As I open this review I will confess that I am pre-disposed to like some games even before I see the first load screen. As such, I find myself overlooking flaws, blemishes, and other imperfections that other gamers will not (and maybe should not). Elemental: War of Magic is just such a game--I adore 4X titles, I find myself ever drawn to an epic fantasy setting, and I have always had a soft spot for Stardock as a developer. Given this, I may not be as critically harsh as I should be in this situation while admitting that I have overlooked a great many flaws and imperfections in my time with Elemental.
Set in a fantasy world devastated by a war with a powerful race of beings known as Titans, Elemental begins with players controlling a Sovereign, one of a paltry few humans left with the ability to command magical energies. From these humble beginnings players must scratch out a kingdom powerful enough to take on the rest of the kingdoms of the world who, coincidentally enough, each have their own Sovereign at the helm.
Each Sovereign has the ability to establish a single starting town, after which players must cultivate their empire in traditional 4X fashion. Once established, each town tiles suitable for building various structures helpful for establishing the burgeoning economy. As the shattered remains of human civilization begin flocking to these newly-urban areas, the towns grow in influence and control. As a town's influence spreads across the map, it may encompass various strategic resource points, from forests to fertile soil to the magically-infused elemental Shards. Building the appropriate structure on these resource points nets the empire the various resources needed to further expansion, such as food, money, and building materials. Further town improvement also nets an empire Tech points and Magic research points, necessary for researching down the various paths to advancement and, ultimately, victory.
Technology points allow players to re-discover knowledge lost during the cataclysm. Research is carried out in one of five areas, and when a discovery is made in a given area, a specific tech from that area may be chosen. Some of the technologies have a random chance of appearing with any given discovery, so there's a bit of a blind-research feel to Elemental. Many techs provide access to new buildings, many of the Warfare techs allow for better equipment for units, and some have truly interesting effects. Adventure techs, for example, allow players to encounter bigger and bigger quest locations, but as they do they ramp up the types of monsters unleashed on the unsuspecting maps.
Working in conjunction with technology, magic research allows players to open more and more powerful spells for use by their Sovereign and other magic-using units. The spells themselves are a mixed bag, many being almost completely useless and others being game-breakingly powerful. Research continues until players reach a victory-inducing Spell of Making, the game-winning spell whose casting requires at least one of each elemental Shard location to be controlled.
Should the tech race not be the desired path to victory, players can choose the more tried-and-true conquest or diplomacy routes, either convincing each of the other races to get along or simply beating them into submission. As a fourth victory condition, the Adventure technology tree eventually opens up a five-part Ultimate Quest, whose conclusion will trigger a win.
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