Honest opinion? Well, put it this way. I have had an account with impulse for YEARS, and this is the first time I felt inclined to reply in a forum.
Here is my 100% honest thoughts. (Take heed, although they sound like opinion, I would bet much that they are closer to fact then opinion).
1-- People got a little too excited about Elemental a long time ago. I was one of them. Many people on this forum and dozens of forums across the net feel that Master's of Magic was the greatest game ever. I am fully on board with that crowd. I am an old timer (been pc gaming since the Coleco Adam.) and have seen my share of PC games. I loved the strategy of MoM, and I loved the diversity. Elemental was quoted many times, by many people (like Brad) to be the spiritual successor to MoM. It is not. Not by a long shot. That doesn't mean it isn't a good game. It just means that any moron who says it is the successor to MoM, is wrong, or has never played MoM. So problem one on these forums, is many people (I fall into this category) are mad at Stardock for billing it as a MoM type game. It is not. It is far more like Heroes of Might and Magic than MoM. If they billed it as a 4x fantasy game without using MoM to sell copies we all would be a little less peaved.
2-- Brad (I believe it was Brad) wrote some Gamers bill of rights or something in a PC magazine. He went on to say such blasphemous things as "Gamers have a right to have a game released in COMPLETED form". Or something to that effect. Well, ALL games are released unfinished (even Blizzard games, who I love.. even though I hate WoW) but Elemental was so unfinished it was like a big named MMO. If anyone has played an MMO recently you know how unfinished those pieces of garbage are for the first few months. With them though, you have staffers always updating code, as that is basically the game's business model. In a stand alone game, (like a 4x strategy game) the game should at least be released playable. This game was not. The beta testers were your typical post 2003 game testers. A bunch of punk kids who pre-ordered the game, or work at GameStop or something, and just want to play the game "early". If there was ANY TESTER whatsoever commenting on the horrible AI, or horrible bugs, or even the fact that the game DIDN'T load, and Stardock did not listen to them, than ALL of STARDOCK'S executive team should be fired. All of them. They just tanked a fantastic brand that was rapidly rising the ranks of "good game companies" with a nice reputation. (most people loved the games Sins of a Solar Empire, Gal Civ. etc... Those games had a few bugs, sure. But were playable, and were FUN FUN FUN. I hate Sci-Fi games, and played them purely based on the fun factor.). Elemental caused more damage to the IP of Stardock then any form of delay they could have executed. This will be a black eye that is going to be difficult to overcome.
3-- The Game. For many of us the game didn't even load. That's Right. It didn't load. We would get hung up on the final screen. We had to do a work around, like bypass some exe.s and go straight to IMPULSE. Or some other tricks. Bottom line. The damn game should at least LOAD on your PC, so you can download a patch, ESPECIALLY if it isn't finished, which this game clearly was about 4 months too early.
4-- The Fun factor. Hmmm, not as much as I would like. I am not sure if they are saving the "good stuff" for a sequel, as most game companies seem to do these days, I think not. Basically the game is the same no matter your faction, sovereign, soldiers, tech research etc... Surely you can play multi-player (I think, not sure if it is working, I heard it isn't working so I don't know) and perhaps get a challenge. And by challenge I mean, some starcraft geek crunching the numbers finding the perfect build order, Hot Keying all the crap to his preferred bindings, then ROFLSTOMPing someone trying to enjoy a thinking strategy. (i.e. the famous, Get a soveriegn, Research Fire Giant, Kill all... build queue that worked well in the beginning). So Assuming you are playing this single player, it gets old fast. All the factions are the same. I don't care what color they are (tan, white, blue etc..) I don't care if they are kingdom, empire etc. I don't care if my leader is a woman, man etc... They are all 99% the same. In a minute I will explain why they are the same, but suffice it to say that the game is great the first few times, but after the 3rd game or so (assuming you don't cheat, by reading forums for the perfect strategy) you can beat the game on Ridiculous level in your sleep no matter your country, sovereign, research tree, etc... It is all the same. (if you read forums, or are new and want someone to tell you how to annihilate the game, no cheats, in your sleep PM me. Then you can win first time you load game)
5-- The bugs. Enough has been said about the bugs and I won't beat a dead horse here. They HAVE NOT fixed the bugs nearly as much as they should have. I would venture an estimate that for every 100 bugs, they fixed maybe 60 of them. Sounds good, until you realise that the 40 left, are either game breakers, or so annoying it makes the game unplayable. I have never finished a game. Know why? Because at a certain level the game has such a memory leak that it crashes every other turn or so. I can be at turn 300, turn 500... the turn number doesn't matter, it is the amount of thinking the game has to do (is it hard level, how many towns do I have, how many AI left? etc.) So basically I can whip the AI on small world, large, (huge if they had it), 1 opponent, 8 opponents, 200 opponents (if they had it) on the hardest level. The only question is on how do I want to make it fun. (no bows. No summons, No haste etc....)
6-- The worst part for me... the AI. I am not superman, I can not beat every game on GOD LIKE, or INSANE or whatever the hardest level is. This game I played 2-3 games (Partially), no forum help. No gamefaqs, no hacks, no manual (yeah, no manual basically) and after about 6 hrs of playing (yep 6) I could annihilate the game in my sleep. In CIV4 I still get whooped on the level one above normal about 50% of time. Many games I get stomped. I don't care, as long as I am having fun. Heck I am so slow it took me about 200 hours on Masters of Magic before I could beat it on hardest level. And another 200 before I could beat it with Klackons, and no spells. I didn't care though, because no matter what race, what spells, what ai level, it was fun. This game is so mind numbingly stupid it is a joke. Oh yeah, Gal CIV 2 still stomps me 90% of time on hardest level, and so does SINS. And I played each of those games about 100 times more than this. So why is it that this game is retahded? Seriously? WTF?
7--The Developers. They are blind. What do I mean by this (and yeah, this number will probably get my whole post removed, I will save it though and post it on other forums if need be for newbies to read). But the same guys who turned out 2 of the 3 best games in last 3 years IMO somehow turned out this Unfinished, Unfun, Unsmart (errr. dumb) AI game. It makes no sense. Even worse, the patches they work on are 85% not needed, and 15% addressing a critical problem (85% of that patches content, to clarify). Here is a prime example. If you haven't played the game you won't understand, but others will. The game cheats, To play on Hard levels, the AI still has the intelligence of a rock, but the game will Pump their production through the roof. I have been in a game, where on level 33 the AI has 246,998 gold. huh? Ok whatever. Anyway, at about turn 60 I am stomping the AI, Now my food situation is precarious at this point, but not the AI. So say I have +3 food, I take over his capital. Which has 1400 people or so (to my capitals 175) and has liked 50 houses or so. I take it over and now my food is -47. I either have to trash his town, destroy houses (and people), or not take it. This is a simplified version and there is more to it than that. But the point is that the AIs lack of intelligence makes the game have to cheat SEVERELY (worst bonus production I ever saw... but meh). Now patch 1.1 coming out. Big big big part of 1.1 is how the economy is a joke (need goldmine or you get no money), so basically they going to what strategy games did 17 years ago (and they should have done day 1), making population required for money. Now, what is going to happen when they "balance" the game for population economy, but the AI is running a -689 food deficit, you take over a town or two.... What will you have to do. Keep in mind that if the current ratio of gold cheat holds, that means you will be making 12 gold a turn, they will be rolling like 9 million or so. You destroy the town. Yay, you solved your food problem, you also don't need gold, because you can win the game with like 1000 gold total. throughout the whole game. So what does it do. It makes you turn the world from a Green world to a barren desert (wait a minute, isn't the story about me doing the opposite). So this is the big change they are making. basically taking a broken mechanic and making it 2-3 times WORSE. Meanwhile, many people still can't finish a game out of boredom, or horrendous crashes at end game. This to me is the wrong approach to take. I would rather they left mechanics broken, make the game stable, then fun, the balanced. But that is my biased experience based on 30 years of gaming speaking, so what do I know. Oh yeah, the game is so so so slow, and I like slow games. But if I have to raze every city just to keep moving, it will be EVEN slower. YAY! Just what we want, the game to be even more like molasses
Anyway, is the game fun? Sort of. Does it get old? yep. Do I like it? Yep. Have I played in a week? Nope... to boring. Am I waiting for the 'next patch". Sure why not, the last 5 have been ok. Is this game recommended for a strategy game fan? Yep. Is it anything close to MoM? Heck, no. Would I recommend it to someone young (less patience) or new to the genre? Heck no. I would sent them to ANY OTHER game in genre before I would recommend this to a new 4x fan.
Do I think it has potential??? Hmmm, tough question. MoM got much better after it was no longer supported. Started out great, but fans patched and modded it to heroic levels. Heck, you could even say that about Age of Wonders. Will this game be a classic? it could be, but I do not have faith based on the horrible "beta" if they even had one, and the directions and efforts they are putting into the patches at this time. Fix the damn game, then try to do "cutesie things"/