Elemental: War of Magic
Really Stardock? Really?!??!?!
Posted 2 years ago By - Jay Acevedo
Civilization, Alpha Centauri and Master of Magic...those three games alone would have held me back in high-school and never let out of my room if I didn’t have basketball to draw my attention away from my PC. Even though real-time strategy games made me put 4X games aside for a few years (until Civilization IV showed up), they will always have a special place in my heart. A good friend of mine introduced me to Stardock’s Galactic Civilizations and while it never managed to catch my interest as much as the aforementioned classic titles did, I was more interested in the possibility of seeing a Master of Magic remake. Failing to acquire the game’s rights from Atari, Stardock and its witty CEO Brad Wardell decided to create its own fantasy 4X strategy game, Elemental: War of Magic.
After playing the game for the past few weeks, I’m glad they never managed to get their hands on the Master of Magic license because this game has “letdown” written all over it. I was aware of the technical problems and the catastrophic launch and I’ve waited for the patches and bug fixes. But there’s nothing more frustrating than having to deal with a product that still feels like a preview build, a full month after its release and despite the most recent post-launch patches; not to mention carrying a $50 price tag.
Described as a “strategy game existing in an RPG world”, Elemental: War of Magic puts the player in the role of a Sovereign destined to build an empire and rule the world in four ways: by wiping out all opposing factions, by researching and gathering the four elemental shards, questing or diplomacy. Sovereigns can be selected from a list of default heroes or fully created from ground up by choosing their appearance, talents, back story and attributes. Choose your faction and you’ll be ready to start building your kingdom, gather resources, expand your power and crush enemies. Of course, being successful in Elemental is much more complicated than what it sounds but as in most 4X games, this is what makes them attractive, challenging, amazing and most of all, incredibly addictive. Despite “theoretically” having something unique going on, my experience with Elemental has been a brutal realization of the contrary.
Elemental plays like Civilization: you create a world made up of a series of pre-arranged options and see how it turns out. There’s a very short, story-based single player mode but it acts more as a tutorial. However, it ended up raising more questions rather than offering explicative and helpful directions. My experience helped me find my way through the game, but there’s only so much an experienced gamer can accomplish within the first few hours while playing something that clearly tries to do things differently from what we’ve been accustomed to. With the tutorial lacking as it does, it made Elemental very unfriendly to new players.
On top of its lack of guidance, Elemental has certainly the dumbest and most predictable A.I systems I’ve ever seen in a 4X game. Examples are numerous and hilarious. For some reason, the AI knows only one way to win despite having the choice of four. The AI seemed fond of “Conquest” so I went and set up a game where victory can only be attained by going after something different. Still, the AI would build up armies and send them towards my territory. In the case of Elemental’s A.I, the saying “offense is the best defense” doesn’t apply well either. Not only does it focus on offense, but it also does a poor job at defending itself from attacks; even the smallest and most insignificant ones. A.I sovereigns would also go an entire game without building a starter town, researching or (believe it or not) would simply go into battle defenceless, taking themselves and their Empire out of the game after getting killed. Yes, Elemental has suicidal rulers. Very funny the first time you witness it but extremely laughable after a few more...
I agree on the fact that some experienced 4X gamers would go straight to online multiplayer and bypass some of the game’s most stupid AI instances. However, since it remains unavailable (as of the time of this writing as it was delayed for another week alongside multiple bug fixes), Elemental players will have to endure the poor man’s single player mode. Knowing how dedicated the Elemental players seem to be after spending most of my time scouring the forums, I can say that the game will be much more enjoyable through online multiplay. The question is how messy and unplayable is it going to be when it goes live? To be honest, I don’t have the desire to wait another three weeks before MAYBE having something stable and playable. By the way, I find it ridiculous to say your game is multiplayer-enabled when clearly it isn’t. If it wasn’t ready at launch, don’t mention it on your retail box and add it later as an extra feature. It would have been less insulting to those who paid full price for the game.
Put all that alongside the constant bugs that glitch me out of a game for no reason, the subpar visuals and sound effects, a paltry interface, an extremely frustrating micro-management system and the latest updates blocking me from using my different save files and you get a soulless game that not even the devil himself would want. Don’t get me wrong, Elemental has potential, can be very engaging (when not crashing constantly) and even manage to offer some surprises. The interesting mix of Civilization-city management and Dungeons & Dragons style of questing gameplay. The levels of customization for the units, maps, spell effects and structures are fabulous. The ability for players to share their creations with the community through Stardock’s own Impulse service via Mod Tools (which can be the only thing saving this game from a total and definitive failure) is also worth mentioning. Unfortunately, there are so many wrongs that everything remotely positive gets kicked out of the curve very quickly.
While it does play a tad better than the original version available at launch, Elemental: War of Magic can only be enjoyed by the few true and dedicated 4X hardcore players that don’t play anything else other than this particular game genre. I’m still amazed to see the forums flooded by passionate people trying to find ways to enjoy this piece of nonsense. In my opinion, this ambitious title might have put Stardock in a very precarious position where the consumer will have serious difficulties trusting Brad Wardell and his team of talented developers from now on.
Amusingly, Stardock wrote, in 2008, The Gamer’s Bill of Rights. Point #2 says: “Gamers shall have the right that games they purchase shall function as designed without technical defects that would materially affect the player experience”.
You might find that in Civilization V...
+ The community deserves a Nobel Prize
- Unbearable gameplay mechanics, execrating AI
- Constant bugs and crashes
- Still waiting for promised online multiplayer
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Release Date : 2010/08/24
System : PC
Publisher : Stardock
Developer : Stardock
Category : Strategy
ESRB : RP
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