Stardock, you're getting down to the end of development, and I don't know if you've really answered this question. WHY are cities in this game? What do they provide that you aren't throwing at the player in wads and piles from the open wilderness? They certainly aren't the only means to success, equipment, or money. The only "vital" purpose they really seem to serve is to provide a fail-safe for if your Sov should happen to die, and that's really only likely early in the game. Once you scavenge a few goodie huts, cherry pick some lairs, and apply some appropriate caution, you're really pretty safe without. Goodie huts provide such a fountain of resources beyond what cities are capable of providing for your sov, that cities are redundant, a drain on your sov's time and energy and a boat anchor on his progress. They are just a thing you have to babysit, and they need more from your sov than they provide for him, because all the stuff he can pillage from the world easily, more than sufficiently equips him, protects him, and makes him capable of demolishing anything and everything that he comes across, and in a surprisingly short amount of time.
I've noticed the last few games that I've played, there's just no impetus to create cities. And even when you do, they are a fully seperate entity from your sov after that point. They don't provide him with anything vital. There are no dangers in the wilderness that he can't tackle without them, given enough time and the proper equipment. Troops aren't "needed". Gildar isn't "needed". Crystal and iron isn't "needed". Horses, wargs, influence, every single thing a city can produce, none of it is "needed" by your sov to function fully autonamously. Once your sov plunks his first city down and sets off into the wilderness, you are essentially playing two different, hardly connected games at once. On the one hand, you are playing a turn based action rpg-lite with your sov, and on the other hand you are playing a city building sim-lite, and the two really never need meet.
Sure, once in a while your sov might need to run back to protect your city building game from getting some of his rpg on it, but for the most part you are playing two seperate games that just happen to be co-existing in the same sandbox, and the sov can win the RPG game without the city. I just finished doing it. Medium sized map, 5 opponents, world and opponent AI set to Hard, monsters set to dense, all other settings on medium/balanced/defaults. Conquest victory. Could easily have pursued master quest.
Here you can see how my population only budges at the very end of the game when it was nessecary for me to briefly hold cities long enough to raze them.
And here is the fully populated graph
Here is the world before and after I took Tarth's final city in the lower right corner, so you can see I had no other cities on the map. Forgive the extreme size needed for the detail. I did keep a few outposts that happened to have attached shards, but I honestly didn't end up needing them in the slightest. Stoneskin + Regen carried me easily through the whole game. I eventually cast natures cloak (the elemental protection spell) and once cast blindness, but that was all, magic was generally unnessecary.
The details on my Sov at the end of the game:
Ended up with both path of the warrior and assassin, crushing blow, sweep, double strike. A champion's spear + the piercing% level 2 skill. I was auto-resolving against essentially everything without fear, wearing just that crappy armor. Ivory helm, reinforced chain shirt, some junk leather, a darkling cloak, longstriders. The brief periods of time I held towns before razing them were enough to rush through the magic tree to get me tireless march. Potential 3 and Trainer 3 helped pack on levels, and by the mid 20s, most of the content was easily trivialized. I cleared the entire map of monsters, lairs, and quests. You can see my 55 faction prestige as a result of having the heroic faction perk. For the 5 turns I did have to hang on to cities before razing them, they grew like crazy.
And here's my final ranking:
I love this game. Please don't misunderstand me. But, Derek. Brad. Jon. If you don't see this as a problem, you are sticking your collective heads in the sand. If you are trying to make a genre defining 4x game where you can beat it -- not only beat it but *STEAM ROLL* it -- on one of the higher difficulty settings with one (1) unit and zero (0) cities, something is WRONG. This is related to the problem where there is no impetus to build trained units, but this is a deeper symptom. This is indicative of a core flaw in the game. There is zero, ZERO need to settle a city, to grow your empire, to design units, to make anything, to research, to build, to expand. Your cities exist to.... make gold to build buildings to generate research points to research new buildings that make gold and generate research? What a meaningless loop. Beyond that the don't need meaningfully interact with your god-sov and his rampage of the countryside. In fact even trying to is a less efficient way of winning the game, as it just introduces more weaknesses.
Guys, you need to think about why this is, and what can be done to make these two games, the RPG and the city building sim into one game - Fallen Enchantress.