Elemental: War of Magic (PC)
Manufacturer: Stardock Part number: 01080
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Gamespot editors' review
by chrisp339 on August 31, 2010
Pros: Lots of great ideas.
Cons: Not one of the ideas actually works. Crashes constantly. Abysmal game balance. No instructions, tool tips, advice, or tutorial.
Summary: Elemental: War of Magic has a lot going for it. There aren?t many 4x turn based strategy games out there. And there are not any current games that utilize ...
Summary: Elemental: War of Magic has a lot going for it. There aren?t many 4x turn based strategy games out there. And there are not any current games that utilize magic and throw in RPG elements. Sid Meier of Civilization fame often has some sort of alien empire with weird weapons that you can play in a scenario, but War of Magic should have this genre locked down.
There are a lot of great elements to the game. You can marry other characters, produce offspring, and marry them off to improve relations. You can research nifty spells, summon allies, and increase the power of spells through the strategic acquisition of elemental shards. The same is true for soldiers. Your character, and others, can adventure the world finding cash, weapons, and equipment to make the game easier and add depth.
Too bad none of it works. The first major issue are all the crashes. The game crashes when loading saved games or starting new games. Worse, there appear to be memory leaks or graphics issues as a surprising number of Elemental owner get the dreaded blue screen of death and crash-dump errors. Stardock is already up to 1.06 in patches, and these crash issues are still not solved. So, if you don?t mind working through basic inoperability, Elemental in a game for you.
The second major issue is game balance. Human characters are focused on civilization building while the non-human characters focus on war. The problem is that the basic game balances are tilted toward war. As typical of strategy games, larger cities produce things faster, produce more research, and produce more money. The same hold true for Elemental, but with the caveat that all unit production reduces the size of a city. This means that civilizations that are speced out for civilization advances are at a fundamental disadvantage to the ravenous militaristic hordes. The development response to this was to make more housing and larger populations available to the Empires, and to make more powerful military units available to them earlier. If that doesn?t sound all that balanced, well it isn?t. As a human player you will spend all your time building up your military in the hopeless quest of staving off the hordes, while praying that the next advance will be the one to save your skin. And the worst part is that producing a large army of knights depletes your city of hard won population meaning that if these knights are killed, you might as well start a new game.
Meanwhile, should you survive all that long, you start to notice that while you research new technologies, they don?t actually help all that much. High level spells do as much damage as beginning spells, which isn?t much. Acquiring elemental shards doesn?t increase a spells efficacy. Discovering rare metals produces the same troops that you get early game. A scout has an attack of 12, defense 4, and costs 17 guildar to produce. A later built knight has the exact same specs. Researching weapons and magical technology provides minimal effects. Frankly, playing a human empire feels like building the hobbits of the shire with Schmaug the dragon to the East and Sauron and his merciless army to the West both bearing down on you simultaneously. It is much better to play the Empire, but for the fact that there are several other Saurons intent on killing you as well.
Speaking of the monsters, in early game you hero and soldiers march right over them. Later in the game, monsters do horrendous damage and have much higher hit points. So again, since you weapons and spells don?t do much damage those higher hit point monsters are going to pulverize your army. One level five Ogre can do 60-200 points of damage with one swing. That will kill any unit in one hit. And they get two swings. They also swing first.
To add misery, the technology tree is randomized. So if you fail to get farming and marketing early, your cities won?t grow and you won?t have the cash to build armies to stop the hordes. There are few things worse than having great weapons and mineral stockpiles, but no money or population with which to build units.
For so complex a game, one would expect a great manual. Civilization came with a book that one really needed to read in order to get a basic understanding of the game. Stardock has no instructions for Elemental. It reminds me of the joke about the airbag that spits out get-well cards.
Frankly, given the inherent imbalances, I don?t think Stardock can fix Elemental. They would have to rework population subtracts for units, which would make cities level up FAR faster, which would again benefit Empires. Stardock would have to redo many of the technologies and make basic technologies guaranteed or have you start with them (think Civilization having you start with road building, irrigation, and mining). They also need to produce more basic units. Just renaming the same unit isn?t good enough.