Alright, so I was one of the many asshats that pre-ordered Elemental and was severely burned as a result. I let Sins of a Solar Empire and GalCiv 2 blind me to how catastrophic DemiGod was at launch.
I like busted games. No, really. I put a stupid amount of time into Daggerfall when it first came out and would do that all over again, gladly. I have a fondness for weird game design decisions so long as I'm able to experience something kinda new. Elemental was, unequivocally, not one of those things. I tried to like it, but almost everything about it was bland and uninteresting. I don't know how well it was improved over the year. I'd boot it up from time to time and try to find the fun in it, but after an hour or so of fervently trying every way to get hooked on it, I had to admit defeat.
Stardock just recently launched the beta for Fallen Enchantress. Since the idea of a modern-day Master of Magic with dynasty-management mechanics is still a thing that tickles my grundle to no end, also considering the pretty surprising changes over at Stardock over the past year, I downloaded it as soon as I got home and played for a little bit.
This is just a quick impression, however. I've only played about an hour so far. A few things I noticed:
- The UI is significantly cleaned up. It's still a little odd, but no more wonky than GalCiv2. Plus, tooltips enough to choke a horse.
- If one of your recruited champions falls in battle, they pick up different "wounds" - not unlike the status afflictions in Crusader Kings or Sengoku that can afflict your leaders. I imagine there are other weird buffs on the other end of that spectrum that will go a long way towards giving your champions some character.
- Research paths are set up like a huge tech tree. You know exactly what you unlock by researching stuff. So much better than the guesswork in the original Elemental
- You can upgrade your ruler along specific "paths" rather than distribute points you barely understand. "Path of the Assassin" "Path of the Warrior" blah blah blah. Seems like a smart decision. We'll see what kind of impact that has on the gameplay.
- While the character models are still a little... oddly animated when it comes to the character selection screen, the combat screen and interface is generally much more intuitive and smooth. Order of combat initiative is stacked along the left (although not entirely identified that way.)
- The lore from the outset is still inscrutable, so picking different empires is really a matter of picking what kind of vague stats you want. Knowing that equipping new artifacts and items on my units was something that piqued my curiosity, I went for the "dwarven" ironworkers.
- Random quests are a lot more meaningful. More below.
- Even on "easy" the world is pretty dangerous. Though I haven't encountered other civilizations yet. The encounters are also more interesting. There seems to be just more to do in the world, which is a nice feeling. It's the feeling I wish I had in the original game.
- City management is WAY more intuitive and Civ-like than before.
- Still no indicators of a good spot to "Settle" your main city. Also, finding the "Settle" button took a little bit of poking around. Not a lot, mind, but still some.
- Inexplicably, the game started with a message that read "Now that you're accumulating knowledge" which seemed a bit odd. I hadn't done anything. The game just started. I'm not quite sure why that was happening. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy I'm able to research right off the bat, but the wording of the pop-up was a little offputting.
- Camera control: moving the camera across the map seems a little fucked up. Sometimes moving my cursor to the edge of the screen will scroll some. Most of the time, it doesn't. I need to click on the map, which is in the lower-right corner, nowhere near where I'd have my mouse if I were scrolling. Using the arrow keys just directly moves your champion. Far and away, the most frustrating part of the game, so far, but totally something they can fix before it hits prime time.
So, again. I'm not far into things. I found a gold mine, I started researching mining. I settled my city. I encountered a few treasure troves (one of which gave me an item that would summon a dog. I'm not clear on whether that was forever or just a temporary thing. It disappeared after one fight.) Then I found an inn. Someone asked for the sand of some sand golem. The quest objective popped up not too far away and I headed there. Then I fought a sand golem. Combat functions kind of the same as before, but it's a little more fluid. There's a better feel to it. At least, I didn't feel like I was wasting my time. I summoned a pack of wolves and killed the sand golem. Shortly thereafter, I was attacked by an obsidian golem, ostensibly as a retaliation for my being an asshole to the sand golem. Though no pop-ups informed me of this, it felt that way anyways. Although the obsidian golem kicked the shit out of both my leader and his champion and whatever straggler militia I brought with me, I still obtained a weapon. Some Hunter's axe that was, according to a pop-up after my ass was handed to me, lodged in the creature's side from some previous adventurer. I thought that was a really nice touch, a little way to reward people with more balls than brains. Until I got that axe, I was about ready to assume that I wasn't tough enough to roll 'round this bitch with the freedoms. Now I'm kinda interested to see how frequently I'm rewarded for failing. Which is to say: yeah, I'm getting into this. This feels like how the original game should've worked. Obviously, there's still a lot left for me to experience. How does diplomacy work? Marriage? Kids? Yadda yadda yadda. Still a lot of question marks, but anyone who pre-ordered and is still soured but has access to the beta: give it a download. You don't need the original Elemental installed, either.