I think this review is spot on.
The way champions and magic are implemented is quite frankly, piss poor. There's no point to leveling your sovereign or anything like that. The later level spells don't do anything particularly interesting other than 'summon unit' or 'deal damage in mildly creative way X'
I will give credit to the game where it is due, the empire building part of the game is pretty neat. I like the way the tech tree works and building empires and stuff. My current strategy revolves around using an Organized sovereign to basically zoom a huge army around the map. Seems to work well. The real test will be in fighting against the AI and seeing how that works.
Alot of this could be fixed by simply tweaking champions. My suggestion is to make it so that creating a champion and buying equipment is closer to parties/squads of units in cost.
Think about it:
A level 1 champion has maybe 9 HP, and crappy stats and weapons. They cost as much as a squad of well equipped warriors who would likely have high attack and 30 HP. I might pay 50 gold and 50 materials for that squad, and they will all be armed with light armor and axes. I can churn these guys out at every city I have with little consequence.
For an equivalent champion I'm, going to be forking over something like 200-300 gold for something with much less attack and HP.
Honestly, champions/soveriegns SHOULD be as cost effective in plain old combat as the highest 'group' of equivalently armed soldiers. If my champion has 12 str and a broadsword/armor set that I spent 600 GP on, then he should be worth 15-25 equivalent guys and take/deliver a real beating. I recommend raising champion's stats by a factor of 5 or maybe even 10. 25 HP/5 attack/5 def for a level 1 character you paid 50 GP for sounds reasonable to me.
Champions would be naturally limited by the fact you can't churn them out 5-10 at once at super-experienced level.
Magic itself I'm much less enthused about getting better. I don''t really see new spell effects being added until the next expansion, which is really what this game needs. There's just an overall lack of interesting units/abilities to get. This game really needs a shot in the arm in terms of creativity, and relying on modders is really not going to work. That's just lazy.
A modder can extend the life of a game for years, but the majority of people playing the game largely depends on official content. At most 5% of the community will use any given mod, resulting in fracturing.
It would be GREAT if Stardock simply dumped a bunch of artwork and stat archetypes into the tech/design engine. Let's say you research "Build dragons" , well now you can call up a portrait of a dragon, and then grab some stats for it (basic/HP/attack/defense/move values) and then equip it with certain items (Rings/amulets/packs/etc).
THAT would be sweet. But do I see that coming in a PATCH? Not a chance in hell.
But honestly? I see this game going down the way of Demigod if Stardock doesn't do something DRASTIC to improve the basic gameplay within the next few weeks. Drastic like sticking artwork and programming assets into a patch. I really doubt stat tweaks and balance mods will be enough to fix the game's initial....underwhelmingness.
The sheer fact is there aren't many strategic options other than booming a lot of cities and pumping out troops. You need troops to keep peace and fight monsters, so pretty much no matter what 'objective' you choose, master spell, master quest, diplo-vic or conquest, you'll be playing the game the same way.
As of now the Elemental platform has a lot of potential as a TOOLKIT, but really the core game is weak.