This is how war in elemental basically works: I’ve reached the midgame, I’ve got a few towns and I’ve run into a faction on my borders. Having largely reached the limits of natural expansion, I realize going to war and taking the first enemy town is the next step towards expanding my power. So I move my sovereign to my most vulnerable border town and begin training troops there in preparation for an attack. Whether I am at war or not, it never comes. I click on the enemy town and (for some reason) am able to see what troops it has. I realise that it has a smaller army than the one I have assembled. I move out. In four turns I am at the town. I fight one battle against a couple of units and militia, using magic if it looks like being close, and the town is mine. I receive a significant boost to my economy and the opponent a significant decrease in theirs. They try to retake the town with units that were nearby but not garrisoned and fail miserably as my forces now benefit from defence bonuses and militia. After this first conquest, every subsequent one follows this pattern, only getting easier.
To summarise, problems that contribute towards the ridiculous easiness of war:
1 – The AI is awful at concentrating force at crucial locations. The AI in Galactic Civilizations was similar, with many small fleets buzzing around in a homogenous cloud, which could be easily picked off. Galactic Civilizations got away with it however, because in order to conquer a planet you didn’t just need to beat the defending ships, you needed to bring in ground troops as well: ie, establish complete aerial supremacy. While it may be possible to improve the AI, most AIs in other games struggle with this and we would do better changing the mechanics to make this flaw less obvious.
2 – I can see what units are in an enemy town, even if it’s out of visual range. This was also in GalCiv, and it’s a completely braindead feature. There’s no reasonable explanation for it. No one on here ever asks for it to be removed, because no player ever asks for functionality to be removed. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. It confers an obscene advantage, and while many of us choose not to use it, I suspect many who complain the game is too easy DO make use of it. When most of us are still complaining the game is too easy, handing the player this obscene advantage is unjustifiable.
3 – It’s far too easy to move from one town to another in a couple of turns with three or four units and quickly conquer an enemy settlement before the enemy can see you coming or prepare. If the town is an important one, this can decide a war almost as soon as it begins, especially once you add the garrison and defence bonuses to your invading ones. Equally importantly, the moment you get there, the game is up and even a powerful AI has no time to react with any nearby units.
On a related note, the game has other problems which I hope my solutions will also help to address. Hopefully, this will become clearer later.
4 – Adventuring still gets hemmed in by enemy territory. For all the increased emphasis on exploration, you usually do not see the shape of the map until you have conquered it.
5 – Both the player and AI are massively vulnerable to attack in the early game. A few lucky champions and items in the early game can win you the whole thing if you really want to cheese it, and unlucky monster generation can make some starting positions impossible.
So my solutions are broadly as follows:
Spying on enemy towns out of visual range needs to be killed as a feature. Kill it. Kill it with a shovel. Burn the remains. It’s the only way to be sure.
I should not be able to conquer a town with champions alone. You should need troops to police the streets.
Removing this ability from champions would improve the usefulness of infantry, but, since it would reduce the danger posed to cities by champions, we could therefore give champions the ability to enter other faction’s territory when unaccompanied by troops. This would allow champions to keep adventuring later on in the game, and prevent the potential problems of quest objectives spawning in inaccessible locations.
You should not be able to attack a walled settlement without either A a siege weapon (either a catapult, or troops with ladders and grappling hooks) B an equally powerful monster or C some serious magic or magic item. Enforcing this rule would, providing the player remembered to build a wall, fulfil the same purpose as the Planetary Invasion tech in GalCiv2: giving the player and AI a brief kindergarten period in which to establish a functioning empire before the real wars started, but would also have a believable justification.
Essentially, these kind of mechanics could be easily enabled by giving all troops (and humanoid monsters, like darklings) a “garrison” trait, and all siege weapons a “wall-breaker” trait. A unit with “wall-breaker” would be required to attack a city, and a unit with “garrison” would be required to hold it. Only units with these traits would trigger a territory violation.
I would also impose a minimum time period before the invading army was able to benefit from the city militia. This could be enabled by requiring players to build a cheap, early game building with no maintenance in order to benefit from militia, which would be automatically destroyed on any invasion.
EDIT: So these measures would more or less fix the problems I mentioned earlier. But it still allows players to take enemy settlements very quickly if they have everything in place and makes blitzkrieg still the best tactic. What is needed for this is a proper, total war style siege system. When I say this I am NOT talking about big, impressive siege battles. Please don’t start debating which game had the best siege battles because we’ve had that thread before.
What I am talking about is simply a system that forces the besieging army to wait a few turn on the world map, between attacking a city and fighting the actual battle. The time involved would depend on the quality of the defences and the number and quality of catapults and other siege equipment. Enforcing this waiting time would give the defending player time to prepare his forces, and maybe bring in a relief force from another city, which is an essential component of any fun siege.