So, after however many months of being released, we're closing in on sealing the deal on the shard system. This is awesome and bad at the same time. For one, everyone will be on a level playing field. The downside is that you're going to lose a lot of impetus to keep participating in shardfalls (See: Anti-magick.) It's not the sole reason they've dwindled, but it's a factor. "Why do I go get my **** handed to me?" While you're developing a sect system, new area releases, and derping around building a war system, I think it's a good time to interject that you need to consider building some new shard trees and shard sinks into the game.
Ideas that you may consider.
-Customization There's nothing wrong with introducing a little steampunk into the game. It's the age of mortals, so it's sort of a logical leap. You could allow for customization to include RED shards (notice how I did not say blue).
-Engineering customization. You can customize everything else, why not have interesting looking engineering equipment (sans bombs).
-Build quests where shards are involved as quest currency.
-Involve the horde, undead, and demons in shards. (I figured this was a no brainer) Phenomenal cosmic power...nothx. We're good.
-Sect system. You can offer sect modifications that take shards, gold, faith, and research. You can even add shard abilities to sect powers. The sink is limitless and you can honestly churn out some cool **** if you put your mind to it here. Raising the essence cap past 100%. Using shards in place of gold for mob, temple expansion. Researching temple expansion. Impacting the shrine system with sect research. Yadda, yadda.
So, those are the easy ones. Now is where I think you can make things interesting.
The war system.
-Obelisks are a bust. Tying obelisks to the shard system was a mistake, imo, and it's been nothing but miserable. I think you can really hop in here and use the shard system as a basis for a better war system. You can add on new trees concerning utility, defense, war and then have it be a branching tiered system and not this 1 -> useless -> useless -> awesome -> filler --> filler system that we have now. From there you can actually force strategic decisions and take the obelisk system and move it to a smaller scale. If you're smart (you may be, I dunno) you take the WoW perspective and you can actually have a mix of combat scenarios where you have
-Epic poopsocking combat (obelisks) that's fun for about an hour
-Quick and dirty team skirmishes move A from B. Use shards to buy upgrades. Seize the objective. You get 1 of those. You use it to power research. SHAZAM.
-A happy middle ground, something akin but not restricted to KotH.
When we're taking skill trees you can really expand this to be player buffs like additional damage types, additional healing, and make this non-stacking buffs that push the extremes of combat (for lulz). You can also take a turn and insert some sort of strategy mechanic where you're moving around unique shard units like a shard juggernaut to capture the 'obelisk' and I have to counter with my own shard juggernaught, or I was smart before hand and invested in a shard sapper who's going to kick your juggernaut in the ****. yada, yada. You can make it small scale Age of Empires or some ****, but anything is better than obelisk. You just have to make sure not to make a lot of low cost, units that can be sacrificed or Gurn's head is going to explode reliving Starcraft glory days.
Tbh, I rambled a bit, but it's food for thought to keep the momentum going for omg pkpkpkpkpk while you stab around trying to retcon story line. Oh hey, you can totally make up some epic bs about why we're doing what we're doing, which was something that was lacking in trenches of boring **** obelisks. You give us something to pk, and some feeble back story and we'll kill the **** out of it and then roleplay. We're pretty retarded that way.
Edit: Obelisks were a good idea and a good place to start, it just didn't pan out. I do applaud the attempt. *hi5* or something. It was a better first try than any other game. Heromode.