Elemental: War of Magic Review

By Gus Mastrapa - Posted Sep 01, 2010

Elemental: War of Magic is a fantasy-themed strategy game for PCs that doesn't feel quite done. This buggy, hard-to-understand game is made all-the-more frustrating by the fact that there's nothing else out there quite like it.

The Pros
  • Deep, fantasy-themed strategy.
  • Handsome, cell-shaded kingdom
  • Stardock seems serious about evolving their game
The Cons
  • Obtuse, undocumented rules.
  • Bug-ridden code.
  • Feels like a work in progress.

Now that developers can patch games on the fly reviewing videogames can be like hitting a moving target. By the time you read this review there's a good chance that Stardock will have made substantial changes to their new strategy game Elemental: War of Magic. But you can't review potential.

At press time Elemental: War of Magic feels undercooked – like cake made of the all the most delicious ingredients, but still sloshing around raw in the bottom of a greased pan. The patient and tenacious can fish a chocolate chip or two out of the batter.  But those expecting a finished, polished product will go away hungry.



Lord Help Us

Elemental: War of Magic plays like a fantasy version of Civilization. Turn-by-turn players build cities, develop new technologies and try to spread their influence across a randomly-generated, cel-shaded fantasy kingdom.

Players micromanage the lives, gear, abilities and adventures of a sovereign, their heroic allies and armies of generic followers. As players extend their reach they encounter quests to tackle, enemies to best, dungeons to crawl and treasure to horde.

Depending on play style the ultimate goal is to win the game by conquering all comers,  getting into their good graces and uniting the world with diplomacy or re-building the all-powerful Forge of the Overlord.

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Instructions Not Included

All these game-winning goals are easier said then done. And not for the right reasons. Elemental: War of Magic isn't just a hard game to beat. It's a hard game to grasp. Its not uncommon for the player to find themselves pondering unanswered questions? Why can't my character cast that spell he just learned? Why won't my army get any bigger than that? Why can't I talk to that dude? There are, of course, good reasons for all these simple problems. But Elemental: War of Magic doesn't always have them for you. That's a weakness of design and documentation – and a sure and unfortunate sign that a game is a work in progress.

The cult freeware game Dwarf Fortress is notoriously difficult to grok, but fans have written detailed Wikipedia tutorials to help newbies find their feet. Elemental: War of Magic desperately needs similar outside aids, which is unfortunate state of affairs for a full-priced game. Good strategy games give you the tools to build and excel. Its your job to use those tools to succeed. The first, unfortunate task of Elemental: War of Magic is sussing out how the dang tools work.



Bombed Ambition

Elemental: War of Magic is  a victim of its own aspirations. The goal was to make a turn-based fantasy game in the style of the PC classic Master of Magic. But the lofty goals of melding Civilization-style empire building with fantasy adventure in a contemporary, feature-rich PC package wound up being too ambitious an aim.

Nobody knows what Elemental: War of Magic will look like when all is said and done. By all accounts it'll be dramatically different from the buggy, pre-release version and various updates we've already seen. Stardock seem committed to making things right. But you can't put a promise in a box and call it a finished game.

What's most frustrating is that in the rare moments when the game fires on all cylinders its as engrossing, addictive and engaging as the other great empire-building strategy games it seeks to emulate – the a game ending crash or inexplicable road block rears its head and frustration returns.

We truly want to play and love the perfect version of Elemental: War of Magic that Stardock has in mind. Unfortunately, we don't have it installed on our hard drive just yet.