linked to a building. It would also limit the production army capacities of young settlements a little bit when these boni only apply on the city the building is constructed in.
This techtree is primary there for the acquirement of the cutting edge magically war gear. It takes only 4 levels of the tree to receive arcane weapons. Should you be so lucky to start near a Crystal recourse you can employ a squad of foot soldiers wielding magical blades with an attack of 20 and Speed bump of 0.25 in no time! As Logistics and Equipment (like it’s empire equivalent) is a first level tech there is not much that can hinder you to employ a super warrior squad with an attack of 80 and average armor rating in the EARLY game (and steamrolling everything with it). It just depends on finding the crystal field. This would be especially unbalancing in multiplayer, as right now the AI certainly won’t make much use of it (more on the AI later on)… Otherwise it boosts you spell research but as Magic in Elemental:War of Magic is not that strong/useful I mostly skip it in most cases. (more on magic later on)
As the adventure techtree caters mainly for champions, it isn’t that good. The stronger champions unlocked by the techs are food for every below average soldier squad. The quest t unlocks have at the beginning in relation to the time investment some good rewards (resources for the early game, minor stat boosts and some ‘cheap’ items) later on they become more and more unrewarding. Their rewards don’t scale all too well. The only real important techs are the one that unlock new recourses. So I grab mostly those.
Ugh. Welcome to the bottom. There is not much of in importance here. The most important is trading, then perhaps intressting is Treaties otherwise: yawn. If I could do more with those diplomatic capital points (buying influence on the map perhaps, rare equipment appears in my local shops, etc.) or get more options in game apart of direct diplomatic confrontation (and no, I’m not fond of those allies.) but right now, the whole tech tree is not very useful… I rarely go up that tree usually there is something more important to research on the other trees.
Bad. Honestly. It’s really bad. Other parts of the game had glitches or same balance problems. But the tactical battles are really… … oh boy. They need a complete overhaul. I played out some tactical battles just to see how the game behaves and how the game mechanics feel like but most of the time I just hit auto resolve as tactical battles are way too trivial to waste any time on
The combat mechanic is very simple. Basically there are: Move, Hold, Attack, use ability. That’s it. There is not much else. … oh, hang on… I forgot to mention Morale. It has basically no real influence on the battle. Most of the time it stays around 50. There is some change but most battles don’t last long enough to see a noticeable effect. And even should they take so long it would be just either a “win more” or “lose more” effect. No thinking involved. The whole concept of one morale slider for the whole army providing Attack buffs or penalties is bad anyway. If you really want it workable: change it per unit and make it way more reactive to what happens on the field. Good example for a working morale systems are the TotalWar series or Warhammer Tabletop. Take your inspiration there.
- Good tactical combat lives from position rules. I like that they are fields that provide defense boni and such, although sometime it just appears to be a bit random where to expect those boni. But the game really lacks any concept of zone of control on units. In its simplest form take a look on Battle for Wesnoth. Simple yet elegant. Actually you could copy almost the complete system of Wesnoth (which is highly inspired by BattleIsle) for a relative quick “fix”. For good tactical combat take a look on table top games. I’ve already wrote a long post once in the idea forum for an example of detailed rules. Although there I’ve been quite verbose also showing why they are good rules, the mechanic could be explainable in only few sentences.
- Currently they’re just melee units and melee units and melee units. Those two puny bows (one with attack 3 the other with 6) are the only archer equipment and rather a joke than real useful (especially regarding the enormous gold costs). The (brief) manual hinted that there a difference between blunt and cutting weapons damage wise. In the game I couldn’t find anything. Basically the difference in weapons and amore is how good they deal damage or good they prevent it. There no more differentiation apart that, so that the player finally designs his units not because of some tactical reasoning but more according what is affordable right now and unlocked by research. We have a simple arms race right now. So for what should I use tactical combat for?
- There are few combat abilities out there, but they’re rarely encountered and even more rarely add depth to the game… Especially as I’ve encountered only 3 equipment pieces which grand abilities: those 2 bows I mentioned for being able to shot from afar and the pioneer package for being able to build a outpost. That’s it. The rest just plays around with unit stats a little bit but not much else…
- Magic spells don’t fix the monotony of Elementals tactical battles, but more on that later
- The way battle movement is handled (“Combat Speed”) is horrible! Give a men a sword and he runs faster? What the f**k? The devs should have separated attack speed with tactical movement allowance.
- As a further suggestion: I’m very fond of initiative driven unit movement then the whole army moves at every turn. It makes tactical battles more dynamic and helps against the effect of the whole army gangs up on one enemy unit at the time (especially as there is no Zone of Control in game)
Finally magic. Apart of the beginning magic is relative useless. On part also because champions are so weak but also because of:
- Mana-Regeneration is waaaay to low. Having spend all your 15 Mana on 3 Battle Spells last battle? Sorry, now you have to wait 15 turns to get back to full mana. The building that raises mana regeneration requires a level 5 city which is really difficult to pull off without just building a city full of housing. A normal city with some/most buildings will quickly run out of tiles before reaching the necessary amount of housing
- The spells are underwhelming. Not many different effects. Seriously, you don’t have to invent the wheel a second time, Master Of Magic, Age of Wonder, Heroes of Might and Magic all have examples of some effects
- The magic shards are quite rare, unless you picked all spell books it’s quite difficult to get the shard you have books for.
Suggestion: keep the shards rare as they are but don’t differentiate between them. One type of shard for all different Spellbooks
- All spells should scale with int not just the damage spells. Late game spells should receive a good buff to keep up in the arms race
There are way more balance issues and areas the game lacks then that what I’ve listed so far but I’m really tired right now. So I will just state briefly what else needs improvement upon without going into detail:
- Almost no difference between the races (actually a real laughable difference as either the boni is absolute little or currently not working)
- Kingdom / Empire difference is there but not very strong, correlates with the lack of difference between the races
- The campaign is horrible boring. Basically a long tutorial. No challenge, almost no action, very static
- The Ai is abysmal bad. Wasn’t the AI once a selling a point for Stardock games?
- Lack of feedback I receive from the UI, bad documentation of features, almost no mouse-over quick hints
I could write about that stuff easily another 6 pages. Hey - would I list everything in detail I might have to write way more than 20 pages here. There is just so much that feels lacking, unfortunately.
But let’s see what awaits us in the next months…
So anyway, thanks for your patience and endurance for reading this!
Thank you for posting a very thoughtful and detailed critique of our new game. Below are some of our responses to this in an effort to encourage others to take the time, as you did, to make concrete suggestions for the betterment of the game.
1. We like your concept you propose in which players can choose to give the city a special slot to build a special improvement.
2. The guardian creature you receive is based on city level. We will likely modify this so that it is more likely to grant the player a better guardian unit (ala the Minor factions).
3. Exploits. We agree, exploits, when found needs to be eliminated. We suspect this will be an ongoing process as players learn the game and find things that we never would have suspected.
4. We don't agree with your view on tactical battles. Elemental is not designed to be Magic: Total War (though we think such a game would be welcomed). The tactical battles are designed as a relatively simple way for the player who wants to control the action. While we do plan to continue to extend tactical battles, I think your expectations on what tactical battles are supposed to be like is not in line with what we had in mind.
5. Groups of units (squads, parties, etc.) do fire as individuals. A party with a combined attack of 32 does not roll between 1 and 32. Each individual in the group rolls their own attack (1 to 8) against the defender's defense. Hence, a company of knights (12) with a combined attack of say 36 would likely do no damage at all to a unit with sufficient defense. We are, however, discussing better ways to present this since it does seem people are thinking that a group of units acts as a single powerful unit which they don't.
6. Mana regeneration is going to be hooked up to wisdom in a future update based on feedback. This should allow players to increase manag regeneration.
7. We strongly disagree that the Empire and Kingdoms are particularly similar. The individual factions within an Allegiance are very similar - by design. You may not agree with this design choice but it was intentional. Over time, we will continue to enrich each of the major factions just as was done with Galactic Civilizations II.
8. We are sorry you don't find the AI sufficiently difficult. Have you tried increasing the difficulty level? The "normal" level is very basic. In addition, Brad (the lead designer and AI developer) plans to continously update the game's AI.
Thank you again for taking the time to post this. We have forwarded this thread to the development team so that they can evaluate what things might make good additions to future updates to the game.