Elemental is an RPG/RTS hybrid that hopes to combine the best of both worlds in an interactive yet engaging environment. The word 'hopes' is used because there's still a good chance it can reach that potential, with future patches and content updates. But as it stands right now it's a difficult title to judge. On one hand the game has a lot of exciting (and fun) features that could really make it worthwhile, but on another the game is riddled with issues that should really not exist, particularly for a company like Stardock. As a result, how worthwhile the game is really depends on the type of gamer sitting down to play it. Not to mention how much they can tolerate from a game's design.
The game starts off simply enough, allowing players a decent campaign mode to sort through in order to learn the basics in addition to the regular quick match. Much like the Civilization series, Elemental is a game that's meant to be played in randomly generated sessions (or among friends). Players get control of a sovereign who can create cities, and wander the world beating up anything it comes across. Cities expand, armies are raised, and the goal of each match is to defeat every other opponent in the world. It's a relatively simple premise, with a lot of really great highlights.
For example, players can have their character marry another NPC in game in order to have kids, start a royal line (of sorts), and then watch those kids enter the military with their own units. Players also get the task of customizing their own armies, which adds a nice bit of personality to the game. Resources can be purchased and sold in order to better manage the Kingdom, and players do get the joy of being able to attack an enemy Kingdom whenever they like. Combat is the same as just about any other strategy game, although Elemental takes it one step further by enacting a turn-based strategy combat event. There are a lot of pretty solid features here, but Elemental's problem has nothing to do with a lack of real options. Just a lack of real motivation.
The AI for any RTS is pretty integral to the gameplay, as a predictable computer is extremely easy to beat. Unfortunately Elemental's AI is pretty disappointing on all fronts, and the game just isn't deep enough to make up for it. Being able to outlast/out-tech your opponent every single time is extremely boring, and with no pressure provided from the computer, a vibrant detailed world map becomes very flat and dry. There's little motivation to attack your opponents aside from 'they're the enemy nation', and when every other action taken in game is based upon that goal, it's easy to see where things go wrong.
To make matters worse, Elemental itself is riddled with a few bugs that make the experience hard to define. Though Stardock is working hard to constantly patch and update the title, there are a few issues that range from tolerable to frustrating. It's nice that a PC game can naturally fix itself over time, and make it so that future consumers enjoy a better experience, but on the same page there's something to be said about a solid launch.
Graphically Elemental is decent, unremarkable but at the same time different enough to make playing the game tolerable. If anything, the terrain is quite nicely varied, though the world's liveliness is snuffed out by the emotionless, cardboard enemy AI. Sound wise the game also fails to make an impact, though it doesn't do anything that is particularly offensive.
It's hard to say if Elemental is a game that just requires more patches, time, or a completely different team to hold it together. For every moment of 'oh cool' there are hours of pretty boring, repetitive combat events and town-management sequences. Worst of all, there's no real urgency to it. If perhaps given a bit more time, and a little more focus, Elemental would be one of the better RTS games on the market. However taking into consideration the rough start and the even more incomplete-feeling gameplay, it's best to set this game aside for now. At least until a few more major changes have been made. Until then, it's hard to say if the game really succeeds on any level.
Editor's Note: Multiplayer was not available at the time this review was written.