I'm gonna take your score-card as of it's current iteration, and make my own changes, and try to give a sort of review based on my personal opinions of the merits, or lack thereof.
Credit where credit is due, this is a blatant copy-paste job of a very well designed score-card that I am adapting to my own purposes. All credit for the design of this entire post, the scorecard, and all the things those imply, goes to Das123.
It's likely that my scores will still be rather scathing, though I'll keep my review as appropriate and professional as possible, but everything should be taken with a grain of salt. They're always trying to improve the game, and hopefully these scores won't mean much in a few more months.
*Personal/Non-Professional Disclaimer - Read at your own peril. The opinions herewithin are my own. I am not a professional reviewer or writer of any kind. While I firmly believe I created this review in an objective fashion, if you're reading this with an interest in buying the game, look away now. If you won't do that, then hold your final opinions until after you've read the 'Epilogue' of this review, which is beneath the total score. That Epilogue is my true opinion of the game, and while the review itself may immediately deter you from purchasing this game, that Epilogue is the metaphorical 'Grain of Salt' to be taken with this review. And an important one, since, as I've already stated, I'm not a professional.
*Reader Disclaimer - If you start reading this and realize it's a wall of text, (I'm not gonna lie, it is,) and you feel like pressing your TL;DR button, just skip to the bottom and read the Epilogue to get the gist of the review, as well as my final opinion on the game.
Version 1.09e of Elemental - War of Magic
Game World (36/90)
- Resource placement (15/20)
- Random generation (8/20)
- Environment Graphics (8/20)
- Ambient Sound (1/10)
- Start positions (1/10)
- Lore (3/10)
Review: The world is sparse and doesn't feel alive yet. However, the rarity of world-livening things does suit the resource placement in my opinion. This is a post-apocalyptic Medieval-esque world, it would make some sense to me, especially with Fertile Land and other food, that resources would be scarce.
The random maps have been poor at best in my experience, having played 200+ on Normal and up sizes, but there is always the occasional gem of a map that gives you a genuinely interesting game.
The Environment is, again sparse, at best, and while I find the graphics themselves to be fine, there's just not enough going on there.
The sound I actually like, and I'm not exactly the most aurally inclined guy, but I do have a gripe. It cuts out at random times, where I'll have no music or ambiance for a while, sometimes until I reboot the game. Needs work.
I've played Civ 3-5, AoW/SM, and a little MoM. I can't remember if MoM had Randomly Generated Maps or not, but I know the rest of those games did, and I have had experience with terrible start positions for each one of those games... But it was never something I couldn't come back from, or in some cases even use to my favor. In Elemental, it's much the same, except that there is no favor to be had. If you get a bad starting position, like say nestled in a mountain range or out on a peninsula, and an opponent is close to you, it's very easy for them to cripple your growth with one poorly (well, in their case,) placed city, and there's rarely a way to get around that.
I just completed the campaign today, which is kind of weird since I've been playing this game on and off since Beta Phase 2, but back then it was too broken to warrant even trying. I can't speak to the books or any of the out-of-game lore that's been developed, but the Campaign sets the tone for a very interesting story... But that's all it does. Only work needed here is more content, but it would be warmly welcomed.
- Perks and Penalties (14/30)
- Graphics (8/15)
- Voices sound effects (3/10)
- Balance (18/25)
Review: The Perks and Penalties system, in and of itself, is great... That's the bulk of its score here. The penalties are actually pretty cool, and since their only real purpose is to give back points, they do their job flawlessly. Many of the Perks are well done and thought-out, but most of them go obsolete too quickly, and Warlord in particular is never worth it after the first turns of a game.
What works here, works great. The problem is with the Female graphics, specifically armor not fitting the way it should. There's also an issue with some of the poses in conjunction with weapons and armor. Watching spears clip through my Sovereigns head is a little annoying. For the poses, I would recommend having Shields and Two-Handed weapons strapped to the back, only have them drawn in the hands on the Tactical map.
What voices? Unless you're playing campaign, there aren't any. The sound effects make up the entirety of this score, but as I mentioned before, I'm not aurally inclined, and unless I hear speaking, I don't usually pay attention. Granted, this doesn't actually have to be fixed, but it would be nice.
Balance is... Well, pretty good. Not perfect, but pretty good. Even if you take Warlord, the most worthless of the traits, it doesn't gimp you. This may be a direct side-effect of the rest of the games mechanics actually starting to become up-to-par, but it doesn't change the fact that it's working relatively well.
- RPG immersion (5/25)
- Units (25/40)
- Graphics (5/30)
- Sound (5/15)
- Differences (15/40)
- Balance (8/20)
Review: What immersion? Sorry, but as it stands, the only real RPG elements in this game are making your Sov and creating units. The Immersion itself, minus the RPG element, is lacking, as the world isn't alive yet.
Now, the units themselves aren't all that great, the customization options, currently a little lack-luster... But you can make your own units and Sovereigns. BIG plus that I really enjoy. I probably spend more time designing units and Sovereigns than playing the game. And what few unique units there are are actually pretty neat, minus Darklings... They're a little too bland at the moment.
Big problems in the graphics department, especially regarding Female and Fallen units. More clipping issues with Armor, and forget the Unit Preview in the designer, seeing you fallen guys chests sticking out of that too-small piece of platemail... The graphics themselves are fine, but the oversights are too much to... Well... Overlook.
I'm not very aurally inclined, as I've said thrice now, so maybe I'm missing something, but the sounds here are bland, and there are very few special sound effects, most of them being for the special units, which only the Fallen ever really get. I still have yet to find a Spider Nest I could build an Improvement on as the Kingdoms.
All 15 of those 40 points for Differences go to the Fallen. While each of the Kingdoms have their own flavor, they aren't actually different races. In reality, they're all just men with different tendencies towards certain types of looks. Same goes for the Krax, as they're also just men. I would love to see some more profound differences between Kingdom races, and give the Krax a much darker look to them. Maybe darker skin, maybe more sunken eyes, something to really make the 'Empire' in their title stand out. Urxen, Wraith's and Magnar are all fine currently.
- Perks (7/15)
- RPG (2/10)
- Graphics (2/10)
- Sound (1/5)
- Balance (2/10)
Comment: I screwed up the format for this portion of the review by accidentally backspacing, and couldn't be bothered to fix it, so for you consistency sticklers, either bare with me, or skip to the next portion. (Yes, bare with me, it bugs the hell out of me too.)
Review: The Hero traits are nice, but bland. Finding heroes with special abilities is difficult at best, entirely impossible at worst. We need more control over our Heroes growth.
Which segways perfectly into the RPG portion. What RPG? You don't do anything with Heroes in most cases, as most of them are Merchant's or Farmers or some-such. The few opportunities you do have consist of nothing more than gearing out and leveling up your Heroes. I had more control over that kind of thing in Dragon Age with the companions. At least I could tell them what direction I wanted them to grow in.
Same problems as before, Female clipping issues, again. And let's not forget the complete lack of Fallen Heroes... Sure, they probably shouldn't even be called Heroes, since they're Fallen, but it's not an issue, as they don't exist yet. Give us our equality.
There are Hero specific sound-effects? Other than special Hero Abilities I mean? No? Well, there's your Sound review.
Most of the Heroes don't seem very heroic. Most of what they do is sit in your cities accruing bonuses. If they got better at what they did, that would go a long way towards improving this aspect, but even worse are the combat Heroes. They should be able to take on weaker enemy armies by themselves, considering that army isn't escorted by another Hero... But they can't. Heroes aren't heroic in this game at all, and that's a problem. Put the 'Hero' back in Hero.... And take that Z off the front. (Just be glad I didn't give it a zero...)
Review: Again, lack of any real RPG elements other than stats and gear makes the idea that there is any Immersive Roleplaying here laughable. Even more-so is the lack of Dynastic events, like bastard children, the ability to disown a child, and things along those lines. The only reason it gets any points is because of the marrying into/out of families.
Balance is an issue here. It depends entirely on whether or not you can find a suitable Female to marry. If you're playing a Female Sovereign, you have no problems, because you already have the hard half figured out. There aren't enough female Heroes, and even fewer desirable ones depending on whether or not you care about your Daughters Traits. I've found like 3 Female Adventurers and a single Female Assassin... Impossible to try to Roleplay an Egalitarian state without a Warrior-Daughter who's always getting into trouble.
Tech Tree (21/80)
- Strategic choice (8/20)
- Unique racial trees (10/20)
- integration with game world (3/10)
- Balance (0/30)
Review: I do find there to actually be some small amount of strategy, depending on the type of land you find... But that strategy is only if you're playing a Kingdom, and even then, only to a small extent, relative to the amount of techs you can get. The only strategy for the Empires is to max Warfare ASAP and dominate everything. As a Kingdom, the only strategy is if you need a little extra food, you can hopefully get some by switching over to Adventure tech and picking up Maps/Lost Bounty line of techs. Lacking.
While the trees themselves are somewhat unique, the amount of flavor difference between them is lacking.
Only real integration with the game world here are the Adventure Trees, for more resources and quests, and the Trade tech. You could argue that the extra buildings you can get via the other trees should count, but in my experience, they aren't actually necessary in most cases, particularly with Empires, since the only worthwhile tree is Warfare.
Zero points, Zero Balance. Like I've said, there's no reason for Empires to go any tree but Warfare, and maybe a little bit of Diplo for Darklings and other Faction Units. But those units, as it stands, are way too strong, and a Kingdom could never hope to compete with them. Like-wise, the Empire's can never hope to compete with the Kingdoms for Civilization. They don't even get real houses for goodness sake... You'd think at least the Wraiths would... I mean, if you discount the fact that they look totally evil, they actually seem somewhat regal, like they would absolutely have a high-society, but the Empire techs don't mirror this. The Krax, despite probably being a Tyrant state, would also be bound to have it's bigger players. It would be the kind of society where brutality and a cut-throat attitude are rewarded, and with those traits would come standing and power... But there is no standing if you don't have a big-ass house to show it off. And there's no way Karavox, or any evil leader for that matter, would want those blustering fools and damned bureaucrats living in THEIR palace. I don't know enough about the Magnar or Urxen to think of a good equivalent for them, but Warrior Lodgings would seem to fit the Urxen. Kind of Iroquois Longhouse style, many warriors living in a single, larger hovel, training together and the like. The Magnar seem like the types that like their solitude though. Bah, screw it, just give the Empires some decent housing and watch the balance fix itself. And scale the Faction units properly, give some to the Kingdoms, or take them away from the Empires. Whatever they do, I hope they do it sooner rather than later.
- Differences between spell books (5/30)
- Unique racial books (0/30)
- Integration with game world (8/30)
- Balance (3/30)
Review: Not much difference going on at present. Most of the spells, particularly at the lower levels, are basically just Carbon Copies of each-other with a little Elemental Flavor sprinkled in.
Creation and Destruction do nothing, but we all already knew that.
Only points here are for the big-time spells like Raise/Lower Land, the Ice-Creating Water-book spells, Forge Blast and it's equivalents... Again, just not enough going on here.
Despite the fact that the spells are all basically Carbon-Copies, there isn't any real balance here, and I'm not talking about Intelligence-Spamming for massive spell-damage. Some spells, especially at the lower levels, are much stronger than others. Flame Dart and Ice Bolt (Not the correct name, can never remember the correct name,) come to mind. Flame Dart has some pretty crazy damage on it for a lowbie spell, and Ice Bolt makes its target(s) lose their turn. I've killed off a few AI's in the early game before just by virtue of those two spells and their imbalance. The strength of Summon's is another problem, as once you have access to them, many of them make real armies almost pointless, and others are completely worthless, not even being able to use the abilities they've been given. The Minor Air and Water Elementals come to mind, neither of whom start with enough Mana to use their built-in abilities... I find it shocking those abilities even need mana. These things are Elementals. They're raw incarnations of Magic. Not only should they not have mana, but they should have abilities that don't require mana. The things are basically made of Mana, why the hell, unless for aesthetics, would they have Mana Pools, particularly if they are indefinite summons?
- RPG (1/10)
- Randomised outcomes (0/5)
- Integration with game world (2/10)
- Different quests (1/10)
- Balance (5/5)
Review: There's no roleplaying element here. You either say 'Yes I'll do the quest,' or 'No, I won't do the quest.' And the quests themselves aren't actually vibrant enough to warrant any sort of Roleplaying element points.
No random out-comes. 'Nuff said.
Yes, by definition, since these things will begin popping up everywhere, they -should- integrate with the game world, but they don't. The Notable Locations would be better suited as Random Travel Events, and the actual Quests are mundane and boring, with one or two exceptions, and pose no real challenge, thereby having no impact on the world itself.
Same small quest-pool to draw from, and the ones there they do have tend to be mundane and unfulfilling.
Perfect balance here. Quests in a game like this absolutely HAVE to come on a first-come first-serve basis. As such, the only way to objectively look at the balance of quests is as a Tech-Tree, rather than individual quests. While one guy goes for Adventure and the Quest of Mastery, someone else is going for the Tower, and someone else is shooting for Diplo Victory, and someone else still wants to just conquer everything.... And that all works just fine.
- Management (4/10)
- Buildings (5/10)
- Graphics (4/10)
- Ambient sound (3/5)
- Integrations with game world (4/10)
- User interface (4/10)
- Balance (1/15)
Review: Management of cities gets difficult later in the game, especially once you've got a lot of cities. Having to click-drag to each city is slow and painful. Tabbing between them fixes that, but it's not the worst part. The worst is part when you want to train a unit in every city, having to tab between each one, select the Training box, pick the unit, and click Train for all 12 of your cities. It's not completely terrible... Not even terrible per se. Just bad, and could use some streamlining.
Most of the buildings are somewhat bland, and the boxes when you're choosing what to build are totally bland.
Goes back to what I just said, bland.
When my music cuts out, one thing I do actually notice sound-wise is the city ambiance when I select a city. It's actually there, and while not very imaginative, it's better than many of the sound-features that... Well, I was gonna say, "...better than many of the sound-features that are in the game," but many of them aren't... Hmm...
Cities, at present, pose no real purpose in this game other than giving you an extra point of Research and Arcana production. The few that do matter are usually controlled by other players.
This goes back to the management portion, and the UI is doing nothing to help that. All in all, it's not terrible, but desperately needs streamlining.
This portion goes back to the techs. There is no Housing Balance, therefore there's no city balance. If that were fixed, I'd probably give Balance a perfect score.
- RPG (6/10)
- Different types (4/15)
- Graphics (7/10)
- Sound (4/5)
- Balance (10/10)
Review: Not a lot of RP going on here, but it is rather fun imagining that I'm actually fighting a Slag or Skath.
Too few types of monsters to imagine I'm killing, unfortunately, but what's there is good.
I find the monster models to be the more inspired models of the game. They're interesting, mostly. The Drake's and Skag's look too much alike, but other than that, I really like them.
Another sound-thing I noticed. Each monster, at least as far as I can tell, seems to have it's own set of SFX. Thumbs Up.
Perfect balance here. Monsters hate the other players just as much as they hate you. Yeah, they may get too strong too quick if someone's bee-lining the Adventure tree, but they're just as screwed as you are, unless they've got some super-godly Hero. (Pfft, yeah right.)
Tactical Battles (35/100)
- Strategy (7/35)
- Fun (10/20)
- Graphics (5/10)
- Sound (3/5)
- User interface (8/15)
- Balance (2/15)
Review: There isn't any real strategy in tactical battles, at least not if you have a caster in the group... Or Archers... Or any of the Empire Faction units... Or Summons... Hmm...
Despite the lack of strategy, I do find the fights to be somewhat enjoyable, albeit in a twisted way. If you're into watching your opponents fall before your sword or spells, you'll agree with me here... If not, and you actually want to turn fun into an objective measuring tool... Take 3 points off.
While the graphics themselves are good, the animations are not. We all know about the Mounted Unit animation problem... But go play a game and choose to actually fight every battle. Make sure you're using a Sov with Water Book. Now, get Blizzard, and cast it. A lot. A ton. After you get roughly 1/10 of the way to what most people would actually define a 'Ton' to be, you'll be sick of waiting for that animation to disappear. Some animations are too long, some too short, and others just not imaginative enough, barring the lowbie spells, which should be rather unimaginative. All-in-all, not terrible, just needs some TLC.
Sounds are just a little too sparse, and other sounds needs some work, but for the most part, pretty good.
Could use some streamlining, particularly to make Casting and using Special Abilities easier. Also needs some work on the front of attack-selection. Put a Dragon next to a Darkling, behind the Darkling, relative to your viewing position, and then try to attack the Darkling without accidentally attacking the Dragon instead, thereby getting your unit killed. Selection boxes really gotta get tightened up in that regard. Yes, I know I could just turn the camera. Doesn't make it any less of a problem.
No real balance here, and that is directly representative of the Balance portions of all previous sections. Nothing new to say in that regard, except maybe that Summons are too strong.
General Gameplay (53/120)
- AI (10/40)
- Fun factor (25/30)
- New experience each time (5/30)
- Balance (13/20)
The AI's pretty dumb. Brad's working on it though, so we know it's all gonna be okay... Eventually.
You know... I said I was gonna try to be as objective as possible... And thus far, I've given a rather blistering review. But despite its many, many problems, I still find Elemental to be a fun game. Yes, many aspects of the game are broken. Some completely fubar. But the exact order in which they are broken/fubar is such that, despite that, the game is still playable and still enjoyable to some extent. The only thing that really takes away from enjoyability is how dead the world feels, and if you can look past that, which I can, it's still a really, really fun game.
Unfortunately, despite that, this game does not have much in the way of replayability, at least objectively. In practice, it's very replayable until you get too frustrated with OOM Errors or bad starting locations, but you'll do what I did, give it a month or three, and then come back to it, see how much it's improved, and start the cycle of playing till you can't stand it anymore all over again. And hey, maybe next time you come back, there will be more replayability, both objectively and in practice.
Now this is where it's really tough to be completely objective... Balance... The whole way through this thing, I've given Balance the worst time of any of the mutually-used criteria... And while everything I said was as objective as I could possibly be, somehow, despite all the non-balance... The game isn't all that unbalanced. Yes, Empire's moving a Super-Stack of Sion Companies on to you will always be an instant Death Sentence unless you have like 12 high-level Summons on the field, but this rarely happens... And with the different victory conditions, even if you aren't focusing on putting out a Super-Stack of Sion's or high-level summons, you can still win, even if something like that does get thrown at you from time to time. In the big picture, it's not totally broken, just at the detail level.
Total (342/1000) 34%
Man... If Das thought his score was harsh, then this is just plain brutal.
In light of that score, let me state something... I really don't think of Elemental as a 34 percent game. Honestly, without something like this to guide me, I wouldn't be able to objectively score the game, because I do enjoy it. Quite a lot, despite how many things I feel are broken about it. And despite feeling so many things are broken, in practice, they really feel more like cracks and rough edges than metaphorical bits and pieces laying on the metaphorical floor. The given score does not reflect my feelings about the game in any way. The given reviews do, but each one of those opinions, as objective as I tried to make them, are just pieces of the greater whole, most of them discounting what's good about the game in light of the fact that so many things still need work. The scores themselves are the only truly, 100% objective pieces of information on this score-card, as I did consider both the Good and the Bad when deciding those scores. And yes, many of those scores aren't pretty... But when you look at those scores, and then read this rant of me saying I still find it to be a good game, it should tell you something... Stardock picked a project with a massive scope, and while they didn't do so hot implementing many of the features right off the bat, they got most of the big ones right. That should tell you that the game will get better and just needs a lot of refinement before it gets there.
In Das fashion, if I had to just blindly give Elemental a score... Well, I couldn't, because I know I can't do it objectively on a whim like that, and something about my personality prevents me from doing something like that.
One objective thing I could blindly state is this;
Elemental is a broken game. By any objective standard, it qualifies as bad. But Stardock is behind it, which means it will get better, beyond a shadow of a doubt. It will be a genuinely good game, in time, and if I trust anyone to make sure it gets there, it's Stardock and their fans. (Because, really, what would Stardock be without all our ego-inflating support and our ever-so-useful feedback? =P)