Elemental – First Impressions

First, let’s get the latest news out of the way concerning Stardock:

(I’m up north on vacation typing on an extremely slow connection so bear with me)

I don’t think people yet fully realize the completeness of Stardock’s fail on Elementa’s launch.

I’m going to write more about this but not only did we think v1.05 was ready for everyone but we felt v1.0 was too. That’s the level of disconnect/poor judgment on our part we’re talking about.

If the game had come out in February, it would still have been a disastrous launch because lack of time wasn’t the issue. It was blindness, sheer blindness. We felt the game was finished. And I speak of v1.0, not v1.05. Blindness.

There will be massive consequences for Stardock’s game studio. I’ll be talking more about this when I get back. But the game wasn’t released early. The game was released poorly. Head in the sand syndrome imo. I’ve read the reviews as much as possible given my hideous internet access up here and I agree with them. We just didn’t see what they were talking about. We thought any complaints would be about polish points or something.

The point is, the issue here is far far worse than many of you think it is. I wish it was an issue of the game being released too early. That’s an easy thing for a company to “fix”. Elemental’s launch is the result of catastrophic poor judgment on my part.

EVERY competent software developer knows that the programmer must never be the one deciding whether the program is done. Yet, my love of Elemental broke my self discipline and I began coding on the game itself in vast amounts and lost any sense of objectivity on where the game’s state was. I normally only program the AI on our games so I can keep a level of distance from the game itself to determine whether it’s “Ready”. On Elemental, I was in love with the world and the game and lost my impartiality.

We’ll do better.

…translation: there was a massive breakdown of quality control at Stardock, and yes, it was very recognizable in the beta process (…I’ve seen it hundreds of times before as a tester/developer myself…). They seemed to have failed to follow basic software quality control practices when it came to the release decision of 1.0 of Elemental. For a lot of users, 1.0 was unplayable…1.05, of the “Day-0″ patch which was released on Aug 25th (…release date of Elemental was the 24th…) made the game at least playable for the majority of customers, yet there were still some issues such as : Alt-Tab crashing, mid-end game slowdowns, AI issues, memory leaks, etc etc. They are now at 1.07 are well on their way to fixing everything that their Software Testing team probably told them needed fixing before the release. Honestly, most seem to believe that the beta started after 1.05. I agree; however, I’m still having a great time with Elemental as it is right now.

Elemental is a turn based fantasy strategy game. You start by designing your main character called a Sovereign, which you assign abilities to…as well as flesh out the usual RPG characteristics like strength, dexterity, etc. This sovereign is your representative in the game world and it is your job to take over the world as best you can. Elemental is very much like Civilization in the way it carries out the turn based aspect of strategy gaming….so if you’ve ever played a civ-like game, then you’ll be in familiar territory. Where Elemental differs is how it merges the RPG and fantasy elements of the game. Think Civ meets Master of Magic or Heros of Might and Magic, then you’ll have the correct picture.

All throughout your territory there are quests to do, monsters to kill and kingdoms to conquer. Your sovereign levels up as he does all of these quests…and yes, there is loot for you here as well. The whole leveling system is pretty typical of any other RPG that you’ve seen, i.e. you increase attributes and other areas of your sovereign in order to make him stronger. Loot isn’t the “ohhhh…shiny”-Diablo-ish that we all know and love. Actually, the loot and rewards for doing quests are not met with much fanfare at all…which is a bit of a bummer. I would love to see this whole section of the game “pop” a bit more.

As your kingdom goes on, you can develop technology in areas of magic, warfare, diplomacy, civics and adventure (…I think I’m missing one…heh…) in order to get an edge in your adventuring and conquering. The tech tree itself is a bit hidden and I don’t yet fully understand how its all linked together. I find myself just picking stuff and seeing what happens as I have no idea what my end goal is and am not very familiar with how deep the tech tree goes. This is probably something I can find out with a good google search, but the game should be able to guide you a bit more and fully reveal where your decisions are leading you.

I haven’t experienced this part of the game yet, but apparently you can marry your sovereign off and start having babies. This is referred to as a “Dynasty”. As your spawn grow up, they become heroes and join your army of adventurers. From what I’ve read so far, the children of a sovereign kick ass quite efficiently, so I’m looking forward to getting to see this part of the game. The actual marriage itself can be with another hero (…heroes walk all across the land to be recruited by you and others…) or can be with another sovereign’s daughter/hero/”insert important female here”.

City building is at the core of Elemental and most buildings are acquired through the technology tree. As you add buildings, you see your cities visibly getting bigger and better as well as helping out to spread your boarders and influence over the land. It’s a pretty solid part of the game but gets a bit unruly when your kingdom starts to get bigger. There really is now “kingdom management” screen at the moment in which you can….well…manage your kingdom. No…you have to go into each an every city to perform actions. That would be a huge improvement that would make the mid-late game much more manageable.

So….there is a little bit of an impression on what the game is about, now onto the difficult part for me.

Don’t get the game yet unless you are of the patient type who wants to help Stardock make the game better. I can’t recommend it for gamers who are not use to the Stardock beta process, cause we’re still in beta, IMHO. Wait until after Christmas to get the game if you want to “play it when it’s done”…cause it ain’t done yet. Get Civ 5 when it comes out…play some other games…but wait on Elemental for now. Stardock screwed up on the release of Elemental, and nothing can be done to reverse the damage that was done. They lost customers because of this release…no doubt about it. Here is the good news: at the end of the day, Elemental will be a great game. Stardock is the best company at continually improving and evolving their games. Game development is a marathon for them…not a sprint. GalCiv2 and Sins are not the games they were when they were first released..they’re totally different in how they play. I see no reason at this point to think Elemental will be any different in how it improves and evolves.

D out.

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