Elemental: War of Magic

Elemental is a fantasy strategy game set on a world filled with magic and ancient lore. Rule a fledgling kingdom and expand it across the world through a combination of magical power, military might, diplomatic skill, technological advancement and bold adventuring.

As sovereign, you begin as the only being in your kingdom still able to channel power from the shards of magic, a series of mystical artifacts left over from the cataclysm.
You must decide how much of your power to imbue into your heroes as you build new cities, explore dungeons, perfect spells of ever increasing power and negotiate with friends and foes.
Victory can be yours through conquest, magical supremacy, diplomatic alliances or the completion of the master quest.

Over the years, the 4X genre (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate) seems to have fallen into disregard, which doesn’t seem as a good idea (economically speaking) nor entirely deserved, if we are to look at the acclaimed titles that delighted us over the years. Stardock is one of the few remaining companies which has not abandoned all hope for this genre, and judging by their latest titles, it’s refreshing to see a developer that listen to its fans, appreciates gameplay above profit and still manages to release commercially successful titles. However, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and unfortunately, Elemental: War of Magic is a very good example for this.

The producers call it a strategy game in an RPG environment and true to their word, there are plenty of features from both lineages. The gameplay revolves around building strongholds, gathering resources and conquering enemies, but there are also detailed units and a main story. If you will get past the clichés and the rather over-inflated text descriptions, you’ll discover the story of the human-titan war, which led to the appearance of the Magic Shards into this world. The player can control any of the eight human-like races in order to gather as many shards as possible and rule the land. I said human-like because in fact, only four of the races are completely human, while the others are simply corrupted life-forms, yet visually they all look alike, which is to say, pretty dull.

Each faction is designed with its own set of advantages and disadvantages, although some only have upsides, since these traits are not game-breaking. Besides, in the race creation screen it’s pretty easy to eliminate all the negative features, which makes the entire system questionable. Everything starts with selecting a sovereign, which will represent both the king and the initial exploration and fighting force, at least until more advanced units become available.
He will also be responsible for creating the capital and the location must be well-thought of, since it will determine which resources in the immediate vicinity can be extracted. These cities can also level-up as they grow in size and boast a bigger number of inhabitants, extending their influence area and thus able to harvest more resources. However, the entire resource system seems to be ill-designed, considering how many types there are. We can grow food, mine materials, gold, metals, crystal, elementium and mana, not to mention diplomatic capital and the magic shards (of different colors, mind you).
Most of these resources can only be used for only thing, and you will often find yourself swimming in one type of resource, while another type needed to build something cannot be found at all. Sometimes a crystal mine, for example, does not appear at all on the map, while on other occasions, there’s really no need to look for the best site for building a city, since some resources seem to appear randomly, from time to time, pretty much everywhere.
The building list for the cities is somewhat limited, as you can construct housing for the citizens and a bunch of other structures which seem to have the same effect: bonuses to different resources and research points. There is also a trading system available, involving caravans that travel either between your own towns or to an ally’s, but they can become obsolete due to the almost inevitable economic welfare.

Aside from the Sovereign there are also the so-called Champions roaming the strategic map, which are in fact RPG-type characters which can level-up and increase their stats. Most offer some sort of economic bonus to the city they are stationed in (which we don’t really want) and they can also be useful in battle as casters, but aside from that they are not really much better than regular units.
The Sovereign is not only a founder of cities, but also a father to other Champions, should you chose to find him a wife from either the wandering Champions or the daughter of one of your allies. A funny feature, if anything, since our Sovereign is either well-endowed or capable of making love with some distance-denying magic, since it’s not required for the young bride to travel with the Sovereign in order to have children. These younglings will become, in time, Champions of their own, and can be used in battle as royal-blooded cannon fodder.
In fact, there is an entire chapter for the whole Dynasty business, but the entire system seems to be somewhat of an afterthough, considering there’s really no need to care about the offsprings, since the king never seems to, you know, grow old, and therefore you don’t need to worry about that moronic Champion who will inherit the throne once the old man bites it.

Speaking of regular units, these can be unlocked via specific research and managing them has proved to be one of the few interesting aspects of the game. Also with research you can unlock different types of equipment, such as weapons, armor and even magical jewelry and using these new items you can design your own unit templates, with the cost of each soldier depending on said choices. Furthermore, you can choose to give more experience to new units and even train them to fight as a single group, a very useful feature since grouped soldiers will only take one slot in an army (out of 12) and their attack and defense statistic will be stacked.
Even Champions can purchase newly-discovered gear at the local shop, but the lack of a decent organization in the presentation list will let you swim in a rather endless list of objects by the end of the game.

The combat takes place in a Heroes-like style, with a few details that come to spoil the entire experience. First of all, there is a slight delay at the end of each combat animation, caused by the game engine, which lets you stare at the units for a few seconds instead of just moving on. Secondly, all units have action points, determined by experience level and equipment, but the algorithm behind these points seems odd.

For example a unit with six action points can move just as many hexes, attack three times or cast a single spell, but you will find that if you use only 5 points, with the remaining action point you may still attack or cast a spell, which are actions that are more costly. As such, any strategic consideration is thrown out the window and soon enough you’ll be grateful for that auto-resolve button.
Especially since there is plenty of creatures on the strategic map which provide a good hunting ground for increasing unit experience and uncovering lost treasures. The city fights are pretty much the same as open-ground ones, since the defending units always position themselves outside the city-walls (although they do receive a small defensive bonus), but overall the combat experience proved to be boring.

The producers did try to spice things up a bit on the strategic map with the addition of quests, but again you are left with the feeling that they have tried too hard and accomplished little of what they set out to do. There are a few quests available, but without mentioning their lack of imagination, debatable rewards or any challenge whatsoever, the system itself is very strange.
Basically, each faction needs to… qualify for starting a quest or even attacking a NCP, because first it must obtain the required Notable, NPC and Quest level. Without mentioning that I found it quite strange to NOT be able to attack whoever I want, when I want, or try out any quest (even though I might fail miserably) it is not entirely clear how I can increase those levels. Sure, fighting monster will increase my NPC level, but how many monsters do I need to slay for the next ding? And the Notable level is increased by research, but which research in particular, since there isn’t an explicit one?
If the regular research is rather vital for discovering new unit types and items, the same cannot be said about magic. There are five schools, one for each color, plus a few extra books available, but the number of spells is very small. And the oddities do not stop here, as you can research spells levels up to 15 or so (I lost my patience thereafter) but you stop discovering new spells from about level 5, while the known spells did not increase in power or anything like that, which begs the question: why research any more spell levels? And even if you manage to discover all the spells in-game, there is very little usefulness to them all, since their effects become obsolete pretty quickly against advanced units. You can even say that the magic system in Elemental: War of Magic is actually the major disappointment of the game.

Unfortunately, the graphics don’t manage to do much regarding immersion. Usually, games that are trying to look different go for either a cartoonish look (but this requires some sort of humor in the entire concept) or choose a concept-art type of visual (which calls for a decent artist). Elemental has opted for something I can only call concept-cartoon, where the characters have vague, unimpressive lines and the faces lack any kind of features. And not just the units have this blank expression, pretty much everything looks grey and depressive, as if it was painted on the side-walk.
I agree that strategy games are not supposed to be fabulous in terms of graphics, but I can’t recall another game that made me sad by just using the wrong colors. In fact, the only good thing that can be said about the visuals is the impressive zoom level, from the town centre to the world view, a handy little feature that works just fine. And in such conditions the only merit of the sound is that is discreet and overall ok.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Elemental: War of Magic is the amount of work that was poured to it. We have a long single-player campaign, tons of lore (of debatable quality, but that’s another matter), a skirmish mode which contains every feature that is required, plus multiplayer and race designing options. Furthermore the modding options are vast and fully supported by the producers, from creating new maps to managing new items and even new spells with their own visual effects.
On the other hand the diplomacy, AI and the magic system are completely lacking. The multiplayer promises up to 16 players on the same map, but on the official servers I found only one player: myself. As a result, I couldn’t even test this feature because and I was left with a buggy single-player which still suffers from random crashes and mid-game slow-downs. And all this on the 1.1 version of the game, which comes with an impressive list of changes and updates, judging by the length of the changelog.
Out of respect for Stardock, I will stop here, because it’s hard for me to imagine how a decent developer has allowed such a product to be released in this state, with little connection to the term of entertainment.

0 comentarii:

Trimiteți un comentariu


Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites