It's been more than four years since Stardock released a game that the company developed itself. After the release of the sublime turn-based-strategy game Galactic Civilizations II (the only modern game in the genre that holds a candle to the Civilization franchise), Stardock altered the role of their company from mere developer to developer/publisher. The company published other developers' games, like Ironclad's great space 4X game Sins of a Solar Empire, as well as created its own PC game download service called Impulse.
Now, after years publishing other developers' games (and working on the occasional GalCiv expansion pack), Stardock has finally released its latest self-developed title, Elemental: War of Magic, a strategy game set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy realm where players will try to build nations as a controllable "sovereign."
The ideas behind Stardock's latest sound promising, but it's hard to hear that promise over the screams and sighs of the players who purchased the game. According to an article on PC Gamer, Elemental: War of Magic is straight-up busted. From broken gameplay systems to a host of bugs and crashes, it sounds like everything that could go wrong with the launch of Elemental did.
== TEASER ==As PC Gamer's Tom Francis tells it, Elemental's release got off to a bad start when the game was available for sale on Monday, a full day before the game's August 24 release date. Pre-order customers also received the game on that same Monday. But Elemental's problems only get worse from there; according to the article at PC Gamer, the game is chock-a-block with game-breaking, showstopping bugs. Francis describes some of the problems that the publication encountered with the launch-day version of the game:
- The game crashes constantly.
- The game's battle system only works 20% of the time.
- The game's multiplayer mode "hasn't been switched on yet." Simply put, at this moment, the game's multiplayer function does nothing.
- AI-controlled races will oftentimes not leave their town or defend it from attacks. That's like a truck race where the other truckers don't race.
And according to Francis, that's across multiple testing machines.
Elemental's woes don't stop there; since the game's launch, Stardock has released two patches in an attempt to try and salvage the game. The first, smaller patch apparently did alleviate some of the game's crashes, as well as fixed the battle system. However, the second, larger patch that had "been in the works for a month" made the battle system totally unplayable again.
You read that right; Stardock's latest "fix" to Elemental patched out a key gameplay feature that a previous patch had fixed.
Stardock had a similar launch day problem when the Gas Powered Games-developed Demigod (published by Stardock) was released at retail stores five days before its launch date, well before the company had finished configuring the servers for launch. As a result of the Demigod launch fiasco (as well as Stardock's famous anti-DRM stance), the company's servers were swarmed with players who had pirated the game, making Demigod unplayable for the customers who had purchased the game legally.
However, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell doesn't seem to think that there are problems around the releases of his games. In the all-purpose thread for Elemental at the Quarter To Three forums, Wardell responded to hostile claims that his company's game plays "like an early beta" by asking players of that mindset to, "...please stay away from our games in the future. I consider [Elemental] ready for release and if others disagree, don't buy our games."
Wardell's stance is especially harsh, and in sharp contrast to the Stardock mantra of respecting its paying customers (hence, no intrusive DRM in Stardock games). Elemental could very well be fixed down the road, with Stardock ironing out the rest of the game's issues. But these are issues that should have been fixed before the game was sent out to retail. Constant crashing and broken AI shouldn't be day-one patch material, right? As a result of the game's bugs, Francis told the readers of PC Gamer that, right now, they shouldn't purchase Elemental, saying that the game is currently too broken to recommend.
[UPDATE] Stardock CEO Brad Wardell has apologized for the statements he made on the Quarter to Three forums. In a statement received by Joystiq, Wardell issued the following comment;
"I've been an active user on the Quarter to Three forums for many years. I know the core participants on that forum well, and after a lengthy and heated debate about some of the issues facing the pre-day 0 version our latest title, Elemental, I spoke hastily and said things I shouldn't have. As a result, I want to apologize to our fans for speaking so harshly. It should be said that some of the issues in question from the PC Gamer UK article, in fact, did not appear in any of our beta testing. We were surprised by these issues and, after working days on end with little sleep, I was very frustrated. I should not have engaged in an online debate about these issues, as my haste to defend what we feel is a great product only served to hurt the fans who have supported us and the team who has been so dedicated to this project."
"As the CEO of Stardock, I want to be clear that my comments on the Quarter to Three forums do not reflect my team at large. They were words spoken out of frustration and sleep deprivation and I am truly sorry. We stand behind what we feel is a great product, one that we will continue to support for a number of years."
Furthermore, a game representative for Stardock has commented on the Elemental forums stating that the game's multiplayer mode should be enabled sometime next week.
Now, a couple words on multiplayer. The servers are up but we are not going to enable multiplayer until next week. Part of this is, to be honest, team exhaustion. The early release meant a lot of people who were expecting this weekend off to rest from the grueling last few weeks had to come in. So we’re going to let them get a couple of days off later this week and open up the MP next week.