Stardock's PC strategy RPG Elemental: War of Magic is nearing completion, its launch hitting in a matter of weeks. I got the opportunity to have a look at beta 3-C aka version 0.92, but rather than go the traditional preview route, I decided it would be more appropriate to document my experiences as I went -- after all, if you've been following it, there isn't much I could say you wouldn't already know from the official "Elemental Journals." Inspiration here comes from Rock, Paper, Shotgun and their fine work on The Risen Report.
The aim with mine is to give you as intimate of a feeling for the game as possible without actually having played it. Besides that, there will also be commentary or background from Stardock CEO Brad Wardell along the way on the various components from the game as derived from a recent roundtable discussion.
Let's get started.
The preview guide notes for your sovereign (avatar), "You can choose from one of the 10 faction leaders we have painstakingly created over years of thoughts and effort, or, you can throw all all our work away -- flush it and create your own character from scratch, not caring whatsoever about our feelings, our dreams, or our hopes." I did just that, because I know Stardock knows any sensible traditional RPG player immediately goes for the character creation option.
Stardock supports sexy mages.
I want a mage type as usual, so I go with a female with high intelligence (nothing sexier than a female mage). I suit her up with a blue robe because it reminds me of the Water Mage robe from the Gothic RPG series. Then I decide to make her a master of the elements, with knowledge of air, earth, water, and fire. There are probably smarter decisions, but I'm feeling experimental.
Next up is factions: I consider going with the one that offers the most attractive comrades, but end up picking New Pariden because it seems to downplay the building elements which I'm not so much into.
Starting out, I have no idea what to do. Unfortunately at this stage it's one of those games that absolutely requires reading the manual (or preview guide in this case). There's a text-based tutorial but it's not available. Brad tells me in the final release the campaign mode will serve well as a teaching tool, though there won't be a typical in-game tutorial because he finds those godawful and figures if a game requires one, it's not that well-designed to begin with. Sounds good to me.
Anyway, the guide doesn't seem to include basic controls so I click around like an idiot. Enoka (my sovereign) starts auto exploring. I turn that off. Oh, it's right click to move to a designated location -- there she goes!
I decide to build an arcane lab and study. It's cool how buildings join together with the rest of your settlement to look realistic as opposed to tacked on. Next I train pioneers so I can build more settlements later if I wish, and some peasants to defend the place while I'm at it.
Back to my sovereign: I spy a lost library to the west so I try to check that out but can't seem to do anything. I receive a message about 'harvesting' -- guess I need an ability first.
Some guy named Blumb doesnt like that I have peasants kicking around. I ignore him for now and head to a nearby inn, where a fellow tells me about the "Silver Flute" quest. Being the good adventurer I am (I picked that trait which provided a bonus to movement), I accept. The flute in question is at the Dragon Fountain. Zooming out, I see it to the northwest and decide to head there.
My research path has now reached a new stage, and also my Arcane Lab is complete. I'm now asked I want to research civilization, warfare, magic, adventure, or diplomacy. I pick magic of course, and see it's five turns until my next "breakthrough." Research goes even deeper: magic abilities include arcane research, shard harvesting, chanelling, spellbooks, the ability to construct monasteries, and then some bonus items. Sounds good to me.
Next I figure I should feed my townspeople and all so I build a farm for food before running into some brigands at the Dragon Fountain. I'm given some dialogue options, one of which lets me tell them to piss off. I do that which proves to be a mistake as I can't figure out how to cast spells and naturally my mage is toast without spells. One of the brigands nails me for 10 damage; I "die" and am warped back to town and forced to rest. All is well.
While I'm here I pick up a staff and boots at the item shop, which prompts the equipment icon on my sovereign icon. I can't equip the boots (wish I could tell that while I was in the shop), but the staff boosts attack from 1 to 4 and speed from 2 to 2.3.
Now's a good a time as any to learn magic but the guide doesn't really help, so I continue hanging around at home and test it out. Stupid me was clicking on unavailable spells previously, as it turns out, so with my new knowledges I head back to the Fountain to tell those brigands what's what.
Along the way I hear some fellow saying I have no peasants to defend my town, and they're closing in. I guess the ones I trained earlier aren't ready yet. Oh well. Also, some woman named Cuesussa appears. I can recruit her, so I go ahead with that. She's a farmer's daughter (prime candidate for marriage later), who produces 2 gildar (gold) per turn, and has 4 sight. She sets me back 90 gildar.
A research breakthrough, yee haw. Around this time it occurs to me Elemental is exciting; there are always things happening. Strategy games and RPGs can seem boring to outsiders, but I like to think this would at least spark an interest. Anyway, I go with Arcane Research so I can build those monasteries, and I resume researching magic.
Sidenote: aside from mage robes, the music in the game is also reminiscient of the wonderful Gothic series. It's very mystical and medieval and "woodsy", and fits the game well.
I send whatsherface to go with me to the Fountain, and also learn the Fireball spell. At this point I'm asked if I want to increase my knowledge of the current spell (Fireball) or switch to a new one. Those brigands did seem tough so I go with 'increase knowledge' (research for a level up, in other words). I also summon a familiar to accompany me, which appears to be some sort of dog -- doesn't look badass like the one on the card (everything has its own card).
At the Fountain now, I attack the brigands and am prompted to auto resolve or battle it out proper. I pick the latter. Their stats are much higher, but I figure I'll try my luck anyway. Battles are tactical and tile-based -- just my style. Fireball on brigand #1: deader than dead. I also learn Fireball has infinite range. I try out Ice Bolt on the second enemy, zapping him for 15 damage and knocking him on his arse. The silver lute is mine.
There are no spell animations at this point, unfortunately, but it's still fun enough for now. Word is it'll be insanely easy to mod your own spell animations, too.
So far it feels like the game throws a lot at you at once, but it's not so overwhelming, just stuff that will take awhile to really understand and feel comfortable with. The tutorial and more intuitive UI (on the way) should help lots.
That should do it for part one. Hopefully this has served as a useful guide to some of the inner workings of Elemental. There'll be more parts to come next week.