When Paradox had their showcase earlier in the year, I heard a lot of fans calling for “Age of Wonders” a franchise I’d never paid much attention to, mostly because it’s a genre I’ve never played a lot of, classed as a 4X strategy, the aim is to Explore, Expand, Exploit and Exterminate, and here we are a few months later and I’m wondering what I’ve been missing all these years.
I’ve dabbled with a little Civilization, but never really invested myself into the genre, so while I was already family with building up victory points to claim the win by any means necessary, I’d usually opt for a diplomatic route, rather than trying to battle opponents who always seemed to build their armies quicker than I could, but sitting down with Age of Wonders, I was in for a big surprise.
My first game of Age of Wonders was all a little confusing, I jumped in as Karissa the Red a ruthless fire sorceress of the orcs with a bad attitude and an even worse reputation. I hoped her Orc army would make a suitable figurehead for attack and after the first 10 or so moves, things were looking promising, but I soon bit off more than I could chew and spent the next 50+ moves struggling to regain my lost ground.
As you might expect the core gameplay loop is similar to other titles in the genre, but Age of Wonders 4 really starts to shine when you look a little deeper.
That first choice of a ruler, was from about 20 preset leaders, each with their specified race, weaknesses and strengths, and I was pretty impressed at the level of detail for customising Karissa, until I realised you could create your own race and leader from scratch and then the level of detail, customisation and options available to you really do make Age of Wonders 4 stand above anything else similar I’ve played.
One criticism of similar titles is repetition, I’ve often spent hours working through a single victory on Civilization only to win, and that’s it, game over, you get the glory of maybe telling a friend or sharing a screenshot on social media, but ultimately each game is a closed entity that’s forgotten as soon as you click new game, and tried and tested methods of victory are likely to be just as successful next time round.
With Age of Wonders 4, that’s all changed,, so spending hours deciding on your race, the exact clothing you want your leader to wear or which tomes (spells) to unlock isn’t a fruitless mission that ends as soon as you claim victory, it’s just a tiny part of your Pantheon, a Magehaven sanctuary where great leaders venture to new realms and become a part of your future adventures, as well as new realms to unlock there’s dozens of cosmetics and equipment which can again be utilized on future games, meaning every match is more like a single battle with a gigantic ongoing saga that’s ever-evolving.
Being inexperienced with the genre, It’s fair to say I haven’t played enough to really relate how this plays out over hundreds of hours of gameplay, and to newcomers, it might all sound a little over-complicated, but the whole concept gives 4X strategy games, the longevity that Rainbow Six brought to First Person Shooters, when it introduced “Persistent Elite Creation” (constant ranking and progression for characters and unlocks, which was obviously made more popular by Call of Duty in the years thereafter)
That’s the sort of jump Age of Wonders 4 introduces to the genre, and it’s perfectly clear that with this level of detail and customisation, and the ongoing pantheon you build with every victory, Age of Wonders 4 is setting a new standard for 4X strategy games.
Adding to the unparalleled depth and customisation, it’s also clear that Age of Wonders 4 maintains great presentation throughout, whether it’s the deep, well made and informative narration for each character, or simple conversations with others within each game, or the detailed maps, character models, and even general AI mobs, the presentation is always incredible.
If I had to make one complaint, it would be that sometimes units built, appearing on a location aren’t always cleat, but as you play more, you soon become familiar with what you’re looking for.
One standout point for me was the timeline after a match a simple concept that has been in various other titles, but this time I found it useful, I could see exactly where things went south and what I’d done wrong, which ultimately helped me for future matches, rather than watching a snapshot of failure, it felt more like a lesson in future success.
No matter where you look with Age of Wonders 4 there’s a plethora of options, the realm you’re playing on, your leader and their race, and what method of victory you’re likely to pursue might all be sorted fairly early on, but you never feel restricted, even if you choose a diplomatic approach to your neighbours, you’ll still find plenty of monsters lurking around to keep your armies busy and options such as annexing cities to expand their borders let you pull in extra resources without having to worry about defining new cities every time you overstep your own boundaries.
For newcomers it’s going to sound complicated, but a strategy game like this is going to take time and understanding, but the important thing to remember is, when you’ve played a few games, do you want things to feel exactly the same, or do you want unparalleled levels of customisation and options as well as the ongoing pantheon.
It’s pretty clear that Age of Wonders 4 doesn’t just target exceeding anything the “Age of” franchise has done before, Age of Wonders 3 was “pretty good” so I’m reassured, and Age of Wonders: Planetfall – is a game I always considered but unfortunately never invested myself into, (something I’m regretting right now) , but Age of Wonders 4 goes above and beyond, providing everything strategy fans have been asking for and a whole lot more and whereas I used to look towards Civilization VI for anything similar, there’s no doubt at all that any future 4X strategy games will be right here on Age of Wonders 4.
Age of Wonders 4
Age of Wonders 4 goes above and beyond, providing everything strategy fans have been asking for and a whole lot more.