You can see some of my thoughts on Dominions 4 here: http://alphacentauri2.info/index.php?topic=16725.0
And at least on Dominions 4 AAR here: http://alphacentauri2.info/index.php?topic=5666.0
Simply put, Dominions is my favorite game series. On the surface, they are a simple 4X game with a lot of table top gaming feel. They play much like a 'spreadsheet game'. As such, there's TONS of info to be assimilated, and new players can have a hell of a learning curve.
I'm mostly going to focus on the changes to Dominions 5 now. I have ~2 hours in is all.
5 come out of the blue for me, I hadn't followed developement, and frankly didn't expect it for another year or 2, assuming it would follow a similar developement cycle as 3 and 4. But up it popped in my STEAM folder just before Halloween. If you know me, I have a solid no-buy policy from September through to after Christmas, and I followed that here, only picking this up on New Years eve after doing my budgets for the year.
The first thing that struck me was the graphical improvement. No, it's not something amazing, but it's noticeable, like going from a PS1 game to a PS2. The font is just so much CLEARER to me. I don't know how well it will show on the screenshots.
So, side by side, first Dominions 4
Now, Dominions 5.
Now, take a second look at that dominions 5 screenshot. There's a couple other big changes here that bear attention.
God creation in Dominions is one of the most important things when setting up a game. You might not guarantee a WIN with a good god creation, but you can sure LOSE with a bad one.
New to Dominions 5 are the custom priest spells. Here you see my god is getting ashes to ashes and heavenly fire in place of the normal banishment spell thanks to his fire paths. I don't know what other options might pop up there, I have no control.
However, look at the bless effects. IF
you go over 4 points in any magic path, you can now customize your blessing effects. Essentially you get 1 bless point for each point in a magic path, and you can select from a dropdown menu how to spend those points. You can also stack weaker blessings. So, you can see I spent all 4 fire points on a big fire blessing, but doubled up 2 earth blessings, and 4x on the death blessing.
There were even now mixed blessing that cost, say, 2 air and 1 nature, or something. Another change is that the really powerful 5+ point blessings now require the god to be manifested. So, the old strategy of picking an imprisoned god for more points for a major bless to give your sacred units a huge edge is out the window. (I'm looking at you, Mictlan) You now would have to wait till your god broke free to get the benefits. But some of them just may be worth that wait, should you survive that long.
I've also noticed a bunch of new bless effects, which will need a lot more looking into at some point. This is incredibly fascinating and the first thing that adds REAL change to the series in 5.
The next change come at unit recruitment.
Below you'll notice a couple things that I'm not sure are completely balanced yet, but offer a significant change. Recruitment points and commander points.
I'm not sure exactly how they are factored at the moment. But it's a new resource that is partially from province (maybe population) and modified based on your fort/castle stats. Previously, in Dominions 4, it was just strictly resources and gold, and you could buy as many troops as you wanted anywhere as long as you had those.
Factoring in the recruitment points, there's going to be a lot more building a bunch of low resource units over there, and the high resource ones yonder, and marching them around to combine over there.
Commander points are also interesting as I had some commanders that would take 4 turns due to my commander points, and some I could build 2 of this turn. I'll need a lot more time with it to say whether this is a good or bad move.
I had a tendency to play nations with rather crappy forts in the past. (Early Age Machaka here is new, but still a good example. They were in Middle ages before, and one of my go-to's in that age, where they were considered weak with tribal systems and crappy forts) That might be an even bigger handicap than before.
The next big change comes to the battles.
Battles ARE NOW SIMULTANEOUS TURNS. No, not you. You still have no control in battle, you set orders prior to battle and can watch the battle if you want.
However, Dominions 4 battle order:
Within that, the units moved:
And within those trees there was a turn order as well. And you could spend hours setting up intricate spell lists to get things out in the right order and pretty much wipe enemies out with mages and archers, just keeping enough melee to keep your mages clean.
This is gone. Bye bye. No more. Everything now moves at the same time (presumably on initiative).
Cavalry set to attack archers, therefore, can really decimate a back line as a result, not having to suffer a round of spells and arrows first.
For now, my old strategies of archers, mages and fodder WORK, but I'm seeing significantly more casualties. It's going to take me a lot more time to figure out how the new battle system works.
One final big change is in the map.
Previous entries 'shipped' with a lot of carefully premade maps. Dominions 5, instead come with a much more customizable random map generator that seems to put out much more friendly maps than the previous generators.