I've posted elsewhere in these fora that my two favorite 4x games of all time are Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (SMAC, released in 1999) and Fall From Heaven 2 (FFH2, a fantasy mod that runs on top of and vastly improves Civ4). I happened to hook a monitor up to one of my headless 'hanger queen' computers in my office and discovered that FFH2 was still installed on it. I hadn't played FFH2 in many months, mostly because I had actual work to do, but I thought, "I'll just fire up a quick game." Finally staggered upstairs to bed around 2 am, remembering why I liked FFH2 so much (and why I had to put it away for a while).
It was also interesting to play FFH2 after having played EWOM heavily for the past week or so. Here are a few things I noticed:
-- As others here have noted, the EWOM landscape is dull, both visually and functionally. I know this is a post-apocalyptic setting, but that should be an opening for craziness (think "Damnation Alley", but with magic), not mile after mile of the same old same old. To a certain extent, this was a weakness in SMAC as well, but SMAC was released over a decade ago and had a lot of other things going for it (see below).
-- Both FFH2 and SMAC have a set of unique landmarks/features in the landscape that provide an incentive to search them out and colonize near them (or, in a few cases, away from them). Ownership/control of some of those features, particularly in FFH2, can have a real influence on the balance of power and the resulting strategy & tactics. There's nothing like that in EWOM, which simply intensifies the blandness of the landscape.
-- SMAC, like EWOM, allowed increasing degrees of terraforming, but it was a much slower tech climb to get them, and there were usually adverse consequences (e.g., attacks by worms, changing weather patterns with impact on farming, melting the global ice caps and causing floods, etc.). In EWOM, the terraforming spells come pretty quickly, are relatively cheap, and can be used with absolute impunity. As I've said elsewhere in the fora, heaven help us when the AIs start using terraforming spells against us.
-- Both FFH2 and SMAC do an outstanding job of making the different NPC factions feel different. FFH2, in particular, shatters the near-interchangeability of the Civ4 factions and forces you to think of some really different approaches to victory depending upon the faction you choose (or are playing against). SMAC, through its clever use of quotes, background material, voice talent, and in-game video clips, did a better job of making each of the factions seem like real living (if archtypical) individuals than any other game I've played. As for EWOM, well, to quote Sting, "they all look like game show hosts to me." Not literally, but the pre-created NPC factions are pretty much at a Civ4 level of variation, and the interactions with them are canned, dull, and limited.
-- And while I'm at it: the logical inconsistencies of player v. NPC interactions in EWOM are annoying at times. Case in point, I'll get a pop-up box from another ruler saying, "Hey, think about having our kids marry each other"; I'll go immediately to the Dynasties interaction menu, and the same ruler will say, "Why would I let my kids marry yours?" Unless Stardock is trying to model passive-aggressive behavior, that's just bad programming.
-- FFH2 and SMAC (and GC2): random events. EWOM: not so much. Now, I'm not always a big fan of random events -- or, perhaps better said, I'm not a big fan of certain kick-over-the-table random events (such as the Dread Lords showing up) -- but I usually keep them turned on anyway. And smaller events, good or bad, provide another source of conflict/opportunity apart from the AIs.
-- FFH2 and SMAC: shipping technology, ship design, ocean resources and harvesting, and ocean-dwelling creatures. EWOM: a single transport design (with annoying behavior), sterile oceans, and the inability to board/disembark units except at a handful of spots. (Yes, I'm familiar with the Erosion spell, but not all factions get terraforming.)
-- FFH2 and SMAC: randomly distributed goodies (with some risk), but any faction can grab them and they tend to vanish over time. EWOM: goodies _increase_ over time (if you research Adventure) and can become almost embarrassing plentiful under certain circumstances. This is not a blanket criticism of EWOM's approach -- I can see the game design intent and logic -- but the implementation feels unbalanced and at times descends into a "Monty Hall" situation.
-- FFH2 and SMAC: unit upgrades. EWOM: nope.
-- FFH2: barbarian cities. I always play FFH2 with barbarian cities turned on.
All that said, I think that EWOM has a lot of promise. I really like the tactical approach to battle (though, as others have noted, there could be some improvements/changes with LOS, order of battle, zone of control, and so on); it is (for me) a much more satisfactory approach to combat than the dueling stacks of SMAC/Civ/FFH2/etc. (I haven't played Civ5.) But, as others have noted, it seems like a game framework in search of an actual game design. Here's hoping we see the game itself emerge. ..bruce..