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Elemental: War of Magic is a fantasy 4X turn-based strategy game developed and published by Stardock, released August 24, 2010.[3]

Stardock calls Elemental "a strategy game in an RPG world."[4] The game revolves around exploration, city-building, resource management and conquest, but also incorporates quests and detailed unit design.

Plot

The game is set in a world once filled with magic, which comes to form the basis of human civilization.[5] Immortal beings known as the Titans were attracted to the world by construction of the reality-warping Forge of the Overlord, an artifact able to create magical items.[6]

While engaged in civil war, the Titans imprison the world's magic in a number of elemental shards. At first, only they can use the magic within the shards. In time, human channelers arise to challenge them.[5]

Ensuing battles lead to the destruction of the Forge, and ultimately the land itself. A century later, the player leads a faction of humans or Fallen (corrupted life-forms created by the Titans[7]) in a still-devastated world, able to renew it with magic – or pervert it to their will.[8][6] Human kingdoms sometimes band together against the empires of the Fallen, but each faction strives for ultimate dominance.[5]

Gameplay

Elemental has a single-player campaign,[9] up to 16-way multiplayer,[10] and nonlinear "sandbox" gameplay. Outside the campaign, players win by conquering or allying with other factions, or rebuilding the Forge.[11] Forge pieces may be quested for, or created by learning and casting the Spell of Making, requiring control of all elemental shards.[12]

Players control a pre-built or custom sovereign and belong to a faction; each has characteristics affecting gameplay.[13] Influence over land and resources is gained by founding cities, introducing the ability to train characters and research spells and technologies.[10] Cities can be improved to provide additional space or generate money, resources or prestige (a factor in population growth[6]).

Elemental incorporates many features of role-playing video games. Each character in the game is individually named and outfitted through a character editor,[10] with statistics increasing with experience.[6] Units may be combined into armies to fight more dangerous or numerous opponents.[13] Combat takes place on a separate tactical map, although battles may normally be auto-resolved.[6]

Quests and useful items are scattered randomly across the land,[13] as are wandering monsters and neutral characters; the latter may be hired with gildar, the game's currency.[6] Both may be fought for experience and treasure, although attacking civilians decreases the sovereign's reputation.[citation needed] The number of quests available increases over time as adventuring technologies are unlocked.[14]

Players may negotiate with each other to exchange money, material goods, or diplomatic capital (but not technology[15]), and to enter into treaties and alliances;[6] however, the ability to do so must first be researched. Factors affecting negotiation include race, relative military strength, current relations, trade routes, treaties, character, traits, and family connections.[15]

Gameplay varies depending on the chosen faction. Human kingdoms tend to focus on government and civilization, while the empires of the Fallen are more about individual units.[16]

Executive producer Scott Tykoski compared the game to Viva Piñata, but substituting "shovels and creatures filled with candy for swords and creatures filled with dark magic."[17] Designer Brad Wardell said that players should expect to reach "a Sauron or Morgoth level of power" by the end of the game.[18]

Magic

Magic resides in crystal shards named after the elements; earth, air, fire, and water.[5] Spells (which must be researched before use) belong to a number of thematic spellbooks, some of which are unavailable at the start of the game. Players may learn individual spells at their current level, or devote their research to unlocking higher spell levels. While magic-users may cast researched spells from any spellbook possessed by their faction, controlling shards greatly amplifies the potency of spells which use the relevant elements.[11]

Sovereigns start with a certain amount of magical essence, determining how much mana they have, and so how many spells they may cast.[11] They may imbue essence into champions, granting limited power at the cost of their own abilities.[19] Essence may also be expended by sovereigns to escape death and return to a nearby settlement.[13] Marriages involving magic-using characters may result in children with magical skills of their own.[11]

Research

Research is based on reclaiming lost technologies from libraries scattered around the world.[15] Players may direct research to one of five categories; humans and Fallen have separate technology trees.[20]

The chance of gaining a particular technology varies – some are not even offered until a breakthrough is made[21] – so the technology gained may only be picked once the research is complete. The cost of research within a category increases as technologies are researched, making the order of research important.[15]

Artificial intelligence

Players face up to nine computer-controlled factions, neutral cities, bandits and monsters. Neutral cities may be conquered by players, or destroyed by bandits and monsters.[15]

The artificial intelligence has two modes of operation: basic and advanced. Basic algorithms are not CPU-intensive, but are not as good as the advanced ones.[22] The chance of using advanced algorithms for a decision – the intelligence factor – varies between difficulty levels. At "challenging", this factor reaches 100%.[22] Some low difficulty levels prohibit the AI from using combat magic, and penalize their economy, hit points and/or starting funds. At higher levels, the AI acquires bonuses; the highest permits the AI to see through the fog of war.

Development

Stardock originally intended[23] to purchase the rights to Master of Magic from Atari, but decided to create their own universe, due in part to issues of compliance and code ownership.[15]

The campaign story was developed with assistance from Random House's Del Rey subsidiary.[15]

Elemental's art style was based on the work of Alphonse Mucha – in particular, his use of "hard lines and soft tones on realistic forms" – and designed for "minimal overhead"[17] so the game might be played on "a crappy netbook."[24]

In March 2010, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell estimated that the game would cost US$5 million to develop.[25] On July 23, 2010, he said the game cost approximately half that.[26]

Wardell also indicated Stardock's intention to develop free updates and addons to the game after release, as well as several expansion packs:[15][10]

When games come out, that's the end of development, but we don't consider our game done - it won't be done for years, because there's so much stuff we can do. So after release we have tons of new quests we want to come out with, we're going to be adding new factions to the game to help liven things up further, we have a ton of new map styles we want to put in - all kinds of crazy new stuff we can put in here.[11]

Early versions of Elemental were provided throughout the development cycle to those who had pre-ordered. The last such version was on August 22, two days before the scheduled release. A demo is planned for early September.[27]

The developers plan to allow players to have their worlds populated with player-made mods, accessible from a moderated central database.[28] The game contains an interactive tile editor,[10] and its engine uses only dynamic light sources.[29]

Features

The game engine, Kumquat, provides a user interface able to zoom from a cloth map to a 3D representation of individual buildings and units.[28] 3D objects have variable level of detail,[30] while location names are positioned dynamically on the cloth map.[6]

The limited edition includes a poster, canvas map, 20-track music CD, mini-encyclopedia, and a pewter dragon figurine.[31][32] Copies sold by Best Buy and Walmart have early access to content that will be distributed to all players 90 days after release.[33]

Elemental uses Havok middleware for physics and animation[34] and Bink video. Multiplayer is handled using Stardock's Impulse Reactor; players may use Facebook credentials to login.[19]

The retail copy of the game shipped without any form of digital rights management; however, a legal copy is required to access updates and free addons to the game.[35]

The Elemental soundtrack was composed by Mason Fisher.[36]

Destiny's Embers

A novel, Elemental: Destiny's Embers (ISBN 0345517865), was published by Random House to accompany the game.[37] The book is set after the time of the game itself,[25] and involves the quest of a former messenger to save mankind from the Fallen.[38] It comes with a coupon for exclusive downloadable content.[39]

Sales

As of September 5, 2010, Stardock reported that Elemental: War of Magic has sold approximately 82,000 copies.[40]

Reception

As of September 2010, Elemental has an average rating of 56% on review aggregator Metacritic, with grades ranging from 70% to 30%.[41] Reviewers criticized the game for technical issues, problems with core game concepts, and poor GUI and documentation, and praised its ambition and strategic flexibility.

Due to severe technical problems, PC Gamer and GameSpot delayed reviewing the game until post-release patches were available.[42][43]

Game Informer criticized the game's lack of polish and broken combat system, stating that Elemental failed to combine excellent individual features into a cohesive game.[44] PC Gamer felt the game's ambition and sense of discovery were let down by inadequate AI.[45] G4 said the game felt like "a work in progress", lacking documentation and polish, and called it a victim of an over-ambitious design.[46] 1UP.com also criticized the AI and over-ambitious design, concluding that the game "just isn't fun" due to crashes and "a poorly designed GUI".[47] Tom Chick called the game "disappointingly primitive", lacking clarity and purpose, and in need of "the work it should have gotten when it was in beta, if not earlier."[48] For GameSpot, Elemental's "solid game foundation" and "many worthy ideas and ambitions" were impeded by a wide range of problems including frequent crashes, disappointing visuals, a poor interface, bad AI and unsatisfying tactical combat.[49]

Many reviewers felt the game had the potential for significant improvement with sufficient patching,[46] citing Stardock's track record of post-release support.[44][48][49]

Elemental's designer Brad Wardell agreed with the negative reviews[50] and ascribed the launch difficulties to insufficient QA process and "[his] own catastrophic poor judgment in not objectively evaluating the core game play components." Stardock was forced into layoffs due to the unexpectedly poor launch.[51]

References

  1. Elemental: War of Magic. N3V Games. Retrieved on 2010-08-25.
  2. kryo (2010-08-17). Basic questions about elemental. Stardock. Retrieved on 2010-08-25.
  3. Randy Nelson (2010-06-07). Elemental: War of Magic slated for August 24. Joystiq. Retrieved on 2010-07-15.
  4. Elemental: War of Magic website. Retrieved on 2010-09-01.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Lore, Stardock, http://www.elementalgame.com/lore.asp, retrieved 2009-10-23 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 Error on call to Template:Cite web: Parameters url and title must be specifiedMike Schramm (2010-08-10). ..
  7. Cataclysm. Stardock. http://www.elementalgame.com/cataclysm.asp. Retrieved 2009-10-23. 
  8. Brad Wardell (2010-01-23), Understanding The Fallen, Elemental, and Middle Earth, Stardock, http://frogboy.impulsedriven.net/article/374288/Understanding_The_Fallen_Elemental_and_Middle_Earth, retrieved 2010-02-12 
  9. Stardock Announces New Fantasy Strategy Game, IGN, 2008-11-04, http://pc.ign.com/articles/926/926789p1.html, retrieved 2010-02-10 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Jacob Vandy VanDerWerf (2010-08-16). Elemental: War of Magic Brad Wardell Interview. FiringSquad. Retrieved on 2010-08-22.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 G4 TV. Elemental War of Magic interview. Retrieved on 2010-08-21.
  12. Brad Wardell (2010-07-21). Game Mechanics: The Ultimate Balancing Act. Retrieved on 2010-08-21.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Sean Ridgeley (2010-08-12). Elemental beta journals Pt. 2: War & peace. Neoseeker. Retrieved on 2010-08-21.
  14. Tom Chick (2010-08-24). Elemental: hey, where'd that come from?. Fidgit. Retrieved on 2010-08-24.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 15.6 15.7 James Fudge (2010-08-18). Elemental War of Magic Q&A with Brad Wardell. Gameshark. Retrieved on 2010-08-22.
  16. Brad Wardell (FiringSquad interview): …when you play as the Kingdoms, it feels more like you’re building up a government, whereas when you’re playing as an Empire, it’s really more about building up great people. I guess the best way to put it is that the Kingdoms are nations of laws and the Empires are nations of men, individuals.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Scott Tykoski (2009-08-27), The Art of Elemental: War of Magic, IGN, http://pc.ign.com/articles/101/1019369p1.html, retrieved 2010-02-11 
  18. Kieron Gillen (2009-01-16), Unknown Pleasures 2009: Elemental: War of Magic, Rock, Paper, Shotgun, http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2009/01/16/unknown-pleasures-2009-elemental-war-of-magic/, retrieved 2010-02-11 
  19. 19.0 19.1 Sean Colleli (2010-08-05). Elemental: War of Magic - Interview with Brad Wardell. Gaming Nexus. Retrieved on 2010-08-22.
  20. Categories Humans: civilization, warfare, magic, adventure and diplomacy.
    Fallen: imperium, conquest, sorcery, domination and cooperation
  21. Brad Wardell (2010-06-01). Elemental: Researching Technologies. Retrieved on 2010-08-22.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Brad Wardell (2010-). Elemental AI difficulty levels. Retrieved on 2010-08-22.
  23. "The Good, The Bad, The Ugly". Game Informer: p56. 2007-11. 
  24. John Callaham (2009-09-07), "PAX 2009: Elemental: War of Magic impressions", Big Download (AOL Games), http://news.bigdownload.com/2009/09/07/pax-2009-elemental-war-of-magic-impressions/, retrieved 2010-02-12 
  25. 25.0 25.1 Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg (2010-03-01), "Random House Sets Out to Apply Storytelling Skills to Videogames", The Wall Street Journal, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704089904575093562727862740.html, retrieved 2010-03-01 
  26. Brad Wardell (2010-07-23), Watch This Space, Stardock, http://forums.elementalgame.com/389038/page/2/#269277, retrieved 2010-08-11 
  27. John Callaham (2010-08-20). Elemental demo planned for "early September" release. Big Download. Retrieved on 2010-08-23.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Nick Breckon (2009-09-23), Stardock Interview Part 1: Brad Wardell on Elemental, Shacknews, http://www.shacknews.com/featuredarticle.x?id=1201, retrieved 2010-02-11 
  29. Unlimited expansion by us and the players, Stardock, http://forums.elementalgame.com/331361, retrieved 2009-07-14 
  30. Brad Wardell (2010-06-01). Elemental: Kumquat Graphics Engine. Retrieved on 2010-08-28.
  31. Brad Wardell (2010-08-21). Elemental: The unboxing of the limited edition. Retrieved on 2010-08-18.
  32. Matt Litten (2010-08-25). Elemental: War of Magic Limited Edition Unboxed. Retrieved on 2010-08-25.
  33. Brad Wardell (2010-08-22). Will Digital (And paid for box) of Limited Edition get all the 'exclusive' content?. Retrieved on 2010-08-23.
  34. Brad Wardell (2010-02-10). Elemental: Modding. Retrieved on 2010-08-21.
  35. Larry Frum (2010-08-24). New strategy game sheds unpopular anti-piracy system. CNN. Retrieved on 2010-08-24.
  36. Scott Tykoski (2010-08-17). Elemental Soundtrack. Retrieved on 2010-09-01.
  37. Kris Graft (2010-03-01), "Stardock, Random House Enter 'Transmedia' Agreement For Elemental", Gamasutra, http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/27445/Stardock_Random_House_Enter_Transmedia_Agreement_For_Elemental.php, retrieved 2010-03-01 
  38. Elemental - Purchase. Stardock. Retrieved on 2010-08-21.
  39. Rainier (2010-08-24). 'Elemental: War of Magic' Free DLC With Novel Purchase. Worthplaying. Retrieved on 2010-08-24.
  40. http://forums.elementalgame.com/395485
  41. Elemental: War of Magic: Critic Reviews. Metacritic. Retrieved on 15 September, 2010.
  42. VanOrd, Kevin (27 August, 2010). "Review in Progress: Elemental: War of Magic". GameSpot. http://www.gamespot.com/news/6274610.html. Retrieved 4 September, 2010. 
  43. Francis, Tom (25 August 2010). "Elemental’s disastrous launch: stay well away". PC Gamer. http://www.pcgamer.com/2010/08/25/elementals-disastrous-launch-stay-well-away/. Retrieved 4 September, 2010. 
  44. 44.0 44.1 Biessener, Adam (31 August 2010). "Elemental: War of Magic". Game Informer. http://gameinformer.com/games/elemental_war_of_magic/b/pc/archive/2010/08/31/review.aspx. Retrieved 4 September, 2010. 
  45. Francis, Tom (2 September 2010). "Elemental: War of Magic review". PC Gamer. http://www.pcgamer.com/2010/09/02/elemental-war-of-magic-review/. Retrieved 4 September, 2010. 
  46. 46.0 46.1 Mastrapa, Gus (1 September 2010). "Elemental: War of Magic Review". G4. http://g4tv.com/games/pc/63836/Elemental-War-of-Magic/review/. Retrieved 4 September, 2010. 
  47. Elemental: War of Magic Review. 1UP.com (27 August 2010). Retrieved on 4 September, 2010.
  48. 48.0 48.1 Chick, Tom (28 August, 2010). Elemental: the review. Fidgit. Retrieved on 4 September, 2010.
  49. 49.0 49.1 VanOrd, Kevin (3 September, 2010). Elemental: War of Magic Review. GameSpot. Retrieved on 4 September, 2010.
  50. Brad Wardell (posting as Frogboy) (2 September, 2010). Why is everyone upset the game came out "early"?!?. Stardock Forums. Retrieved on 4 September, 2010.
  51. Brad Wardell (posting as Frogboy) (3 September, 2010). Any truth to the rumor on shacknews?. Stardock Forums. Retrieved on 4 September, 2010.

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