I'm just going to reiterate what has been mentioned a few times now, and that is that the game feels more and more 'dumbed down' and 'slowed down' to me. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of new things that have been added, but the player has fewer and fewer choices to deal with in the game. While some may think that little minor things like stat points, encumberance, and such did not add any value to the game, I disagree with this assessment.
Why do I disagree? I recently re-installed E:WOM 1.0 and played around with it a bit. Sure, the game crashes a lot, but the game played at a pretty quick pace. There were several reasons for this. One, units were more readily available. Mainly heroes, but in E:WOM cities could walk and chew gum at the same time, so more units were getting produced. THIS is important, because the more units you have to work with, the better smoothing of statistics that comes into play. When you only have a few units, randomness dominates the game more, as a few 'dice rolls' can make or break your empire. With more units/stacks at your disposal, recovering from a bad day with lady luck is easier to do, and player skill comes into play more.
Some players cried about 'you need to choose between guns or butter', but I still don't buy this argument. Not everyone in your city is a skilled armorer. In fact, your stone masons probably aren't useful at all in crafting armor, but are great at building buildings. And your sages probably aren't that helpful in stone masonry, but they don't need to be as they have their own disciplines. A compromise on this would have been to give a 50% bonus to a city engaged in only building or only troop training. But by doing both, gameplay pacing improves considerably, as you can get more units in play, hence increasing your strategic options (remember the AI is doing the same, so you have more enemy stacks to face), and again smoothing out randomness.
In fact, as a related example, Galactic Civilizations DOES allow planets to build both ships and planetary improvements at the same time, and gives you a bonus if you focus a planet on building or research. And you could do this on a planet by planet basis, on the fly so to speak. The result is that more ships are in play, again giving you more decisions to make, instead of a few make or break decisions, and giving you that immersive 'feel' of running a vast interstellar empire.
Also, back in the old days when we could tweak stats, we had several decisions to make. This has been detailed already, but to recap, you had some choices. more toughness? Higher attack strength? Higher dodge? Higher speed? More movement points? Some combination of the above? This allowed you to fine tune the customization of your heroes to whatever role you had in mind for them. Also, as you had a larger pool of heroes available (for a fee of course), you could build 'parties' of heroes, in multiple stacks.
And, we had individual mana pools. Yeah, some of you are all about the global mana pools, but this makes spellcasting and gameplay 'lazier' IMHO. The individual mana pools forced you to manage your magic resources more meticulously, again adding to the immersion of the game. Whereas with global mana, the only question you have now is whether you have mana or not, not which hero currently has mana to spare. This is an excellent example of dumbing down the game.
Plus, with individual mana pools, you could have created a situation where spellcasters came together to cast strategic spells, combining their power for said spells. This would have added to the strategic decisions a player is faced with. Where should my spellcasters congregate to cast that spell, and which units do I pull from other duties to do this?
With the smaller pool of heroes in LH, well your 'party customization' options are limited. Sure, units can do the combat duties, as they always could, but again we lose in the 'immersiveness' of the game.
Don't get me wrong, I like the concept of traits trees. But if we had them ON TOP OF stat points, this would accomplish a few things. It would make heroes incrementally more powerful, and give us some design balance decisions to consider. If we felt a hero was a little weak on his dodge or whatever, we could focus stat points on that, without taking his entire focus off of whatever task at hand (summoner, assassin, etc.).
More decision making is not a bad thing. In fact, some of the best 4x games out there have a LOT of decisions to make, and options to tweak. By removing more and more of these from the player's control, well you lose out on immersiveness.
The one bright point that has always stayed with us, thank goodness, is unit design. I'm specifically referring to weapons and armor in this case, and I do like the traits that go on top of that. Micromanaging stats for run of the mill units is certainly not as desirable, so abstracting these into 'generic level gains' is perfectly fine. But, on that note, one place that could add to game options would be to allow for the creation of 'hero type' units. Such as a solitary mage, ranger, or healer that is added to army stacks to perform some function. These individuals could have a few more stat/design options, but not be as flexible in design as true champions should be.
As for encumberance, yeah I thought it added some immersiveness to the game. I still remember that situation where I was having to shed some weight to wield that really heavy double axe thingie, and ways to increase the amount of weight Bacco could handle so he could even use the thing. This added to the RPG aspect of this game, as I had a problem to solve, and helping Bacco with his problem increased my connection with this character. As others have mentioned, balancing COULD have been accomplished with penalties, and skills to offset those penalties, rather than the either/or we have now. Plus, as you worked to lessen those penalties, you'd feel the unit's (mainly heroes) effectiveness increase, again giving you a problem/reward mechanic adding to the immersiveness of the experience.
A 4x game should be immersive, and there are plenty of other games out there that fall short in this aspect, by not providing players with a lot of choices to begin with. Sure, you can overdo immersiveness with 'option overload', but I don't think LH is anywhere close to that threshold currently. I don't think E:WOM was ever at that threshold, but I've felt the game design retreat r.e. immersiveness with each patch and iteration.
Someone recently couldn't understand why I would want to pick an earlier patch, instead of the latest patch. It is BECAUSE a feature I personally liked was removed by some earlier patch, and I wanted that feature back, and was willing to deal with more instability to GET that feature back. As we don't have a patch library where we can do this, I'm pretty much stuck between 'vanilla' and 'latest version'. I personally think that E:WOM got worse IMHO when the focus went away from just tweaking balance and towards changing how some game concepts worked. Sure, we got some new toys and interface tweaks, but the overall pacing slowed down, hence dragging out the game more than I think it needed to be.
And LH drags as well. Fast pacing should be exactly that. I guess in some players mind I'm asking for extremely fast pacing, but by getting more units and features in play sooner, objectives can be accomplished more quickly, and hence more objectives can be accomplished in a given time span. Some of us don't like playing for days all the time (that's what the 'epic' setting is for), and might want to be able to finish a game in less than 8 hours occasionally. This gives us more time to go back and try the other empires, again adding to the replayability factor and resulting immersiveness. So how is Pariden different than Tarth and the other empires? And what about those custom empires, how are those comparing? By being able to complete a game sooner, assuming there is enough backbone there, you will want to try out more of the options. But if it's taking you weeks between new games, well at some point you just lose interest, and abandoning a scenario because it's taking too long to get the reward for all your work I think lessens your desire to replay the game.
But if you have a lot of 'well, if I had done this instead of that' decisions during a game, well then you have reasons to replay in the first place. But the fewer of those choices you have, the less reason you have to replay over and over.
Wow, I wrote another essay on the subject...