by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
The distance your unit travels during its turn has a profound impact on its effectiveness. When still in the green zone, many units can attack three times, the yellow zone twice and units that move into their orange zone attack their target only once. This seemingly simple concept turned out to be a real game-changer and between this and the flanking kept every battle feeling fresh and intriguing.
Initially, combat magic is a little underwhelming and consists of healing, light damage and some spells to buff your units. Research changes that quite a bit though. The Steal Enchantment spell was a particular early favourite, removing buffs from enemy units and transferring them to your own. Some truly powerful spells can be found towards the end of the research tree. You will appreciate just how powerful when you meet the aptly named Dwarf Dreadnaughts as the primary defenders of a heavily fortified city and cast Chaos Rift.
In most 4X games, building an empire is as much about growth and acquiring new technologies as it is about funding the creation maintenance of armies. In fact, you are probably growing and researching to give your armies the upper hand. Age of Wonders III makes no apologies for being focused on its intricate combat sessions while keeping the economic and technology layers a little more… softcore. Whether building up an Orcish town or a High Elf one, it works pretty much the same. A handful of buildings will give the impression to be unique to each race, but everything still leads to the ability to create units within the same class. The top Human cavalry class for instance, is the Knight. Its Goblin equivalent is the Big Beetle which has similar stats with only slight variations in terms of the type (magic, physical…) and amount of damage.
So while similar in strength, they are not equal. It is near enough that you will get by with one or the other but playing to the specific strengths of each of the races does make an ever so subtle difference. Goblins, for instance, may not be the strongest melee fighters but a throng of their ranged Untouchables can wreak havoc on melee units, especially when they have a lower than average resistance to Blight damage.
Hero units level up after which you can assign them new skills, spells or attributes. It is here where you will start feeling you are playing with unique armies. An army led by a unit that can heal or do damage across the map will feel like it is far more versatile than one that has bog-standard units fresh from the recruitment office. Once those standard units level up, though, their chances of survival increase, and with it their value to the player.
Visually towns from the various races looks quite different and unless you dabble with terraforming magic, so does the area surrounding the town. Plonking down a Human town underground isn’t going to win you much praise from its citizens, but at least if it is on the surface level, you can terraform even icy wastes into lush, green lands that your people will adore you for.
A wonderful return
We have waited for well over a decade for Age of Wonders to return. I doubt its fans were looking for anything more than an updated game engine and on the surface, that is exactly what they got. Once you have maybe 10 hours of gameplay under your belt, you will start to appreciate the subtle changes that the upgradable heroes and combat mechanics bring, and thus the equally subtle innovations that Triumph Studios has made throughout the game.
I can feel it in my bones that Age of Wonders III is the start of a new era for the franchise and its creators. The level of polish and the depth of its gameplay puts the game on par with releases from top tier game publishers, its rich heritage and unique take on the 4X genre puts it in a league of its own.
Very polished, incredible attention to detail.
The defending AI in towns could be a little smarter and the differences between races a little more emphasized.