This thread is to cover both the good and the bad within Elemental. Certainly I won't be able to cover everything however I've listed pieces I've recognized during game development. I recall reading Elemental had more developers than any previous games from Stardock by quite a significant number... so where was time lost??
Fixed Battlefields - Currently the game uses fixed battlefields and while this may provide some interesting custom battlefields there's several bad side effects as a result. First this limits the number of units for a battlefield and the current battlefields are small which means no massive battles. This fixed battlefields provide advantages to the gamer who memorizes them which is an unrealistic strategy for most gamers. Fixed battlefields means gamers will eventually fall into patterns when fighting thus not as challenging. Fixed battlefields means if one specific map has a bug with a blinding display issue then it's going to take time finding the map. Stardock should consider moving towards randomly generated battlefields since the worlds themselves will be randomly generated and should be easier to manage.
Advanced Lighting - There's been developer journals and discussion on this topic, but I haven't seen any customer reviews or critic reviews praising this feature since the games release. I seriously don't recognize a worthy difference for using advanced lighting and only recognize improved performance when it's turned off. Stardock should evaluate how valuable this has been to the game and if it was worth the developer hours for its creation.
Caravans - There's nothing wrong with caravans, but they don't really add anything of great depth to the game. There's only deciding where to have roads and then send all other caravans to the cities with the most food supply. Thus I wonder how many developer hours were spent for its creation? 3days/3weeks/3months? Depending on the time invested Stardock must ask themselves was it really worth it.
Factions too similiar - I have yet to encounter a fantasy game which has too much fantasy depth, but it's definitely possible finding ones with too little fantasy depth. Originally the majority of the community requested unique races, however Stardock insisted with having only humans. While we were forced to accept having only human factions there's very little differences among them. Even the minor factions are all human. Based on the lack of fantasy inside the game I'm receiving an impression Stardock has not spent much time playing MoM, Heroes_3, AgeofWonders:ShadowMagic, etc., etc., . If Stardock is creating a fantasy game then it needs to educate itself on the other fantasy games which were successful. If the Stardock developers do not enjoy playing fantasy games then you will be crawling blind trying to create one.
Lack of any Permanent Magic Items/Locations - In the world of Elemental there's no real permanent magic items or permanent magical locations. Where is the flying pegasus, where is the teleporting fortress ruled by an independent evil wizard, where is the shield which deflects magic attacks to an enemy opponent, where is the cloak of invisibility, where is the forest with Ents/Treants ruling as a minor faction, etc., etc., . Why on earth do dungeons and other magic locations vanish after one visit?? Even an ancient battlefield vanishes after we visit? The only permanent structures are all specific for towns... there's no independent castles, lairs, magic fountains, graveyards, etc., which doesn't vanish. Stardock needs to examine why having permanent magic items and permanent independent magical locations is important for a fantasy game.
Gameplay Balance and Depth - The current spells, weapons, armor, champions, skills, monsters, etc., are lacking depth and balance. I honestly believed Stardock had a master internal only version of the game where spells, weapons, armor, champions, skills, and monsters were not only balanced, but also had strategic depth. The gameplay balance and depth are variables which should be discussed/planned during the very early stages... even tested with pen and paper for proof of concept. Currently spells lack variety and there's no real methods of defense against the spells. There should be skills, weapons, armor, and even specific elemental resistances allowing the gamer to pursue several optional strategies. The stone giant and vigiliant minion both have "late game" spells yet are available for summoning quite early. Stardock needs an action plan for Gameplay Balance and Depth.
Very Weak AI / No Personality - I've always heard great things about Stardock and the AI opponents, but even the current game has me fighting mentally retarded opponents. Also there's nothing unique in their personality designs. I only wish the modding guides and functions were available for improving the AI opponents so the community could work on this aspect while Stardock fixes the other pieces of the game.
Skills lack creativity - it's actually painful finding so many "damage" only skills. There's nothing creative or impressive about a skill which says "does double damage" or "does triple damage". The creative and impressive skills are "has stealth inside forests" or "limbs will drag enemy target two squares closer each turn during battle" or "deflects 50% of all missile attacks to a random location on the battlefield". These are skills which will impress your customers and are FUN to witness during gameplay.
Sovereign Creation/Evolution - While the current sovereign design works alright it's certainly not the vision Stardock originally portrayed. I recall developer posts where the Sovereign could choose to become as powerful as Sauron yet this option seems to have faded away. Ideally the player should be given options for his sovereign to evolve or transform thus providing a real solo threat during midgame and a real threat during late game when accompanied with units. Stardock should consider improving sovereign creation/evolution allowing for more fantasy type roles.
Different Map Terrains do nothing - There's no benefits for building, traveling or fighting in the swamps, desert, artic, grassland, etc., . At the moment they are only visual components of the game. Should a fire elemental suffer penalties while traveling across snow... YES. Should a town be more productive when building on grassland as compared to desert... YES. Should soldiers wearing plate armor walk slower in the swamps then soldiers wearing leather... YES. Stardock needs to evaluate why these variables will add depth and strategy to the gameplay. Also we need a LAVA terrain.
Multiplayer - If Stardock fears one demon... one horror... it would be the programming of multiplayer. From the developer posts I can feel the pain and terror involved. However just like all other fears and demons you must conquer them! We know the Stardock developers love playing multiplayer games so use this passion as your weapon for creating solid and diverse multiplayer selections and your demon will be gone. All future games with multiplayer will be easier as a result. Stardock is currently only planning a continous LAN which requires WAN into Stardock as its multiplayer option. This option is not only the most difficult for developer design, but also limited for gamers. Ideally Stardock should have started with HOTSEAT and PBEM which are much easier then moved towards LAN then finally moving towards WAN into Stardock.
The Campaign / Cartographers Table - It seems the campaign is very short and during my study of the campaign in the cartographers table there's no current method for examining the details of stuff placed on the campaign map. Anyone interested in creating their own campaign will struggle unless a guide and/or improved functions are included in the cartographers table. Several reported bugs still remain in the cartographers table. Stardock should provide a guide and/or improved functions in the cartographers table.
Game Events - During all my games there's only been one single event where some Earth Elemental LORD was roaming the lands. Unfortunately the event did not provide a location... not even a general estimate where this Earth Elemental LORD was wandering so it wasn't really an event. Some game examples of events should include a volcano warning and then a volcano eruption or a large meteor which strikes a random location on the map and the meteor can be mined for a rare resource or the arrival of several dragons on the map. Stardock can add these random events for more fun... perhaps a slider with the frequency of such events.
Now here's some of the good stuff with recommendations:
A} The Dynasty system definitely has promise and was something I enjoyed. Perhaps some spells where gamers have an option for their children reaching adulthood more quickly. Also I would like the option of moving my sovereign title/powers to one of my children thus allowing me to build a more powerful sovereign for those big maps.
B} The Research branches I found provided strategic challenge to the game. Perhaps a few more technologies which are faction specific and some unique technologies which can only be researched by two players who are doing the worst. It would be nice for a human player OR AI opponent to suddenly acquire a technology reviving back from death.
C} The Monsters are generally tough in battle which is great. The human player should rarely reach a point of being the most powerful on the map. There should always be some type of monster or beast or AI opponent which will challenge the player. The monsters should have more behaviors on the map than just wandering. A real living world means MOST monsters have a purpose whether its breeding, feeding, evolving, stealing gold, berserk mad, guarding an area, etc., . Stardock should move towards giving MOST monsters a purpose beyond wander.
D} The town designs are fun and add strategy value to the game. My only suggestion would be adding faction specific buildings and even terrain specific buildings. Yes please make terrain serve a purpose beyond visual.
E} The kingdom report and quests report is very informative and helpful... great work here! My only piece of advice would be adding a NOTES section where the player can type their own notes regarding gameplay which should be easy.
F} The workshop tools are great... it's nice having so many for customizing a game. The cartographers table needs serious improvements and repairs before us map makers can provide any custom maps with gameplay depth.