Available On: PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S
Played On: PC
Over the last decade Triumph Studios have proven their name. The Age of Wonders series are among the best 4X turn-based games fans can play. After the awesome sci-fi spinoff Planetfall in 2019, Age of Wonders 4 returns the series to its fantasy roots, unlocking races, magic tomes, and empire development to create highly customizable factions.
Return of the Godir
If you’re new to the series, Age of Wonders 4 is a 4X strategy game. You control an entire faction on a randomly generated map, starting with a city and an army. From there you expand the city with new provinces, build upgraded buildings, and draft new units and heroes to explore the map.
The map is full of enemy units, treasures, magic items, resources, infestations, and ancient wonders, leading to an almost overwhelming amount of choices every turn. Outposts and cities should be strategically located, and expanded with province improvements to maximize your territory and bonuses, while butting heads with your neighbors.
There are only three victory conditions (four if you count the score victory after reaching the allotted turn time). Military conquest is the last empire standing, though diplomacy and alliances can play a major role. Magic victory rewards the player who researches the most tomes and builds the right province improvements. While the Expansion victory comes after spreading your empire across the map.
Most 4X games don’t bother with much story-telling, relying on emergent gameplay. Planetfall introduced a fun, if overly long campaign full of characters and side quests. Age of Wonders 4 backpedals a bit, featuring only a handful of scripted campaign maps that serve more as tutorials to different biomes and leader types than telling a single interconnected story.
Thankfully the gameplay introduces some major changes to shake up the formula, most notably the new, fully customizable empires.
Unlike previous games in the series, Age of Wonders 4 doesn’t have preset factions, such as humans or elves. Instead, you create your own race from the ground up, choosing from 10 different forms (dwarfkin, halfling, goblinoid, etc), and over a dozen different body and mind traits.
Each faction than chooses a culture type, society traits, and starting tome. Furthermore, your customizable leader could be a different race entirely, in case you wanted to a be human wizard leading a bunch of stalwart halflings.
While custom factions lose a bit of identity, they add immeasurably to replayability.
As you play, you’ll research and unlock new Tomes of Knowledge, such as Cryomancy, Summoning, Nature’s Wrath, and Revelry. Each tome adds new spells, units, and upgrades, further customizing your faction, on top of empire-wide upgrades that unlock via the Imperium skill tree according to which tomes you’ve chosen.
With this system I can build demon-worshipping, mystic frog people who ride giant boars, or berserk, cannibal halflings who eventually become undead!
Achieving victory allows the leader (and custom faction) to ascend to the Pantheon, where they could be found in future games as hirable heroes or neighboring forces. The Pantheon also unlocks some cosmetic goodies and challenge maps, though it’s a far cry from Planetfall’s much more robust Galactic Empire mode (which was added several years post-launch).
Age of Wonders 4 is rated T for Teen, with blood, fantasy violence, mild language, and mild suggestive themes. You’ll spend much of your time waging war against various creatures, from a strategy perspective. What little story exists plays out in small pop-up choices, which frequently include good and evil acts (with appropriate alignment shifts).
While I admittedly miss Planetfall’s distinct factions, cover system, unit mods, and lengthy campaign (and Empire mode!), Age of Wonders 4 is a more than worthy evolution of the franchise. The choice-based, narrative events are interesting and fun, the hex-based combat remains tactically satisfying, and the world has never looked more vivid and attractive. Mix in the endless enjoyment of the highly customizable factions, and we have another 4X game that I’ll be playing for years.