Alright, this is going to be an insanely long post, so I do apologize for that right now. I'm going to be as detailed as I can with comments and suggestions, as well as reasoning as to why I think the magic system is so bland.
I've been playing Elemental since the very first beta, and I was very excited for its progress. Once it's come out, I've been playing compulsively for hours at a time, through the mem leaks and everything, and there are several problems with the game. Yes, it does work and I don't even mind the memory leaks that much because it prompts me to save more often, which is a good thing. I enjoy this game very much, because I love 4X games, and I really dig that there are different ways to win, the dynasty system, and just... it does remind me of MoM, but a really bland version of it. It's sort of like compared boiled beef to prime rib. Yes, both are beef, and both are cooked and can feed you. However, you're really not going to want to eat the boiled beef unless you liberally apply salt and/or spice (mods) while the prime rib is a tasty meal on its own, even if it does have some bits of gristle.
There are really two main areas that I feel are problematic, with some minor ones: Magic and Dynasties. I will be addressing the magic one here.
The problem with the magic system is that it's too generic. I ended up picking Air as my main element to play because it had some additional effects to it by pushing back enemies, which I found very useful. The others are just... sort of meh. Earth has some potential with being able to control the battlefield, but the spells seem too weak. The second problem with the magic system is that while I CAN see a difference with shards, there's not ENOUGH of a difference. When you cast Chain Lightning with 4 Air Shards and you get a range of damage from 35 to 1, there is something seriously wrong. With four air shards behind me, I should be doing massive damage and cackling madly. As it is, it's a crapshoot as to whether the spell will be effective or not. If a creature has more than 10 defense, I might as well stick to plinking arrows at him as it appears that defense doubles as magic resistance as well.
The first "fix" to the magic system would be then to split magic resistance from defense. Defense to me means being able to defend yourself from physical attacks. You duck behind your shield, the sword plings off armor, and so on. It's a classic fighter versus a wizard. At low levels a fighter should wipe the board with the wizard, but at higher levels, it's the other way around. If you split defense into physical and magical defense, it would allow you to customize troops much more effectively. Is Kraxis army heavy and essence light? Get a bunch of fighters with heavy shields. Are they the other way around? Grab the rings of resistance and march on his wizards. It is incredibly frustrating to be doing everything "right" magically, and still having armies roll over you because of their combined defense score. Resistance could be a trait champions train up, or a skill they start with. I can't imagine everyone would be resistant to magic, but it's logical that after the disaster people lived through, some would be.
The second fix will be much longer to explain as it deals with the spells themselves. Right now, there is NO REASON to choose any additional spellbooks save for one, just to have something offensive to throw out at people in single target and with multiple targets. If I am reading this correctly, the Kingdoms start out with "life" and the empires start out with "death" as well, so there can be some flavor put in there, not just along the elementalism line. But first, we should define what each element should mean. This is an example, and of course, my personal opinion.
- Fire: Fire is destructive. It can also be harnessed to save lives. In game terms, I would imagine this is where the most direct damage spells would lie as you are simply blasting them with raw energy. It could be used to melt weapons and armor, enchant them to do more damage, and protect against other direct energy attacks perhaps via a wall of fire in the middle of the battlefield, or a bubble of warmth to protect against cold attacks. Its direct opposite is Water.
- Air: Air is mobility. The winds should be able to aid in people's travels across the land, either by wind walking or flying, and can be used to move people around in the battlefield. This is already used somewhat effectively (as I said, I use it nearly exclusively now) because you can control where your enemies are. It can be used defensively against archer fire, and at higher levels, even boulders and siege equipment. Its direct opposite is Earth.
- Water: Water is adaptability. Water can be gas, solid, or liquid. It could be used to erect bridges of ice over oceans to cross to distant islands, or it could be used to blast people with deadly shards of ice. Steam could be obscurement, and one could flood the battlefield to make it impossible for other troops to cross and attack. Its direct opposite is Fire.
- Earth: Earth is stability. It is solid and strong, and can be used to erect mighty walls to defend, or drop boulders on people to attack. Without earth, plants would not grow and so it can be nurturing as well, used to grow life and enhance land, as well as find minerals to mine. Its direct opposite is Air.
That's just a quick summation of how I view the elements. IMO, the game does not use each element's unique properties enough, making a rather bland mix of spells that are easily copied over from one spell book to another. Notice I avoided using anything like 'magma' or 'lightning' here, as that will be addressed below. In addition, there is also "Life" and "Death".
- Life: Life gives. I can't put it more simply than that. Life would enable casters to 'buff' their minions, making them stronger and faster, or more healthy. It would have the heal spells, as well as perhaps creating new food tiles, or enhancing old ones.
- Death: Death takes. Instead of buffing minions, a death mage would take strength from them. Instead of creating new casters, it would take their essence into themselves, or steal the strength from an enemy to make themselves stronger. I have not played very much of the Empires yet, but what I had did not seem to be the case. It was just the Kingdoms reskinned--each building, unit, tech tree, and spell seemed to do about the same thing, only a little different or with a different visual effect.
Now, in theory, you could have any element + Life or Death, or multiple elements + Life or Death. The different 'side' could limit what spells are available as the energy is channeled positively or negatively. For example, for Life + Air, there might be a resurrection sort of spell, where the "Breath of Life" is restored to a fallen comrade. Conversely, an equal level spell for the Empire/Death would be a Life Draining spell, where the Breath of Life is stolen from an enemy instead. In theory, both would be the same level, but opposite. Of course, there would also be spells that were just the one element channeled instead of in conjunction with another.
Now that the definitions for the elements for the purposes of this post have been discussed, let's break it down somewhat further. Mel, some people might say, it's all very well to say 'this should be this', but what are some examples of how this could be done in game? So, let me give some detailed examples.
In general, each element of magic should give 1-2 offensive, 1-2 defensive, and 1-2 utilitarian spells per level. For our purposes, we are going to say one of each per level. Now, each of these can be traded out when designing spells. For example, Fire could have 2 offensive spells and one defensive at level one, and then 2 offensive spells and one utilitarian spell at level 2, and so on. Not only will that help to expand the feel of uniqueness for every element, it makes it ridiculously easy to balance against one another, and within each element as well.
Fire -- As above, Fire is destructive, and thus, is the most offensive line of spell books.
- Level 1 (2 offensive, 1 utilitarian): Flame Dart (works good as is, ranged damage), Melting Touch (x2 damage, but must be adjacent to target), Flame Blade (both tactical AND strategic, enchants target's weapon to do 1 fire damage)
- Level 2 (2 offensive, 1 defensive): Melt Armor ("debuff", lowers the target's defense by melting his armor), Melt Weapon (same but as for attack value), Burning Terrain (creates a 3x3 section that causes damage when enemies cross over it)
- Level 3 (1 offensive, 2 defensive): Fireball (ranged intx2 damage on one square with splash damage to targets adjacent to target square equal to int), Wall of Fire (creates a 1x3 section of burning wall that can be crossed. Each target in the Wall takes x2 Int dmg, with splash damage equal to Int/2 for standing next to it 10% chance of blocking arrow attacks if the attack crosses the wall), Fiery Embrace (causes caster to light themselves on fire. Adds regeneration 1 per turn, adds 2 dmg to all attacks, resist 5 fire, and anyone attacking the caster with melee takes Int dmg--obviously costs a lot of essence to cast)
And so on. Notice how each spell is useful in its own way. Flame Dart and Fireball right now are interchangeable, except that Fireball costs more (if I recall correctly). Also notice how "Flame Blade" can be used on the big and tactical map. It would take up an enchant slot to enchant a target with Flame Blade, but be permanent thereafter, at least, until you decide to cancel it. It could also be cast on the tactical map for a quick bonus for just that combat.
I will go through and do the other elements later for specific suggestions, but right now, I'd rather move on, now that I have a solid base to take notes and examples from. Also, each level doesn't necessarily mean each spell costs higher to cast. Of course, Fiery Embrace does, but that's a tier three spell and adds a lot of bonuses. It is also caster only, and tactical map only.
The next huge glaring problem is the shards. They simple do not do enough. I had one game where I controlled 4 air shards, but my damage was still too randomized. I didn't know if I was going to get the "big hit" or not. For simplicity's sake, as an instant boost to casting, you could say a spell does up to your Int dmg normally. With one shard, it would do your Int (NOT randomized) + up to your Int AGAIN. For 2 shards, It would be your Int x 2 automatically, + up to your Int AGAIN, and so on. Just implementing that would make shards MUCH more valuable rather than just adding a x2 bonus to a randomized roll (or however it works).
However, that might also be too overpowered (although very simplistic). What you could do instead is have each shard act as a buff for a caster. Notice I said "caster" and not "sovereign". One of my ideas (to be discussed later--this is getting rather long) is to have a ritual to attach a shard to a particular caster to improve that caster and that caster alone. By default, it would be attached to the sovereign. However, the sovereign could cast a ritual and much like "Imbue Champion" transfer over the power of the shard to that caster.
Some ideas for "buffs" for just being attached to the caster:
- Gives a bonus to attack and damage with spells of that element
- Gives one free enchant slot for spells of that element
- Improve mana regeneration by +1 per shard under that caster's control
And so on. However, my main idea for the shards is to buff particular spells of that element once per round, useable when the caster chooses. For instance, our fire mage who has the spells above gets into combat. He controls one fire shard. It's stacked pretty heavily against him, so when he chooses to open his spell book and cast a fire spell, there's an icon at the top of the book that when clicked, uses his fire shard for that turn. That fire shard boosts the spell--which the stats would be visible to the caster, for example, Fire Dart goes from Int dmg, to 3 Int dmg or something--and he casts it with the increased boost. The fire shard is "done" for that turn, but if he survives and gets into another combat next turn, he could boost one spell again. If he had two fire shards, he could click BOTH shards for one spell, or one shard for two spells, and so on.
I believe this would give a tangible benefit immediately obvious to the player, knowing that shards can boost their spells as well as any passive benefits they may also get (that could be put under the magic tech tree, ie, they don't start out with passive benefits, but as they learn to channel the shard more effectively, they would get subtle bonuses, extra enchant slots, and so on). It would also add to the tactical battles, as they would have one spell to boost, and would have to know when to use it, as well as extra options in general, if they chose to attach the shard to someone else.
As a side note, I believe each channeler should have a different spell book. But that's for another discussion.
Whew, this got really long, and my fingers are tired. I will post more example for the spells and whatnot later, probably later tonight. I just wanted to get all this out of my head while I could.
Comments and feedback are welcome.