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Preview: Elemental: War of Magic

We were recently granted a preview of Stardock's Elemental: War of Magic by none other than CEO Brad Wardell. While many know this company as the developer of Object Desktop, they've also had success with their Galactic Civilizations series and their publishing ventures Sins of a Solar Empire and Demigod.

It would be a mistake to simply categorize Elemental as just a fantasy-based 4X title; the gameplay offers much more than the assumptions contained within that genre. Read on to find out why you should look forward to this game`s August release.

Unlike most 4X titles, where the player assumes the role of a faceless overseer, Elemental allows direct control of the action through the creation of a Sovereign. The Sovereign directly engages with the world, and is the key to victory.

You may choose from among a variety of Sovereign types, or roll your own, selecting traits like base stats, profession, talents, and even strengths and weaknesses. The appearance editor is surprisingly robust, and offers a welcome variety of options to differentiate your Sovereign on the field from other characters. What's more, the player is presented with a Magic: The Gathering-style card to represent key characters, which is customizable down to a character's quote.

It should be noted here that the art style of Elemental, while seemingly simplistic, was specifically designed to offer easy discernment at various zoom levels. You will know right away exactly who's who, right down to armor and weapon choice. In fact, when new equipment is enabled, it's visible right away on the selected character; there is no guesswork or cookie-cutter appearance. This applies to the various structures throughout the world, making it easy for the player to tell at a glance which buildings are present in a city, which roads offer the best travel, and so forth. This is a wonderful design choice that really aids in developing strategy.

Once created, the Sovereign must choose a location upon which to build his fist city, in the vein of Civilization. Where Elemental differs, however, is that the Sovereign must give up some of his Essence to make the ground fertile enough to sustain life. Essence is a finite resource and must be used wisely. It governs many important mechanics, including spell usage, which comes into play mid- to late-game.

Once a city is built, it bears a population of one, but will attract residents as it grows. Building new structures that benefit the city is a matter of developing materials, which are themselves supplied by workshops. With the proper structures, a city will generate resources like gold, spellpower, knowledge, attraction, and free tiles to build on. One of the most important abilities a city grants is training soldiers.

This is another point in which Elemental veers from the standard 4X path. Units are entirely designed by the player, and are a collection of attributes. The player may create any number of unit types, but it costs gold and resources to actually train these units. Units of different quality take longer to train than others. An elite unit -- with better stats -- will take longer to appear than a normal unit will. Similarly, units need not be built piecemeal; groups can be trained all at once, but this will also take more time.

Finally, training a unit is a one-time cost, but every unit requires a specific wage for upkeep, and the wage is the same for every unit, no matter its strength.


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