What have we done to deserve THIS?

User Rating: 4 | Elemental: War of Magic PC
Stardock has made quite a name in strategy games, especially thanks to the astounding Galciv franchise. Not a surprise, then, that players who love fantasy 4x games were eagerly waiting for Elemental: we thought it would have been an instant classic, finally something to dethrone AOWII Shadow Magic after several years that didn't offer us real masterpieces in this now niche category. Elemental had all the premises, and it was advertised as being what we hoped and expected. And it cheated us. Badly.

Let aside the broken state of the game, tons of game breaking bugs, memory leaks and serious performance issues (most ATI users will find out that the game doesn't even use their GPU at all, and no matter how spicy their PC is they will find it hard to play even the smallest maps after a while): these will hopefully be fixed in the coming months (yep, months, it's really broken to the core). We can at least still trust Stardock in constant support for their titles.
What really is amazing is the total lack of content, how empty - and messy - this game is.
They sold it to us with this disclaimer: "Elemental ensures that every game is a completely new experience.". In truth, Elemental is so small a game, and so behind similar games released more than 10 years ago, that once you play it two times (yes, two times, once for a kingdom and once for an empire faction) you'll have seen all there is to see. And what little is there to see, is not even pretty, or fun.


While state of the art graphics aren't what's most needed in a turn based strategy game, one would at least expect decency, variety, and some prettiness around. There is none. Artworks are dull rather than retro, and 3d graphics are literally embarrassing. The world map is bland and only the cloth map actually is nice to look at; tactical battles, on the other hand, seem to be done by a complete amateur, with very few tiles and badly rendered terrain features. Not to mention spell and effect sprites, reminding of games from the first '90s.
The tactical battle environment is so simplistic that it even doesn't render city walls during siege battles. Yep: you assault a city? Still the same "tactical" battle going on in an anonymous grass field.


A joke. Couple of absolutely forgettable music tracks, and embarrassingly few sounds for units and spells. Most creatures have the very same 2-3 sound files for attack and death.


This is where we cry. There's so much unfinished, not done, done wrong, it's hard to know where to start.

The spell system is chaotic and hardly makes any sense, you are expected to have access to most spellbooks since the beginning and then you'll obtain all the others shortly after, making it so every game you play you will always have the same (generic and uninteresting) spells. Also, there are so few effects, statuses, etc, that there's hardly any need for "tactical battles" (which have nothing tactical actually). It's a game called ELEMENTAL and it doesn't even have ELEMENTAL RESISTANCES.

There are 10 factions, and all are exactly the same. They play the same, and they look the same, apart from a slight difference between the 5 kingdoms and 5 empires (some slightly different looking armors and weapons, and slightly different skins and models for a couple of 'em. Most units, though, are just the same).

Tech trees are just like the spell system, you will and are expected to research through all of 'em (not that they are particularly vast and neither interesting). No way or reason to specialize in certain tech trees to actually give some personality to your realm, there's just too little meat to even try it limiting yourself.

Very few items, armors and weapons, making effectively useless the design unit feature. And while realm units are the same for all factions, errant creatures are even fewer, just a dozen or so models (often recycled with just differently colored textures). Not that they serve any scope, apart from being a nuisance and an XP farm. But fear not: luckily (?) there's also very little point in gathering XPs, since your "champions" have no meaning and use at all apart from bringing some small and uninteresting passive bonus to your realm (like +1 gold per turn... wooohh, so exciting).

Diplomacy is at the bare minimum, with just some resource trading, and very basic treaties. Let alone other factions you are at war with keep sending you messages to warn you against the growing power of yet other realms (how kind of you while you raze my cities, good boy ^^), the dynasty system while it was an interesting idea is kept very simple and isn't supported by any events that make it interesting gameplay wise.

Speaking of which, there are no events at all. You know, like in Galciv, those universe wide random events... sometimes rebellions, sometimes discoveries or cataclysms which would suddenly change how you had to play the game to adapt to the new environment. Nope, none at all.

There are about a dozen quests. You'll see all of 'em in a couple games. And that's it for the "RPG" element. A "quest" in Elemental means enter the tile where a certain dungeon is, read a couple lines, click yes, then go on next tile (usually not even clearly highlighted), read another couple lines, battle bunch of creatures, get money/crappy item. The only quest with an actual CHOICE is the very last, the one that makes you win the game. At the very last point it gives you the oh so interesting choice to win the game instantly or keep playing with a pretty overpowered sword. Oh boy, so brain intensive, so fun, I'm speechless.

There's a lot of sea. And you can build harbors to then build transports. And that's it. No warships. No sea monsters. No sea features. No sea resources. No fishing. No fish, actually.

As already said, the tactical battles have no meaning at all. With no features, almost no effects and statuses, it's just a boring clickfest of spamming (bad looking) spells and attack commands. Sometimes a "hill tile" gives the unit standing over it a 50% bonus to defence. And that's about all there is of tactical in these battles.
It would be much better to just keep hitting autoresolve to skip this joke... but whoops, autoresolve is unfinished, it doesn't take into account spells, even those very few skills... and archers.

NO RANDOM MAPS. You heard me. Yes, it's a 4x game and it doesn't have a random map generator. It actually just have some (few) pre done seed maps, and that's it. And apparently nothing foreseeable in the future in this department. Now this is really revolutionary in 4x games. Way to go Stardock, that's a real breakthrough.

Let's stop here, ok? Yeah clunky interface, almost no keyboard shortcuts, broken AI and everything else... everything is quite disappointing, badly done to the point of being embarrassing.
On the other hand, as every stardock game, it's done with modding in mind. Modding tools are now just as broken as the game is, bug wise, still, even when they'll work fine as intended, the lack of content and features is so big that it's hard to believe any modding effort will be able to really change the sorry face of this game. Especially because being as it is, not many people will still be interested in it in a few months from now. Actually, I believe once CIV5 is out no one will even remember Elemental, if not in their nightmares.

Just about every decent 4x game in the last decade does more and better than what Elemental does. AOWII is still a much better alternative even if it was meant more for "scenarios" rather than wide 4x gameplay. An even better alternative is CIV IV modded with Fall From Heaven (and its submods): it has 10 times the content and the scope of this game, it's a lot prettier graphic wise, and it's a free mod for a game that didn't even have RPG elements in mind.
Elemental itself looks like an unfinished mod for a serious game. Because a serious game it is not, not even "unfinished", that's for sure.

And that's really too bad, 'cause it should have been really, really different.