The fifth and latest addition in the long-running Age of Wonders series is the first to trade in the out-of-the-ordinary fantasy environment for a sleek and shiny sci-fi theme. Regardless of the change of scenery, it remains true to its roots and delivers a perfect hybrid between turn-based tactics and a 4X strategy game that is at its best when it targets people – both the people you meet and the people who send you war. This is our Age Of Wonders: Planetfall Review.
Age Of Wonders: Planetfall Review: About
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, macOS
- Developer: Triumph Studios, Triumph Studios B.V.
- Publisher: Paradox Interactive
- Genres: 4X
- Release Date: August 6, 2019
Age Of Wonders: Planetfall Review: Gameplay
4X strategy games tend to present the land they ask their players to explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate as uninhabited. It is common to start a new game with a settler unit and the implicit promise that this is a world to be settled. It’s up for grabs. Colonial fantasy extends to the indigenous people, if at all, and is treated as incidental. At best, they are neutral props with no ambition of their own; in the worst case, they are nothing more than vermin to be exterminated.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall provides a different perspective. Instead of conquering a new world, you return home for centuries after a disaster drove your ancestors away. There is still a war to be waged, people always to be pushed out – this remains a 4X game in the Sid Meier tradition. However, in the light narrative touch of a search system that gives voice and purpose to everyone you meet, there are moments of reconnection and rediscovery. In a way, it will be a 5X game, with which you can dig up and reclaim traces of the history of your civilization.
This emphasis on archeology is more common in the surprisingly substantial campaign mode than in the randomly rolled maps of the scenario mode. The 13 campaign missions, in which you can play as all six of the game’s six dozen factions, are peppered with script beats that manage to work out the history and relationships between the different civilizations. Visit a foreign colony, and you could initiate a conversation between your commander and another faction leader, asking you to conduct a quest to win their favor.
Later on, you may come across a third faction that promises you an essential insight into your own goals in exchange for betraying the friendship you forged recently. Such choices are fraught. Each camp, even the small indigenous groups, is building relationships with the others, and it quickly becomes apparent that every new decision you make will affect your status in the world.
Random scenario mode cannot rely on the campaign script, but each procedurally generated map still supports the same dynamic search system. One might instruct you to help them complete necessary investigations, while another would urge you to track down a bunch of tricky enemies who are plundering their land. Such quests not only engage you in interactive diplomacy but also serve as a clear motivation for exploring new areas and pushing your boundaries in specific directions.
Regardless of whether you choose the campaign or a scenario, you start with a single settlement and gradually take over neighboring sectors to secure access to their resources. You build military units to wage war or to protect your newly acquired assets. You colonize and upgrade unclaimed areas to specialize in providing your colony with food, energy, research, or production. You have to head your way around the non-intuitive sci-fi names of many technologies, structures, and units. Still, you hover over Kinetic Force Manipulation to open the tooltip, and you quickly realize that it means “Better Guns.”
Indeed, it’s all pretty straightforward for anyone who has played Civilization or played in the strategic layer of a Total War. However, sometimes it feels like expansion decisions aren’t choices at all. When faced with the prospect of expanding into one of two possible sectors, always choose the one who receives bonus production from his quarry over the one that does not offer any bonus. Now and then, you have to weigh the benefits of one resource against the other, but they’re also not / or choices – they’re more like whether you need that nutrient-rich river sector now or you want it a little bit later.
Among the constructions you can build with a colony, there is also a disappointing lack of variety. Most of what you can create are incremental upgrades that boost resource production. At the same time, unique buildings, such as the Wonders of the World in Civilization, or anything that changes your playing style is only felt when they to be absent.
More exciting decisions come into play. Armies can hold up to six units and are led by a hero unit commander. When two or more hostile armies meet on the world map, the battle is resolved through a remarkably fully functional XCOM-style tactical conflict. Each unit can move individually, take partial or full coverage, attack in melee or remotely, and enlist some specialized skills. The range of options available to you here is staggering.
Each unit can be equipped with primary and secondary weapons and up to three skill mods you can earn with Quest rewards or unlocked in the tech tree. You can apply a template to all units of the same class so that, for example, newly recruited infantry will all have higher accuracy and healing. But if you’re like me, you’ll love to roll up your sleeves to suit every unit in your army. In addition to complexity, hero units can learn skills that not only improve their skills but also provide buffs to the units they lead.
I was thrilled to have the authority to develop specialized armies. In my current game, I have an army of snipers led by a commander using mind control debuffs and a second army around a melee tank supported by defensive grunts that can throw portable cover all over the battlefield. The degree of adjustment is both flexible and powerful.
This type of specialization is crucial because you can bring multiple armies into the same battle – and it indeed becomes essential when you encounter harder troops in the mid and late game. Any military on the world map adjacent to the hex where the combat is started is involved in the conflict. So much of the tactical considerations at work here come from maneuvering your troops to outdo the enemy. Battles can be resolved automatically so you can see the AI simulate the tactical combat or jump straight to the outcome, but doing so will result in unnecessary losses in all but the most skewed matches.
Age Of Wonders: Planetfall Review: Conclusion
Overall, Age of Wonders: Planetfall is a robust package for 4X players looking to test themselves against a more in-depth combat system than usual in the genre. It suffers a bit from its sci-fi setting, which makes things just a little more challenging to relate than, say, actual human history. Still, it compensates by creating a cast of fictional alien civilizations worth getting to know. It may not feel entirely at home at first, but you will settle down quickly.
Regardless of the change of scenery, it remains true to its roots and delivers a perfect hybrid between turn-based tactics and a 4X strategy game that is at its best when it targets people – both the people you meet and the people who send you war.