How does one improve on the 4X genre (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate)? Well, how about injecting some action beyond what you see on the board. While Firaxis’ Civilization VI and its expansions have undoubtedly set the bar, Triumph Studios and Age of Wonders’ brand of quicker 4X experiences and the XCOM-like tactical battles have begun to swing the pendulum in their favour.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall uproots the fantasy base of the series, and jumps into the darkness of space. And it is not just the change of environment that helps refresh the formula, but also a variety of wonderfully diverse factions that stretches the limits of one’s imagination.
The foundation consists of solid 4X trappings – land on a planet, grow your first city, engage in research, build up your army, and begin exploration to find both treats and threats. Of course, you are never alone in the universe, and it becomes a race of time to expand as well as exterminate all who stand in your way.
The best way to go about learning the ins and outs of a 4X title like Age of Wonders: Planetfall is going through the campaign. It weaves together a narrative that takes the perspectives of multiple factions, and will impart the wisdom of both basic and advanced skills you will need to master to succeed.
Starting with the human Vanguard, you will also come face-to-face and even operate the likes of the Dvar, dwarf-like beings that are masters of explosives and mining, or the Kir’Ko, the insectoids with terrifying pincers and even scarier psionic abilities.
There are also the Amazon, fierce female warriors that ride into battle on dinosaur mounts, or the Assembly, biomechanical beings that are more machine than man and seemingly undying, and the Syndicate, masters of stealth and unscrupulous means, and your go-to for hit-and-run tactics.
Six playable factions that can cater to a variety of playstyles, and not to mention the five other NPC factions that inhabit the worlds you will explore.
Success does not come without bloodshed, and Age of Wonders: Planetfall gives you plenty of tools to work with as you build up your power.
Rather than nameless grunts that are expendable, your armies made up of unique heroes and units all have distinct features that make them stand out. Plus, they get better with experience, gain new skills, and even gear up with better equipment to make them even more powerful on the battlefield. While the factions each already have a variety of units, you can expand that roster even further by forging alliances and maintaining good relationships with the NPC factions.
It would not feel like a true 4X experience without the deep lore that comes with a new universe, and Age of Wonders: Planetfall has that in spades.
While it is always fun to see ancient creatures sporting futuristic tech, or hyper-intelligent insects taking the war to their human oppressors, there lies a comprehensive backstory for most, if not all, of the factions and the characters. Every mission reveals interesting nuggets that only enhances the war in which players are fighting.
The distinctive feature of Age of Wonders: Planetfall is the speed it injects into the traditional 4X formula. Be it building up your bases, exploring the world, or waging wars, everything seems to happen at a brisk pace. It matters little what kind of procedurally generated world you happen to land on, the objective and how quickly you can get up to speed is always refreshing.
Rather than growing your borders, like Civilization, the pre-defined territories are yours straight from the off. Annexing new lands require attracting citizens to join you, and at certain thresholds, the option to annex your neighbours become available.
However, nothing is stopping you from using colonizer units and armies to expand your reach beyond your starting areas, especially when taking into consideration the rich resources that could lie in wait. It can all happen pretty quickly, especially if you are coming in from other 4X games, and with the world filled out, diplomacy becomes much more enticing than all-out warfare.
Yet, when relations sour, another staple of Age of Wonders continues to be a rocking good time. While represented by a singular unit on the hex-based world map, each army can consist of up to six different units. The amount of customisation and tactical options are only enhanced by the diversity of battle environments and maps, both visually and strategically.
Cover and verticality are of paramount importance between just surviving and dominating a fight, much like XCOM, but it gets even deeper considering the many perks and gear that your army can equip. Experimentation is encouraged, even if it fails, but there are always unexpected synergies that can result in awesome results.
However, information is also where Age of Wonders: Planetfall falters on occasion. There is plenty that needs to be digested, and it can be a pain to discern where exactly your attention needs to be at. Be it in battles, where status effects can be hard to figure out, or on a strategic level, trying to figure out your research goals or learn more about your/other territories. It would seem the encyclopedia from the Civilization franchise remain king for now.
That said, there really is not much wrong with Age of Wonders: Planetfall. Offering a quicker paced 4X experience that does not skimp on the genre’s core tenets in a new setting for the franchise, there is plenty to be drawn into in terms of the lore, the campaign, and all the amazing gameplay that awaits.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Age of Wonders: Planetfall is every bit the modern 4X experience that is great for both beginners and experts alike.
Gameplay - 9/10
Story - 8/10
Presentation - 8/10
Value - 9/10