So I've just finished playing v1.1 and wow, what a huge difference. The game has been significantly improved / cleaned up! As always though, there are things that can be improved and hopefully this post will point those things out while also giving the developers some new ideas.
These are just random things I've noticed while playing the game that took away from the overall impression of the game.
- It is sometimes difficult to tell when a turn has finished which can lead to instances where players accidentally skip turns. To help clarify when a turn has finished being processed, the cursor could be turned into a simple rotating hour glass. Once the turn has finished, the cursor would obviously then turn back to the default appropriate cursor.
- I'm seeing a lot of flashing going on and I don't mean popups: cities flicker and flash when being updated. tactical battles can flash in-between each AIs move and various other elements on the strategic map flicker when being selected. Cleaning this up would convey a greater sense of stability and polish to players.
- A number of times I've noticed units running on the spot on the strategic map. Perhaps they were trying to move to an invalid tile? At any rate, it looked silly of course.
- I was confused at first why two identical units of mine had different stats. It wasn't until after a battle later on did I see that one of the units I had trained had actually gained a level. Displaying the level for normal units on their card or somewhere else logical would be nice. I now see that I was just blind before: you can find the level of any normal unit while on the strategic map. It would still be nice to be able to get the level off of the unit card too though.
- For some reason the info-card of units on the strategic map reveal their destinations in terms of x, y. Not only is this odd, but as far as I can see, there is no way of getting the x, y of tiles, so why even bother displaying this information.
- Allow us to remove default units from our training list. I don't want to use Peasants, I don't want to see them.
- The bar that displays the number of moves a unit has in a tactical battle is odd: the numbers are correct but the actual percentage of the bar that is filled does not accurately reflect those numbers. The bar is nearly empty with 1/3 moves left instead of being one third full.
- It would be nice to be able to filter encyclopedia information based on the improvements / etc that we actually already have access to.
- This is a bit nit-picky, but cities do not look like cities to me. I don't have a problem with the art style, I like the art - I'm talking about how the buildings fit together to represent a city as a whole. Overall it looks very messy (as in jumbled) and does not look like an actual town. Adding streets and adding other spacing would help this I think.
- Budgets (on a per-city basis) and other number-heavy screens should be formatted more like an actual spreadsheet to make things a bit clearer. A bit more information identifying the individual entities wouldn't hurt either.
The AI still does not seem to pose much of a threat (strategically). I was playing against 1 hard, 2 ridiculous and 1 extreme AI. One of the ridiculous AIs had a power rating greater than 9 times that of my own. They declared war on me and then... did absolutely nothing. These guys should have been a powerhouse if their rating was any indication of their power. I know the AI is going to get more love in 1.2, I just felt this needed to pointed out again.
On a side note, the tactical battle AI does feel a bit more natural now which is nice. The entire opposing army no longer guns directly for one individual unit.
Overall the strategic and tactical AI still have a distance to go before they are challenging.
Real adventure, loot, relics, monsters, guardians
As far as I can see, the adventure tech tree is useful but for all of the wrong reasons (as in, it doesn't make sense). Elemental is supposed to be a world that has gone wild; a frightening place of untold wonders and horrors. Why trivialize that sort of atmosphere and gameplay be magically researching locations and monsters into existence? Encourage players to explore the world, not their tech trees (at least, not their adventure tech tree).
The core idea is this: The starting location for all sovereigns is somewhere along a the coast of the island/continent. Rule of thumb is, the further inland the players go, the bigger the monsters, the bigger the rewards, the bigger the risks (ie, real adventure). Create monsters, guardians and epic loot all from the start all sprinkled over the island just waiting for a bold or lucky sovereign.
The possibility of discovering some long lost powerful artifact is far more entertaining than researching a story (static), and being told to go somewhere. Make all landmarks visible and physical from the start. Prevent players from getting their hands on things too early by having high-leveled monsters guard the locations.
Carrying an amazing shield that you've earned into battle is far more engaging. And when coupled with the battlefield loot concept mentioned below, is far more interesting - especially if you're the one that winds up finding a relic on the body of an enemy.
Equipment, unit training, unit design and the city shop and the spoils of war
When designing custom units we assign the gear we'd like them to have. This unfortunately leads to the odd issue of having obsolete units. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to upgrade their gear?
A radical change to the way basic units are handled: Treat basic units like real life soldiers, and give them skills in such things like light armor, short swords, bows, etc. Units will be designed just as they are now with the exception that each piece of equipment will come with a required skill - the player will not have to do any work or figure anything out regarding the skills, they'll just be told that their newly designed unit will be trained in hand to hand combat, shield usage and what other needed skills to use the specified equipment.
Why add skills to units? I'll answer that in a sec, but first onto the inevitable training of our new units. Introducing the arms storehouse (replacing the shop) city improvement: a building that will allow for the construction and storage of equipment separate from the actual training of units. But don't worry, the player still won't have to deal with additional complexities when training his units. When training a new unit, the arms storehouse will be first checked; if any of the needed equipment is in the storehouse, it will be removed and automatically assigned to the needed unit. The result is a reduced cost and a reduced build time, because the found equipment doesn't need to be made. And once again, the player will not be burdened by complications, they'll just be informed via the training window of the training time, training cost and how much of the equipment is already available.
Now, for the million dollar question: why bother adding all this if, like you said, the player won't notice any of this to any significant degree? Because, this system will now allow for a huge array of new features and freedom:
- Players will now be able to outfit existing units (en mass, as in, selecting groups of like units all at once) via the arms storehouse with new and upgraded gear that they have already been trained to use! Imagine, that early swordsman is no longer cannon fodder: he's a real person that still has potential value.
- Battlefield loot: the loot from battles against opposing armies is pretty boring at the moment. Money? Really? Out of all those bodies, nothing of use could be found. Well no longer! Weapons and armor can now be recovered from the battlefield (to the winner of course). I'm not saying every single piece can be recovered, but a random % of the enemies armor, weapons and equipment would be awarded. Imagine, growing stronger while you enemy grows weaker. Now you can outfit your armies in any improved gear that is happened to be found (that they are trained to use). And of course, any artifacts the enemy was carrying are now definitely yours.
- Weapons as a resource. I'm not talking about @ the top of the screen (although, it may actually simplify things to make weapons a global resource), but as two separate things. You've just wiped out a filthy army of peasants and have recovered their crude weapons. Rather than let them rust away why not trade your weapons with an ally? Hell, why not send them off to some foreign power while it at so that they can make some trouble. Or, if you're the lonely sort, why not break down your new found weapons: metals, crystals, material, etc could be all recovered by breaking down weapons.
- Speaking of resources, why not become a arms dealer if you're sitting on a huge pile of mines / quarries / metal. Perhaps building weapons en mass will reduce their individual costs. It would allow you to dictate the course of entire wars. Possibilities, possibilities!
- Since weapons and equipment can be constructed separately now, the smart player will build a small stock pile of weapons in case he needs to go to war giving him/her a boost to training costs and times when the actual soldiers are needed.
And yes, heroes would now be using the storehouse (rather than the shop) to pick up equipment. The only difference is that the equipment would have to be constructed first before it could be equipped (depending upon numbers and qualities of gear, fabrication could take 1 or more turns).
On a side note: if you really want to make units re-usable, give us the option to send them back to school (so to speak) and train them in new skills. Maybe make that swordsman a holy knight.
Hero and Sovereign experience
Just a quick mention of abilities (or lack of abilities) that can be unlocked when a sovereign or hero reaches a new level. One of the greatest things from Masters of Magic was being able to experiment and mix and match abilities / perks / whatever for heroes. And the good news is the functionality for this is already in-place. Remember those professions we chose for our sovereigns when first creating them? Something tells me those could be used to outline a template of abilities on a per profession basis...
Experience from battles
Experience should be shared amongst the surviving members of the victorious army. Right now it doesn't matter if you kill an opposing army with 1 man or 10 men, each of your surviving units will receive the same amount of XP.
The amount of awarded XP also needs some major balancing: units belonging to enemy players (instead of the wild, ruffian units), reward pitiful amounts of XP. When calculating how much XP an individual unit should award, take that unit's health, dodge, armor and attack damage into account.
Speaking of XP, please award some for completing quests.
Tactical battles (without magic)
One thought that occurred to me when fighting against a stronger opponent while playing this night: damn, isn't that guy tired yet from blocking my entire army of peasants?
Two adjustments to the way tactical battles work:
- Turn / moves recharge rate: instead of completely recharging a units turn bar, how about recharging it just 50% for each half turn (as in, #1 it's the player's turn, +50% to all unit turn bars, #2 it's now the enemy turn, +50% to all player units again, etc). This is done to reflect the fact that if a player's unit has spent his entire time during the enemy's turn defending himself, he shouldn't be at 100% for the proceeding player's turn. Perhaps base the recharge rate of dexterity or constitution for good measure if one an attribute is lacking importance.
- Dodge / block chances: once an enemy's unit has 0 turns left, apply a large penalty to block and dodge chances. If One large unit wades into battle, it should not be indefinitely immune to a swarm of weaker units with weaker weapons. Eventually it will become overwhelmed and start taking hits. A 75% penalty against blocking and a 50% penalty against dodging incoming damage should be applied to enemies with 0 turns left when being attacked.
Aside from the above changes to tactical battles, there is one other critical component that can make battles more interesting and challenging: choke points, cliffs and impassable terrain. Placing archers along a cliff top or city wall should mean something.
Magic, information as a resource, power has a price
I know I've mentioned this before, but I'm saying it again because of how much I believe in the concept. Make magic books physical. Make them real items that can be found, lost, sold, bought, and gone to war for. This game is titled war of magic, I think it's only fitting that players go to war for magic.
Instead of researching arbitrary spell levels, limit knowledge of spell books to the number of books each player holds of that type. For example, lets say there are 5 levels of fire magic; distribute 5 or more (depending on # of players) fire magic books over the land for players to find through quests or by killing monsters guarding locations. Award access to each level of fire magic based on the number of fire spell books a player owns.
This will allow players to trade magic books (the spells still need to be researched). If one player finds a book of particularly dark and powerful magic, the other players now have a huge incentive to go to war against the owner of that new book - be it to prevent mass chaos or perhaps because they wish to have the magic to themselves.
Tactical battles (with magic)
I don't know if it's just me, but I've always had an affinity for necromancy. Raising skeletons to do your bidding! Bringing forth zombies from the corpses of allies and enemies alike! Imagine raising a fallen sovereign, to be your undead pawn: much like Sauron and the witch king.
It's just too bad that this cannot be done at the moment. This is due to the fact that bodies are quickly removed after death. There is no need for this (if the computer had the resources to load all the units @ the start of the battle, then it has the resources to keep dead bodies around). Keep the dead bodies through out the battle. Allow us to wield dark and sinister magics!
Also, it would be quite nice to be able to select the bodies we want after a battle has completed and cast any desired spells on said bodies.
Diversification of empires / kingdoms / races and factions
To improve the replay value of the game, and to keep things interesting, races, factions, empires and kingdoms should be as diversified as possible. And I'm not talking about a re-skin, and re-name of buildings that essentially provide the same functionality. I'm talking about significant differences that force players to adopt new strategies. Mixing and matching races against factions and kingdoms / empires should mean something.
Resistances, weaknesses, unique technology, unique magic, unique equipment and more. Maybe some artifacts are limited by race. Maybe one faction can build two buildings at once, but for reduced bonuses. Maybe a race can train two units at once, but their units are weaker. Use your imaginations but please give these guys as much character as possible without actually breaking the game. Empires could for example, kidnap specialists and essentially acquire them for free but for a reduced bonus and by reducing the specialists health.
Also, remember when I rallied for the arms warehouse? Imagine the financial edge you'd get if your race / faction / watever was the only one with access to a specific and unique equipment tech.
One thing that can greatly add diversification amongst the races and factions is assigning probabilities for uncovering specific technologies on per race / faction / empire basis. Swords of the Stars did this with great success: one player may have an 80% chance of uncovering "barbed arrows" (just for an example) while other players, due to their races and factions could have a much lower chance of uncovering the tech (lets say around 45%). In order to implement this well though the tech trees would need to be expanded.
Some final notes
Wow, it's almost 4:30 AM here. Hopefully the above text makes sense! I definitely didn't intend to go this in-depth. Just a few other small things I wanted to bring up:
- New Trait: pierced mind: ability, sovereign sacrifices up to 100 mana, and in turn receives 10 magic research points (10 mana to 1 point). Abilities takes a long time to recharge.
- New Traits: spell focus. Sovereign selects 1 spell book type (fire, death, etc). All spells from said book use 15% less mana when cast by the sovereign and do +15% damage.
- Warstaff: this weapon is seriously overpowered.
Well that's it. Congrats on making it to the end.