Everything I've seen coming out about fallen enchantress is making me feel good about the game. It looks great, but I'm was wondering about a couple things that haven't gotten very much attention that have always bugged me about Elemental.
Terrain -- it doesn't matter in E:WofM, will it matter in FE?
One of the things that bugged me the most about elemental was simply that there was really no strategic decision regarding where you placed your cities. The essential logic boiled down to this- Step 1: Find a resource or cluster of resources; Step 2: put a city next to it; Repeat. There was never really any thought as to how my cities were going to interact with the surrounding terrain as the game progressed. No real tradeoffs. Do I put my city next to sea to have access to water units (I know fully developed water and navies might be too much to ask for in this expansion), but loose out on some production? Do I put it near the forests where I can get more materials or out in the open where I can support a higher population? Does some terrain contain special resources (perhaps crystals are only found near mountains and in order to mine them a city must be in the foothills) but at the cost of city production and population? Basically, terrain doesn't matter outside of the few special resources clustered around the map. And those few special resources are always a positive. City placement is, as I said before, simply a function of find resource, plop a city down, and repeat until all the resources are claimed.
The other thing that always bugged me about terrain was that there was no incentive to control it. Once again, outside of those few special resources it didn't really matter if there was an enemy army rampaging through your kingdom. So long as you had a garrison (or had just managed to snake your city out to it) on the ancient library and one in your city, it didn't matter if the enemy riders were right next to you (Unfortunately the AI still really isn't at a point where it could manage something like this). The enemy couldn't do anything. There was nothing to destroy and thus little to no incentive to protect.
Third, even if I wanted to control terrain there was no real effective way to do so. I.e. there was no way to defend choke points outside of plopping a city down on one(This is perhaps the one exception to my first issue, but its an exception that arises simply from the lack of another feature). In my opinion it seems kind of silly to want to plop a city down in the remote mountain pass. Ideally there would be some way to build a fortification, garrison it with some troops, and leave it be. This kind of option is interesting even extended beyond just choke point control. The roman empire built small garrison forts at regular intervals along major highways in order to secure them. Any invading army would either have to take the time to besiege each one or bypass and leave a small enemy force camped on their supply lines.
I'm not asking for a system this complex but some way to build things outside of cities and off of special resources would be nice. Sometimes we want roads that aren't just connecting cities. Sometimes we want fortifications in that mountain pass. To bring it into FE, we might want an outpost near the wildlands to warn us if a band of fire elementals is about to go on a rampage.
Basically, all of things boil down to a request to make terrain more interesting and more salient to the overall strategic game. Elemental has always felt to a certain extent that it was built by guys who had spent a lot of time making space 4x games (oh wait...). My cities were little planets, resources were asteroids, and everything else was just emptiness. Now it looks like the wildlands concept in FE is going to improve upon this somewhat, but unless you make terrain in general more salient to the game then they're just going to be more interesting, larger asteroids floating out in space.
The second thing I was wondering about is something that is often discussed on these boards, and I'm not the first to bring it up. But I think its incredibly important, and thus far we've only got a few scraps about how its going to improve in FE and I'd like to hear more. Bottom line, factions are not different in Elemental and provide little to no replay-ability. A dev journal discussing this point and this point alone would do a great deal to put any worries I have about FE to rest.
These two issues for me are the main reasons that each elemental game always feels so similar, thus destroying replay-ability. I hate to bring in the example of Civ, but its basically the gold standard in TBS games so comparisons are inevitable. In civ, factions are largely similar so just by changing those you don't really get any replay-ability. However, what civ did have was interesting terrain. Each game was different because the random location you found yourself on the map dramatically changed how you approached a game. The resources you had, the terrain your first few cities were on, even the number of cities you could fit into your initial chunk of territory affected your ideal strategy. Every game was a little different because every map was a little different. Not so with elemental. Even if the outline of the seas and mountain are different in each elemental game, it hardly changes how the game plays out or what the optimal strategy is. Now maybe just adding the wildlands is enough to improve this problem, but my worry is, as I already stated above, that they'll just simply be larger, more interesting asteroids that are still floating out in the void of space.
But faction differentiation is the most obvious way to improve replay-ability. First off, I was extremely happy when it was announced that Kael was going to be leading the development of FE as the work he did with Fall from Heaven is perhaps the best example I've ever seen of a game with extremely diverse factions that dramatically change how a game is played. However, as the months have passed we still really haven't gotten anything to give us a hint as to how this might improve with FE, and as the months have passed I've gotten more worried that any improvements seen will be relatively insignificant in the overall schema of the game.