I have really enjoyed this game so far and think it is doing some unique and interesting things. The best thing about it for me, and the thing that sets it apart from other 4xs, is the feeling of a small group of underdogs against an overwhelming evil force. This, I expect, will only be reinforced when the “gather your allies” aspect is included. This is especially powerful in the medieval fantasy genre as it is the central narrative around which most of the genre focuses. I think there is a design change that could really push this over the top. Have the battle unit be the party rather than the army. The party, a small group of exceptional individuals, is the core of most fantasy literature and almost all fantasy computer and table-top rpgs.
The change is a big one conceptually, but relatively small in terms of game mechanics. Instead of training groups of units, every unit you train will be a single unit. Ideally these units would have a simple skill tree (I’m thinking something like XCOM where they end up with 4-5 traits) that would make them a little more individualized while still being less than champions. This even fits nicely with Elemental Lore as you are playing as the last remnants of the Kingdom of Altar, the faction that can train Henchmen.
Right now, I find the trained units to be the big drag on the game. They are generic and expendable, and just feel like they don’t fit the personality that the rest of the game exudes. I never care about them, even if I have leveled them up. Champions, on the other hand, are really fun. I was lucky enough to get Keplin and Varda on my first play-through, and they both feel appropriately epic, as does Tandis. The feeling they can create, of a few awesome warriors wading through armies of darklings and Trogs, is where this game shines. I urge you guys to go further in that direction. I think it not only accentuates the game’s strengths, but also would really highlight the difference between this game and the glut of good to excellent 4x fantasy games that have hit the market in the last year or so.
Some related ideas:
Champions are great. Earning them through quests is cool, but random. There should be a dependable way to pick up 1 or 2. Maybe a certain building could grant one; or a scripted quest that happens at a certain turn or other easily reachable threshold.
Gaining the Allegiance of a minor faction should grant you a champion from that faction.
I maxed out both Varda and Keplin without too much trouble, a repeatable trait that grants a very small stat boost would be appreciated.