You know, this post got me thinking about a couple of things that may make the game a lot more fun and interesting - at least to me. Because I have to agree, by the time the game gets into mid-to-late game everything is all rinse and repeat and I don't think there is any amount of fine tuning and code tweaking that can fix the problem. The issue persisted with the original War of Magic game, and I fear it will continue to persist onward as a visible flaw in the game's overall design. Sure that may be stating something on the extreme side, but it wouldn't do harm to see whether or not its a true statement.
Another thing that bothered me is the difficulty it took to craft units and build a sizable army that was really meaningful. Units were always too weak, took several seasons to build only just one unit, and would always have to take what felt like years to upgrade to the point of even being remotely useful. This factor pigden-holes the player into just dropping the idea of building an army of units and instead just focused on building an army of champions. Champions are everywhere on the map, they are cheap and come with the ability to upgrade into powerful units at no additional cost.
Early game you do not have an abundance of these trained, and often not having a lot of equipment and gear makes monsters and other nations a threat. Yet once your characters begin to advance into level 20 and start to get some pretty solid powers that do tremendous amount of damage -- the whole process snow balls. The game becomes a race to hunting down and upgrading to Wargs as fast as possible - giving your champions insane movement speed. At the meager price of 100g-per-Warg-per-Champ you turn your army into a mobile strike force with Cloud Walk. Toss in a couple of additional units with Compasses, +1 Move boots, and Master Scout and you're exceeding 10+ Moves per turn.
In mid to late, all you need is just one army. But this one army has a huge number of cities to maintain. What might be healthy for the game is to reverse this ratio.
Instead of Champions being positioned around the map to be unlocked and utilized, it may be better if these were Army Units instead. In the old game Lords of Magic I would come across wandering squads all the time. I could open dialogue with them and persuade them to fight for my cause, typically through paying the money. Rarely I would encounter a Champion. I could even talk to units and armies who were working for the enemy nation and also buy them out for the right price. The more loyal they were, the more expensive they would be to buy out.
Currently, I have to admit it but I think the biggest flaw of the game right now is the city building and over abundance of cities you will be developing as the game progresses. This ends up becoming much more of a chore for me, and it's a pain in the ass to try to build forward bases that can't produce units because they are too busy building a Garden on the front lines.
The strongest aspect of Fallen Enchantress is the TACTICAL battle element, not the city building. Sure the City Building is well and good, but it takes a distant back seat to the rest of the game in its current form and feels more like something that hinders the player rather than a boon to aid them. So what I'm about to do is make a suggestion, you are welcome to agree or disagree as you like - but after playing the game this is my honest feedback that I feel might be a nice thing to test.
Reverse the Ratio of City Building v Army Building:
Do away with the current War Research Tree. This feels completely arbitrary, even though it falls in like with the Galactic Civ 2 mind-set. Honestly, this worked in Galatic Civ 2 because the game felt slower paced, especially if you spread your planets and resources across the galaxy. This meant you'd spent a lot of time without actually doing any kind of fighting, and could focus on constructing a lot of research. The game became mostly about managing these planets and setting them to do what you wanted to do, and it worked. Yet Elemental isn't Gal Civ 3, and shouldn't proceed along this path - since this game has quests and constant battles, this is an entirely different beast.
The War Tech Tree hinders the progression of a player's army, especially by forcing some of the most important items way down the line: Additional Army Slots, Increase Sizes of Groups and Squads, Ability to recruit Trolls and Dragons, Ride Wargs -- have all be pushed to the butt end of the progression. This is discouraging to the player, and assumes the game is going to drag out for infinity before any action actually happens. But in reality, the player is fighting from the get go - especially in Fallen Enchantress as larger creatures now dwell closer to home and some even of Deadly/Epic strength and size.
In order to keep up, the player rapidly collects Champions and upgrades them cheaply and effectively - leading us to our current problem. Army Development and City development may be more effective if they were treated as completely different entities in Fallen Enchantress.
Instead of building a city as my forward bases, I'd actually physically build a base. I shouldn't have to train pioneers for this either. My sovereign and champions should be given the power to construct forward bases whenever and wherever I choose. Forward bases can cost me a unit of soldiers to construct and populate instead of having to wait for slow pioneers to crawl across the world to get where I want them to be. Once constructed, the Forward Bases can function like City Building, but require vastly fewer structures and build them far faster.
At the same time while these structures are being build, the Forward Base can produce additional fighting units. Squad Size and Army slots should be available from the start. I should not have to research these options, instead they should offer benefits for making the choice of how many units I want in a team.
Instead of having 3 soldiers in a Squad as a generic basic and 5+ soldiers being the max, the middle option should be the norm and you should have access to all from the start. Like Warhammer Fantasy Battles on the table top, generally the smaller the squad size the more powerful those models were in the squad. Generally the more abundant your models, the weaker your unit was! Take Skaven for instance, their were all about numbers! But they had lots and lots of throw away meat-shield models to throw at the enemy to keep trying the up. Contrary to this Elves had fewer models per unit, making them far more deadly to deal with because they had better trained models that were heavily geared up like near groups of champions rather than junk models.
You make the choice, you can choose to pump out more soldiers early game by choosing the max setting, but they'll be lightly geared and not so effectively trained. Instead if you choose to pick out a fewer number of soldiers produced per squad, they'll be better geared and better trained. There shouldn't really be a limit to how many units you can put into an army, the whole Army Slot idea feels like a big road block to having some pretty fun battles. This feels like a last minute balance issue show horned into, and doesn't seems like a good idea at all.
Forward Bases can also have established defenses that are more advanced than cities. While it's nice that cities have Stone Guardians, I'd personally like Archer Towers myself. So when a city is under attack, these towers can always be manned and start opening fire. Archers on walls, now there is a novel idea.Wonder why you never see it done in Fallen Enchantress. Instead the Archers just sit on the battle field and get nuked. This just doesn't seem like real war.
Why Build a Garden on the Front Line!?
We're at war with the enemy nation two grid spaces away and my new town can only build a Garden? Seriously!? This is my thought when I look at the game. I want to be establishing a launching point for war, a fort with walls, turrets, and likely walls I outline myself instead of having them drawn out automatically by the game.
These should be far more rare and far more special when you come across them. They are golden heros of war! Instead of coming across a dozen around the next foggy corner, I should have to complete quests to earn their favor if they are really cool. This would give me more interest in who they are, especially if their quests come with some sizable back story too.
Additionally, I should be able to create Champions completely from scratch. NOT by researching them and them popping the out of my Forward Bases like normal units - instead by combing through my sizable army and looking for soldiers who seemed to have been performing better than others. Their states show and improvement far better than their peers so I pick out the soldier from the squad and make him/her my apprentice. After a few seasons, they'd have not only developed into a advanced fighters but also become upgradable to Champions once they reach a certain apprentice level. When they reach it, I can gift them Mana and they are reborn into powerful fighters I can name!
With this being said, this means I can turn just about anything or anyone into a Champion. That's right, even that wandering Spider I purchased into a powerful Spider Queen I call Percilla, or maybe train up that baby dragon egg I found and turn him into the White Dragon God of Omens or something like that.
Make it something like a Poke'Mon pet game and you're golden.
Doing away with the War Tech Tree would instead mean you'd need an alternative way to develop your armies abilities. Basic Armor like Leather really shouldn't have to be researched, making defending units that have 0 Def is pretty much a joke. I should be able to have leather from the start, but still be able to choose NO armor if I want. Who knows, I like the idea of creating weak slaves in massive units to send in to try up the enemy for a while - I should be able to do this early game without a hitch.
Weapons are the same. All units should always be fully upgradable, it doesn't seem smart to have to pick and choose whether or not I want them to be flexible or not. I should be able to retire units I don't want anymore within a forward base, retiring units should increase the productivity of the Forward Base and increase the effectiveness of training and damage output from new squads that are produced in that point. Sending in old vets to train newer units seems like a natural thing to do.
If I defeat Trolls and Dragons, I should be able to instantly recruit them regardless of whether or not they are in my zone of influence. If I make them submit, I just tell the game which Forward Base I want them to be deployed from and that Troll/Dragon will then travel to that Forward Base and make an amendment to it. Now I can produce and deploy Trolls and/or Dragons from Forward Bases of my choosing. Same goes for Darklings.
Wargs and horses shouldn't be things I randomly come across. I should also have to locate amendments I can attach. I do like the idea of global sharing of horses and wargs, this really should remain. I just don't like the idea of having to build an outpost near wild wargs. If I encounter wild wargs, I should be able to defeat them and send them back to a Forward Base like the Trolls and Dragons. Horses should just be an upgrade I can research in a Forward Base, but Wargs should be little more special. I should earn Wargs, but not through simple research.
Whatever else can be put into an isolated development tree that Forward Bases can research on their own, completely unique and disconnected from cities.
Give Units Equipables Too!
Why just Champions? If I wanna upgrade my Patrol of Bowmen, allow me to open up an inventory and switch out their gear! Give them better bows, refine their stats and make them just like I want them to be. Having to keep going back in and designing new units and having the game slowly pump them out hinders the fun and the flow. The Design Tool should always be available for units you've made and want to customize on the fly. You should be able to adjust their appearance and retool their gear just by the click of a button and another shop - much like champions are handled! Do this for all units and we've got ourselves a game.
Ultimately, I shouldn't have to build and maintain a lot cities. In fact, I should only have to build a few of these. My flow of incoming soldiers and troops should purely come from Forward Bases. Champions should be quest rewards or trained myself, and War Research may work better if it were kept out of cities too. This may be a good direction to consider, or at least try out in an experiment because honestly I feel Fallen Enchantress is held down by this constant need to build and maintain cities that feel more like a nagging mother by the end of the game rather than a needed resource. Eventually I just forget about them entirely and the game doesn't suffer for it. There has to be a better way to do this.