First off I just have to stop and apologize to the devs: They must be going stir crazy with all the feedback lately.
That out of the way... Master of Magic was (and arguably still is) a great game. It wasn't balanced in the sense that armies vs spells vs heroes were all equally weighted against each other, it was balanced in that there were mutliple viable methods of beating the game. Even if some of these were broken such as starting the game with stream of life, they weren't overtly stronger than starting with Torin the Chosen, covering the map with undead halfling slingers or doombolting everything with warlocks.
PACING in Master of Magic
Constructed Units were initially better than heroes, leveled passively, had a level maximum and could be trained at higher starting levels with better buildings. What all of this ammounted to is that units had a static inital worth that improved as the game went on, but retained a maximum level of power to prevent this from going out of control. Consequently when armies clashed, they tended to do so at relatively even levels.
Lairs and items always went hand in hand. If you could not clear a lair you could not improve your hero(s). The only lairs that were empty contained resources that would not ammount to an increase in unit strength. The difficulty of lairs and items were also directly linked to one another. Minor battles provided a chance at minor items. Major battles provided a chance at major items. It was controlled to prevent armies that were not already capable of amazing feats from acquiring amazing ammounts of power.
Technology was tied to Buildings in only those cities that contstructed them. If you had a cathedral and war college in one city it meant you could only produce paladins at that city and nowhere else. Additionally buildings took time to construct and pioneers took population, time, and resources setting up new cities. Therefore you could either design one technologically superior city or attempt to cover the map. Neither option was necessarily better than the other, but most importantly both took time.
Research was controlled by holding cities and territory (mana nodes) that grew as your armies became strong enough to clear additional areas, that in turn, tended to be easier as your research expanded to higher level spells.
Magic was controlled by skill levels that grew as your empire acquired new sources and required exponentially more of said resource to grow. Skill determined castable spells per turn, in combat, and was a seperate entity for heroes (that possessed their own). Higher level spells had higher upkeeps, which tended to be researched by the time you had a larger empire and more mana income.
Heroes were initially rare and came in different tiers. You would never obtain a random champion tier hero at the start of the game, and you would only rarely recieve a recruit tier hero in the later stages of the game. Heroes leveled passively, improved passively, took time to build to godliness, and had a level cap. As you had a limit to the number of heroes available you often had to chose to retire a hero (that could later join the enemy) if you wanted a new higher tier hero. New heroes always started at level 1, but you kept your items and could immediately deck them out at least somehwat maintaning a balance between enemy heroes.
All of this is not to say that the game was perfect. Eventually all you did was wander around the map with your 6 heroes of doom, but it took time to get there. As the maps tended to be large it was also near impossible to defend all your cities with a singular stack of units, forcing you to decide if you wanted to split up your heroes or construct units for defense.
The question now is, what is Fallen Enchantress going to do that is BETTER than this game. What is the vision this game is taking? Allow me to summarize what direction I feel this game is headed and areas for improvement.
This is not what the game is currently, just where it seems to be heading.
PACING in Fallen Enchantress
Constructed Units improve with technology to possess better armor ratings, better attack, and more unique traits and are on par with champions of an equal level.
Problems with this current setup: Empires that fall behind in technology are very unlikely to be able to compete, even if by a single tech. Units are highly unlikely under this system to ever acquire levels that compare to a static adventuring group, making fighting battles only viable with a 'stack of doom'
1. Constructed units recieve passive xp, have a level cap, and are trainable at (or close to) level cap later in the game, encouraging same level army clashes.
2. Unit Technoloy is:
A: Controlled by buildings
B: Achievable via different paths (such as spell enchantments, global morale, or simply more income)
C: Limiting to the number of 'teched up' units fieldable at once
Lairs and items are better balanced with a risk and reward mechanic, providing minor gear for minor victories and major gear for major victories.
Problems with this current setup: There are limited 'goodie huts' scattered around the world making properly equipped heroes a roll of the dice. Eventually these huts become worthless as you acquire better gear from other sources.
1. Champions start with appropriate, non-adjustable gear. What I mean is that if I hire a mage, he has clothes (and always clothes), an assassin, leathers, and a warrior, hides. Additionally they should start with appropriate weapons (staff, dagger,bow,spear, etc). Initially champions do not start out naked and are useful out the door but due to not being able to change weapons/armor do not advance at a rediculous rate.
2. Goodie huts (and other monsters) have a chance to drop upgradable gear pieces, that can be used to improve damage, defense, stats or whathaveyou a number of times based on current tech/magic level.
Research gets brought in line to correctly finish up the tech tree by the time the game is finished, allow for refinements to be researched, and maybe expand upon some of the available research options.
Problems with this current setup: The refinement technologies prevent the game from coming to a definitive halt, are too numerous, spread out oddly, and have imbalanced effects. The current method of research seems out of sync with itself (do I want to research armor techs from the warfare tree or do I want to research blacksmithing from the civics tree - wait what?) and doesn't lend much to the idea of specializing in any one tree.
1. Remove refinement techs entirely or make them one singular tech with numerous small bonuses and an at increasing cost that requires -all- techs be researched first.
2. Research is:
A: Reduced to a single tech tree containing mutliple branches and links in appropriate places
B: Split into two trees (warfare and magic) that affect pacing by an equal ammount (though in different ways) and do not require one or the other to advance, but are capable of synergizing with each other in a manner that is balanced with researching one path exclusively.
C: A giant pinata that derek and brad kick until candy falls out ..
Magic is adjusted so that the production values are of multiples much higher than they are currently (allowing for maintainance of enchantments) and starts initially higher or with lower cast ammounts for mage soveriegns/champions. Casters have a limit to mana pool during combat based on intelligence and mana is a shared empire resource. Spellcasters use their own skill trats to determine castable spells.
Problems with this current setup: There is no limitation to the number of overworld spells that can be cast other than the number of capable mages. Mages that base their spells on their own traits are just as likely to imbalance the game as a warrior with an uber blade.
1. Casters require the spell cost divided by their mana limit (possibly modified by buildings) number of turns to cast the spell, recieve and appropriate ammount of xp after casting ths spell and either
A: Must remain stationary
B: Consume their combat mana limit
2. Spells are unlocked (or reduced in mana consumption) via research
Champions are increased in rarity, gaurded by armies and/or found via quests, are initially balanced with trained units/armies and contain a much more varied and more controlled random set of trats on level up. Injuries are better balanced to be hindering but not devastating. Moves and tactical moves are adjusted to better fit the game mechanics.
Problems with this current setup: There are limited champions throughout the game world but an unlimited roster, unfairly biasing towards empires that rush across the map. Regardless of what starting point champions have versus other units, the ability to infinately level is game-breaking, especially on larger maps, meaning champion stacks of doom will still be the optimal route. Even if the traits are expanded to cover a more controlled range of abilities, it still means that luck is largely contributing to the success or failure of the hero. Additionally heroes that are designed from a random generic pool of traits are not memorable.
1. Provide a more balanced distribution of champions by either
A: Imposing a Limit to the number of hired champions
B: Allowing a building/unit/someothermechanic to grant a chance to find a champion based on how many are currently employed
C: Allow a set of unique quests per faction to acquire new champions
2. Impose a (hard or soft) level cap on champions. This can be done in two different ways:
A: The level cap is the same as regular units, and each champion is roughly as strong as 1-2 equally leveled and equipped trained units
B: The level cap is higher than regular units and each champion is as strong as 2-3 level capped and equally equipped units, but if another equally leveled champion is in the opposing army, the morale boosts army units back to a value as listed in A.
3. Champions are all unique and possess their own rate of stat increases per level and at certain levels get to choose a trait that boosts what they are designed to do even better. There are no random draws and stats improve automatically. Traits are typically unique abilities rather than stat increases. -ALL- champions addtionally provide a 'morale' boost to the regular units of the army they are in that does not stack with other champions and is based upon their level. The champion is fully capable of taking any actions he/she would normally be able to at their full strength.
Now then, the question comes down to:
How to make this better than Master of Magic?
The end game of master of magic was never balanced. After your heroes achieved godlike status (yes that was actually what the level was called) and had a rediculous plethora of items equipped there was nary that could stop them. Additionally there were only a few viable optioins in master of magic to compete with each other.
Fallen enchantress can be better by
1. Making mutliple viable balanced routes to win the game all with a unique feel to them.
I want to be able to create a 'quick' 'tiny' faction that focuses on ranged units and have just as much a challenge going against a strong magic wielding faction focusing on champions. Caster soveriegns should not only be viable but competitive with melee and ranged. Standing armies and cities sprawls should be competitive with using summoned creatures casting spells from my single tower of doom.
2. Making tactical combats fun and varied using abilities from personally crafted units
Let me enter a forest square filled with impassable oaks and rough foilage, and jeer at the enemy using my archers with 'snipe' to bypass obstacle bonuses and my footmen with 'tireless' that ignore terrain penalties. Or let me stand my guardian unit in the middle of my city walls unnafected by the wall of fire because of his flame armor and fire resistance trait.
3. Making the world vibrant and alive
Create zones of control for various monster 'factions' that spawn in units far from civilized areas and slowly creep towards your empire as you gain confidence in your expansion. I love the neutral monster faction mechanic! Let's see more of these. Spread out tough monters farther away from player spawn points. Make me deal with the wolves and bandits before braving the shrill and fire elemental lairs.
4. Making the AI react to your victory (idea stolen from sean3w ^^
When you are coming close to reaching the goal line the computer players or the game world should react accordingly. As you ally with like-minded factions, neighboring factions might ally against you, but might be just as likely to attempt an alliance victory of their own (hey you aren't attacking them now right?). If you are attempting to cast the spell of mastery the AI needs to declare war and hunt out your shards to cancel the spell. If the victory conditions are meant to be unique, make the resulting responses to these victory types unique as well.
There are probably many more things that can be done, but the game in it's current state does not feel close to being ready. If this is at 77% I am worried =x
I suppose at the end of all of this I really want to know the 'vision' of fallen enchantress: What did you intend it to be?