Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Way to Milk Your Fans, Stardock

I’ve been following the progress of Elemental: War of Magic for quite a bit because I enjoy 4X games and I absolutely loved Master of Magic. My happiness when I finally got the game quickly turned into something very close to disgust though after playing it for a bit. The bugs, crashes, and horrendous performance almost hid the fact the the game actually isn’t very good in the first place.

Ignoring gameplay for a minute, what flabbergasts me most is the fact that the game’s performance on my computer is very close to unplayable. Keep in mind that this is a turn based strategy game with few animations that really doesn’t look good at all. The game would have been absolutely fine with two dimensional sprites, but Stardock chose instead to use a 3D engine for no purpose whatsoever. There’s nothing in the game that requires the third dimension and when you want any form of strategic view you won’t even realize that you are looking at 3D at all. I get that 3D is pretty standard today, but if you are as bad at programming / using a 3D engine as Stardock’s developers apparently are, you really should reconsider that.

"ugliest visuals since finger-painting class" - 1UP

Performance aside, the game is generally programmed terribly. Even after multiple patches it still has reproduceable crashes, pointless deadlocks, and terrible AI. The computer keeps sending its units piecemeal into my armies instead of combining them and crushing me. Or well, it would crush me if it wasn’t for the fact that the AI is even less intelligent during the tactical combat portions of the game and can easily be kited around the battlefield forever.

So their programmers are terrible and it will take a while for them to patch the game enough to get it actually playable. That is something I could live with, if the game itself was any good. But it isn’t. If you do get the game, don’t start out with the campaign. It is one terribly long-winded map with multiple choke points which only let you pass after completing arbitrary tasks. Worst of all, the map is almost void of quests, resources, and roaming monsters and the whole thing just a really boring experience. Personally, I didn’t manage to finish the campaign (and then a patch broke all the save games, so there.)

The skirmish games are where the meat of the game is at and they can actually be fun for a little while. You build your empire 4x style while wandering around with your sovereign and her army, completing quests, recruiting new adventurers, and of course dealing with enemy nations. There is a lot of theoretical complexity in the game that could really make it outstanding but somehow fails completely. You can design your own units Master of Orion style, handing them different equipment that you have previously researched. This sounds interesting, but really just reduces units to pure stats and takes away individuality. I want technological breakthroughs to give me access to new and exciting units and not simply the same unit with +2 attack. You can also design the appearance of your units and the look of their icons, which only serves to confuse you when playing a second game and your standard infantry suddenly looks different.

Elemental's research system. Nicely complicated, alas completely boring.

Speaking of units, the combat system is also awful. Your units have 2 relevant fighting stats – attack and defense – which together determine the chance to hit and the amount of damage dealt. A unit with high defense can deal with almost any amount of units with low attack value because it just never gets hit. What makes this really terrible is that there is a technology that allows you to create groups of units. When you do, their individual stats are simply added together creating something that is way more powerful than the same amount of units individually. If you have a group of three units with 5 attack and 5 defense you can kill pretty much any amount of individual 5/5 enemies because your unit with its 15 attack will always hit through their defense and they never through yours. In my experience it is enough to quickly research that technology and a bit of weapons and armor, create a couple of unit groups and conquer the whole world before the AI gets around to creating those groups itself.

If you remember Master of Orion, you might remember that there were fields of study for researchers and that you could normally just research one technology within such a field. Some races would be able to get them all and some would only get a random one. Either way, this added an interesting level of decision making to the game. In Elemental there are different fields as well which at each level have certain technologies you can pick from. Each advance in a field makes further advances in that field more expensive to research so that it is beneficial to switch between fields a bit. This also means that you absolutely can research every technology on a specific level, but that would mean making all following discoveries more expensive.

What sounds interesting in theory is pretty lame in practice as I found myself paying almost no attention to the whole thing. The technologies are boring, tech-trees cannot be seen in advance, and I was usually able to generate so many research points that the increase in research cost was negligible. Unlike in, say, Civilization games, technology felt so unimportant that I wasn’t even tempted to trade it with other civilizations at any point. Speaking of trading, the computer players would approach me from time to time with “Hey, shouldn’t we draft up some treaties” type messages, but whenever I tried to do so completely refused to agree to any treaty I offered. I was even willing to offer them some non-aggression pacts but they would have none of it. Which only lead to their demise. Computer players also randomly declared war on me but then didn’t attack, giving me enough time to raise an army and eliminate them.

Well, this has been going on long enough so I won’t even go into the atrocious UI or the fact that magic and hero units are utterly irrelevant throughout the game. Elemental: War of Magic is a collection of terribly executed good ideas, loosely strung together without sense or purpose. Even today, Master of Magic (and Orion) are strictly better games than what Stardock is offering us. Graphics and UI are hardly worse either. Go play them while you wait for Civilization V for your 4x fix.

Privacy Preference Center

Close your account?

Your account will be closed and all data will be permanently deleted and cannot be recovered. Are you sure?