Had a bit of time on my hands so here is a translation from a native speeker (my english is less than flawless though. So pardon the spelling and grammar here and there...)
In the footsteps of Master of Magic.
The polygons can take a brake here: The strategy game: Elemental: War of Magic strays of the usual frame of fantasy games with its painted grapics. Even better though is the solid worksmanship hidden beyond the unusual looks.
”Ha! Eat this!” Powerfully our Militiamen smites into the Ogres Pelt with his shiny new boadsword.
”Just got this from the guy playing me, quite Sharp like a razor isn’t it?”
The owner of the Ogres Pelt turns arround with an annoyed look in his face and sends the browdswords user flying across the countryside.
Pummeled said Soldier retreats and mutters ”Damn, if just my player whould have bought me the armor to match my blade as well, that old miser”
That is roughly how a common soldier feels whom you are commanding as part of your army in the TBS Elemental: War of Magic. Because Game allows individual customization of your Units like mounted knife wielders wearing thin armor, ideal for melee attacks on ranged troops. Or heavily armored bowmen – well protected, but with a slow rate of fire. After all such a heavily plated arm grows weary and unsteady very quick. The list goes on and on and on, courtesy of the comprehensive Unit-Design-Interface greathly inviting tinkering. .
That is just one of the reasons why Elemental: War of Magic is something special.
But let us start with the big picture: What is the game about?
Master of Civilization – Heroes
Put simplified Elemental is mixing parts of Civilization (research, city development and growth) with Heroes of Might and Magic (battles) and Master of Magic (magic, overall integration of all features). That of course is a very simplified view of thing. Now though you got a broad picture. Provided of cours you are fimilliar with aforementioned games.
Now lets get down to a more detailed view: No matter if you are playing campaign mode or sandbox, you always begin with a single lonesome Hero in a not all so deserted landscape, that is divided into squares (First 4 Episodes of Civilization raise your hand.please).
Our hero can raise a city, best to be done next to lush meadows, fields of pumpkin, desposits of ore or simmilar things, so the city will yield a good ammount of recources later on. So far, so as usual.
Cities grow, if the population has enough to eat, and with each new level gained (Level 5 is the ceiling), new buildings can be constructed. It easily lasts for a few hundred turns though until you have reached the top level. And you can’t build all buildings everywhere but should specialize instead – idealy by adapting to the spread of resources available.
Not just the cities Level is of importance though. Also its growth in influence. The bigger a cities population the bigger the area of influence visible in the thick border surrounding it. All resource desposits inside of that area can be tapped, which leads to sometimes funny sights. In the campaign for example we founded a city that 200 turns later worked an Ore desposit right next to an allied neigbors settlement that was utterly engulfed by our area of influence.
Characters: Make your own heroes (literally)
This dynamic city develpment is one of the addictive features of the game. One just longs to reach the next tier of city development, to grab the Gold Mine, to build the university and so on.
The advancment at the higher levels might take like forever, but you very soon got lots of cities to tinker with, and then there is the heroes.
Soon after the start of the game other Heroes join the one you start with. For example as a reward for growing a city. It might happen as well though that you don’t get a proud Hero but a hideous battle-spider that you shamefully relegate to join your army instead. Far more blissful is another way of getting hold of heroes: To sire them. Since it is possible to wed characters and make kids (Mind the order!), that grow up some turns later and appear on the Map as a hero unit that is usable like any other.
Battles: Slooooooow drag, but thrilling.
With your heroes and combat units recruited in cities you explore the fantasy-world, tackle run of the mill quests (starting with rats, later slaying Ogres.) but also witness mean fights against magical firehurlers or nigh invincible Dragons. The Battles take place on their own maps, very classicaly also divided in squares, on which both parties move their troops, fire arrows and cast spells.
Horribly old fashioned both parties move in turn, even fast mounted Troops of side b have to wait till the last chainmail-wearers of side a have scuffled on a squre.
And we mean scuffled very litterally: The move animations of the combatants might be good, but horribly slow and there is no way to speed them up. Alternatively the move animations can be skipped, leading to units “teleporting” from one place to another (also works on the world map) but that a) looks stupid and b ) is very confusing when the oponent moves. Here a patch is sorely needed.
As soon as the squabblers are finally in melee range, it gets exciting: How will our self-designed Toups emerge from the ordeal? Is the earlier so shamefully hidden ugly spider not so bad after all? Will our freshly grown up offspring survive the baptism by fire, will he even gain a level, can we improve his attack power? Is the loot enough for his fist real Sword at the Shop?
Magic: Fire at will! Or Ice instead?
The “War of Magic” is not called such without reason: As the game progresses: magic plays an every more important role. ”While magic-using Heroes in early battles hurl measly fireballs and bolts of lightning, later on they are able to unleash true conflaggarations and thunderstorms. If you got the needed sources of magic in the area of influence of your cities (fire magic for fireballs), the spells are get even more firepower. Nevery overpowering though, not least thanks to the limited supply of mana that is regenerating quite slowly.
As in Desciples, Elemental has quite a range of spells to offer for the world map. A neigboring city is gearing up for attack? Than halve their metal and material production by using the lazyness spell. Your adversary is less than ammused by that and wants to get to your casting hero? Than summon a helping demon, slow the enemy army, speed up your own, raise the land bettween or just teleport away.
Multiplayer and way to get the game.
The multiplayer-button may clearly be part of the games interface (version 1.07. at 03.09.2010) but klicking it yields the lapidary comment that multiplayer is not built into the game and the developers are “first waiting for the feedback of the singleplayer community”. According to the Pdf-manual online games with up to 16 players are planned, and the game is intended to include a matchmaking system, Stardock servers and dedicated servers. The later allowing even more than 16 players – in a TBS a pleasure just for players with very, very big loads of patience.
conclusion of the editorial staff
Martin Deppe: “Real love-hate: Never before did I wanted to embrace developers and strangle them at the same time. Elemental does an insane ammount of things really well: the consequently drawn style of graphics that looks all of a piece, the great Unit-Design-Interface, die combination of city building, exploration and battle. Then there are things that drive me mad. The fiddly unit selection or the sloooooow combat animations, that I cant speed up no matter how hard I try. But in the end love truimphs over hate. Elemental is an insiders tip / hidden gem that you should risk trying.