Posted: May 28
There's a lot to love in this game, but also a lot to hate. If you're curious but don't want to commit to cash quite yet I recommend you check out CoE2 available for free from Illwinter's site as a free download. It's a lot more limited than this version of the game, but will give you a pretty good feel for how it handles.
On the good side, if you're looking for a streamlined fantasy 4X that offers a unique collection of races and play mechanics, this might be your games (I especially enjoyed Illwinter's take on why you never see any female dwarfs). It's really satisfying to finally round up enough innocents to summon demon lords, or to finally complete the necromantic ritual which will turn you into an immortal vampire in an old, abandoned castle.
On the bad side, Illwinter doesn't really care that much about UI. In the Dominions series (which has gotten a lot better on this front) it was the price of admission for a really unique strategy game. With the stripped down CoE approach, the lapses in UI design feel a lot less forgivable. For example, there's no smooth way to start a new game without exiting and launching the game again. Unit moves can't be cued, so you spend a lot of time babysitting commanders on there way back to grab reinforcements.
Past the interface, the abundance of unfriendly fauna can get rather obnoxious. While it's cool that you need to be careful early on, by mid game marauding bands of deer taking unprotected farms just gets annoying. Commanders are a limited resource in the game, so keeping them on hand for pest control can get frustrating. Plus I'm unaware of any kind of "major events" summary, so I spend a lot of time at the beginning of each turn checking my domain and making sure Bambi isn't stirring up any trouble. Then on larger maps you can have to cross fields covered with unthreatening but still annoying spawns.
Finally, there's side balance. As is the case with any game that has 17 truly unique sides it's a nightmare. Necromancer's can be unstoppable in the Fallen Empire period, or they can get screwed by their early game position. Playing a side that relies on mines? Hope you start near some, because while your capital normally counts as one, there might not be any others nearby.