(Originally started this on Lord Xia's thread regarding game improvements, but it became so long it seemed impolite to dump it on his thread. I will add that I am absolutely sure that someone has said this all before, most likely when the game first came out; but once I heard the first big patch had come in, I thought I would try out the game, and apparently it has frustrated me enough that I just need to say it somewhere.)
For me it just boils down to the fact that the world of the game feels empty, and devoid of variety. This runs through every aspect of the game, from the world maps themselves through the champions and spellbooks. Playing Elemental feels like playing a tech demo of the tools someone might one day use to make a game, with some placeholder content thrown in for good measure. There are dozens of dozens of individual mechanical and aesthetic problems -- some of them totally fundamental -- but none of these individual problems appears to be the result of anything remotely inspired or ambitious. And they all pale in comparison to the overwhelming emptiness. I find it hard to believe that someone who actually likes 4x games, or fantasy games, designed Elemental: it feels more like it was cobbled together by bored interns with zero interest in the genre beyond its most superficial conventions, who had to meet some minimum quota and had absolutely no inclination to go beyond it. I don't mean to crash the thread, or crap on the game (I am sure it's already been done), but I've spent the last week playing the game and it just feels like a wasteland, and I just cannot get my head around how this is supposed to be, like, a game that somebody had fun making.
The empty feeling really has its apotheosis in the totally, mind-bogglingly backwards way that exploration in the game is designed vis-a-vis resources, treasure chests, and quests -- where, as far as I can tell, you research techs in order to randomly spawn treasure chests, resources, and adventures only in territory you already control, and therefore have already explored. This creates the completely disheartening mid-game circumstance where you are exploring a brand new continent, previously untouched by civilization and it is completely, utterly empty of adventure, treasure, or (in most cases) even useful resources. You send your brave champions, armed to the teeth, through screen after screen of empty desert -- and meanwhile your Sovereign teleports around your homeland picking up eight million magically-appearing treasure chests that you just never noticed before. And it just gets more soul-crushing when you contemplate that if you had just held off researching that Adventuring tech for long enough to completely colonize the brand new continent, then suddenly it would have turned out to be full of awesome stuff after all. Like, the only way to get something like the experience I expect is to counter-intuitively metagame: the later you do the research about where to find the awesome treasure, the more treasure you somehow find. (And then of course there's the inversely counter-intuitive implementation for the resource-revealing tech: no matter how many continents you control, you will only ever locate one new orchard, and one field of bees.)
It just breaks my head (and heart) to imagine that somebody who has actually played, say, Masters of Magic, could have come up with this design, and then tested the results, and thought 'man, THIS IS AWESOME. This is the best way to implement exploration in a fantasy setting! I love this gameplay!' I just can't get over the contrast between starting up a new game of Elemental and starting up a new game of Masters of Magic (particularly if you begin in the magic/dark dimension, whose name I forget.) In the latter, you begin practically surrounded by mundane and magic resources, terrain variations, caves, huts, magical nexuses, portals to another world -- many of which would easily destroy your starting army if you weren't careful, and some of which you would end up defeating near the end of a week-long game; meanwhile, in the former, you begin surrounded by one farm and one completely non-threatening magic shard, precisely two inns every single time, and a whole lot of barren tiles.
I mean honestly, what is the point of gating the fantasy content in a fantasy gameworld? Of forcing players to grind out tech research just so they can actually notice that this is actually a fantasy world? Are we trying to protect players from actual risk/reward analysis? It only takes one time clicking 'OK' after the message 'You see a Great Wyrm hanging around the nature node' to understand that some quests need to be put off for later. And how exciting is it to reveal the Crazy Evil Wizard's Tower only after the game has made absolutely sure that you will have no trouble defeating the Crazy Evil Wizard who lives there? I don't feel much achievement teleporting my overwhelmingly-armoured Sovereign around, smashing in tiny armies of spiders guarding +30 metal -- but if I could somehow figure out a way to do that in the fifteenth turn of the game, I'm guessing I'd be pretty impressed with myself.
I really don't get it, because even with everything on the table there's still not a lot of there there: even if you started a game with every resource revealed, there's really not very many resources and they really don't have many effects. So why hide them? Why make your game seem even less full of life than it actually is?
* the game world feels empty and without variety, which is the opposite of what a fantasy 4x should feel like. fantasy worlds should be overflowing with craziness and danger, not carefully managed and devoid of magic.
* tech gateways for goodie huts/quests are counterproductive and tedious.
* play more master of magic. steal shamelessly.
* Kael, man, this game feels like the emotional and aesthetic inverse of Fall From Heaven in every respect. What have you got yourself into?