This post might belong in the Future Games thread but since it deals with the Elemental universe I'll post it here.
So now that the Sorceror King has been out for some time and assuming that Legendary Heroes is finished the question remains, what next for Stardock in the fantasy tbs genre.
Personally I think Legendary Heroes was the strongest of the 4 games so far. War of Magic was a starting point that Fallen Enchantress improved upon but Legendary Heroes was really where things started to shine. I haven't played Sorceror King but it strikes me as an in-depth scenario rather then a sandbox TBS so it isn't quite in the same genre.
Personally I think Legendary Heroes could have another full expansion, there's tonnes more content that could be added but I don't think there will be any further work on it. Legendary Heroes got some pretty solid reviews however I think one tragedy is that the big 2.0 patch barely got any recognition. Ironically it seems like expansion packs get more attention even though the customer has to buy them. So it seems like if 2.0 was a bit larger in content and sold as an expansion even for $5 it probably would have helped advertise the game a bit more. Consider the attention that Civ 5 Brave New World got...
Nonetheless Legendary Heroes has its fair share of imperfections and computer technology has evolved a long way since then so perhaps starting fresh is a way to continue the genre.
The original War of Magic was focused on rebuilding the world after the Cataclysm. The post cataclysm world was envisioned as being sterile and lifeless until the player restores it.
The follow-up games Fallen Enchantress & Legendary Heroes toned the barren world down a notch to make the world more interesting and interactive - a decision I think was correct.
The post cataclysm world is interesting concept but I don't think it lends itself too well to the fantasy genre (the wildlands was a fantastic idea though). Having chaos or dead zones is certainly one way to solve this. Nonetheless a barren world is probably better suited to SciFi genre then fantasy.
So my thought is this. The next game in the Elemental universe would be set before the Cataclysm. Perhaps leading up to it? Perhaps a twist of fate could be that the Spell of Making/Mastery may even trigger the global cataclysm which could be the ending cutscene. That could certainly be an interesting position for the player to essentially become a god and unleash powers to destroy the world.
A key feature of the new game would be the addition of mythological races, if that doesn't fit in the canon then we could place the timeline for the new game at an earlier age in the Elemental universe.
Perhaps a title along the lines of...
Elemental: Primordial World
For this iteration I'd propose the following features/changes from the current Elemental games...
1) Introduce fantasy races. The Post-cataclysm world is human dominated.
However there are other fantasy races, i.e. darklings as well as monsters and mythological animals.
I think we'd need to see elves, dwarves, orcs, lizardmen, draconians, etc... The reason why these don't exist in the War of Magic timeline? Well possibly we are now on a different continent or those races disappeared in the cataclysm or at an earlier point in time. The human races ended up pretty decent in Elemental but I think a new game would need to do something different.
2) re-think army creation for units. The problem now in Elemental is that almost all your armies are going to look the same. You simply give your armies the best equipment you have available from a linear tech tree. And you'll probably use the same equipment during every game with every race. So one ultimately asks does customising your unit design really add to the game? It's a great experience at first but it is almost always the same units you'll be creating...
On the flip side giving each race have its own defined units, weapons, tactics and abilities lets the devs customise each race and tailor them to their own strengths and weaknesses? There could be some degree of customisation for the player (you can choose what armor or magic items for units) but it would be a lot easier for game balance to give every race their own defined units.
There could be other ways to upgrade units though, like MoM did with mithril ore. Iron and crystal didn't really add to Elemental. Basically you needed both resources to be able to field an army and both weren't that hard to come by. Ideally you should be able to create an army with standard resources but be able to build a stronger army if you can find a rare resource.
3) Magic and Spells
One thought I had is this - the whole 4 elements - Earth/Air/Fire/Water is getting a bit tired (every fantasy TBS since AOW1 has used this formula) and it has becoming very boring so perhaps we should try something else.
We always know what we're going to get in a Fire Spell book (fire ball and fire elemental etc....)
I'd propose going back to MoMs - Sorcery, Chaos, Nature, Life, Death.
Sorcery, Chaos, Nature simply works a lot better than Earth/Air/Fire/Water because you're not as constrained in the types of spells you can have. I.e chaos is a lot more than a fireball or fire spells, it adopts a deeper philosophy and vision of what the world should look like, same with the other spell trees in MoM. It's not just about the magic and the spells it gets into metaphysics.
In Mom Sorcery gave a player great manipulation over magic - you can't really do this with generic wind & water.... The Sorcery tree was really like the Jedi mind trick, force throws, and other subtle force manipulations that Jedi & Sith would engage in compared to lightsaber duels which required a very different skill set... A great force user could win without having to use a lightsaber - that's the idea...
Chaos is concerned with destroying order and destabilising the world.... Go Meteor Storm and Armageddon...
Nature I suppose counters chaos but it also represents the world being untameable. Thus it also has an element of chaos & unpredictability to it. Typically it involves a heavy focus on summons and taming the world to your purposes... There's a lot more you can do here than with a generic 'Earth' label.
Death - necromancy, curses, zombie apocalypse, skeleton armies, plague etc...
Life - unit buffs, healing and other civ enhancing spells.
Spells need to be a bit less sandboxy too. Elemental has too many fire and forget enchantments... Enchantments are great but they need to have more interesting mechanisms then they do now. Gaia's Blessing is a lot more interesting then Sovereign's Call.
Other spells can work like this;
Bountiful Harvest - Greatly Increase the chance for favorable harvest & reduces the risk of poor harvests.
A favorable harvest would be a random chance per turn to have an increasde harvest yield for x (random) number of turns
The spell would simply modify the RNG for random city events and swing it in the players favor - thus the spell is beneficial but unpredictable and is more interesting then a flat +% growth... It would also halve or at least significantly reduce the chance and/or duration of having a poor harvest...
So at a minimum I'd go for Life, Death, Sorcery, Chaos, Nature
But I'd even add additional new spell schools but leave them for an expansion- something like the High Magic in Warhammer. Picking this spell school would consume extra retorts (player points) but would open the player up to much more powerful spells.
And perhaps some smaller subskills such as Alchemy to allow players to create more powerful items...
The economy was one of the weaker points of the elemental series but LH added Wonders and a lot more interesting things to build so it ended up pretty good regardless.
But one I didn't like having to choose between essence and settling on a river. Particuarly when your city would grow onto an essence tile but you can't access it, same with the river.
Cities need to interact more with terrain otherwise stick with 1 tile cities. The upgrade system (town, conclave, fort) is good but there needs to be a Capital city option top upgrade your first city into.
There needs to be some rare and sought after resources too. LH had plenty of resources but they were either common and essential or not that important.
The map needs an overall. Currently there are too many mountains and canyons and the maps are too cut off from each other. More open maps and more map features, wild zones, neutral cities, lairs, nodes etc...