Elemental is a new game, not a sequel, and in total is comparable to the original Galactic Civilizations. It’s not the pure digital awesome that Galactic Civilizations II was (which was released three years after its predecessor). The game is finished for release as well as most any game has been in the last twenty years. It does lack the sort of polish that most sequels have.
As far as I can remember, few original games have been mind-blowing, surpassing even their sequels. There was Fallout and X-Com, and that’s about it. Before Baldur’s Gate II, there was the decent (but not amazing) Baldur’s Gate. Before Starcraft, there was the excellent Warcraft II, and before that the milquetoast Warcraft.
All the malice being tossed about is a bit unwarranted. Certainly not the worst case of oddly excessive vitriol (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKzF173GqTU) , but is a bit over the top. I didn’t encounter any show stopping bugs, though some did. And today, three days after its official release, those bugs have been fixed. No one’s fifty dollars depreciated that much over three days. Overall, the release is decent. As many have discussed, Elemental’s release is far better than the industry’s worst (Master of Orion 3, Empire: Total War, Daikatana) and doesn’t deserve the verbal massacre that it has received of recent. As everyone likely knows, though, “deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”
Starcraft II, to which Elemental has lately been compared, is more polished, sure. Starcraft II is also the fifth game in Blizzard’s RTS ‘craft’ series, which began in 1994. They’ve had a bit of time to polish the formula. From Gamespot’s review of the original, “It all comes down to this: Starcraft may not do anything particularly new, but it does the real-time thing as well or better than any game before it. If you're willing to give the formula another go, Starcraft is highly recommended.” The same goes for the sequel. Starcraft II’s polish is largely due to the fact that it does nothing new – the underlying mechanics haven’t changed in fifteen years.
The overall quality of Elemental’s release is roughly equivalent to the original Galactic Civilizations. Elemental is stable. There are some gameplay bugs, and there are a number of rough spots that need to be smoothed and polished. And as we all know, they will be.
Should one buy the game now? It depends on the person. Personally, I’ve had a lot of fun digging for game exploits, hanging out in the chat rooms and talking about the wacky stuff that can happen. I’ve been playing games for years, and I think that’s part of the fun of a launch. Some might not; some might want to wait for it to be buffed and polished with every feature and function glistening like chrome – and that’s OK. If so, then keep an eye on the site and wait until it gets there. And if one likes to be a part of the buffing and polishing, diving into the game to find those rough edges and getting involved in suggesting (or creating) features, then give it a go – there is a very strong community and developer involvement.
My thoughts are that Elemental is fun. It’s not mind-blowingly amazing like I had hoped for – but I’m happier for having it now instead of February. I liked Warcraft, I liked the first Galactic Civilizations, and the first Baldur’s Gate. And I like Elemental.