Title: Age of Wonders III + Golden Age Expansion
Platform: Steam, Desure, GOG, Windows, Mac, Linux
Reviewed on: Windows
Genre: Tactical RPG, Empire Strategy, Civilization
Players: Single player, Multiplayer
Written by Whistler 21st September 2014
Empire strategy games have come a long way but ever since the times of Civilization V and Total War: Shogun 2, that after so much expansion that it was starting to show how difficult it was to re-
Age of Wonders III is a hex based large scale empire strategy title that feels like what would happen if you took elements earlier Might & Magic series’, King’s Bounty, mixed in Civ V then for added measure threw in a pinch of Divinity. The core objective is a fairly stock standard last faction/team standing but still includes a fair bit of interactivity to keep things from going stale.
An interesting delve off the standard Civ path is the introduction of an underground map to go between simultaneously in hand with the main board that effects certain races and statistics, though it needs to be said that besides specific maps that besides offering a visual change and occasional shortcuts that there isn’t a big enough difference; this can be said for the maps entirety as well, with few unique resources there isn’t too much of an incentive to expand beyond filling the map to gather more of the same resources.
While they’re small differences I really enjoyed how alive the world feels, it’s not just you and the other factions, and in fact there are plenty of independent states, monster camps, creature dwellings and dungeons to explore to find yourself epic loot for your leader and heroes. It really does make certain gaps in the game’s progression far more interesting, it’s not just a case of who builds the bigger army wins and creates interesting scenarios where you and your rivals will be fighting for special zones or cave waypoints.
The civ building is fairly mixed in my opinion, while the simplifying means you won’t get incredibly bogged down the fact that (at least as far as I could tell) every town can pretty much build all buildings besides the class specific buildings; this combined with a lack of any particular specialization means building turns into a homogenised process with little variety. While this is a glaring issue it didn’t really bother me as much as I thought, the differences between playthroughs largely come across from class type and your own play style and really the empire side of things plays backseat giving more room for other aspects to take centre stage.
Of course being a game of conquest a large portion of the game is about building armies comprised of six units, exploring the map while taking control of resources, meeting npcs to gather them to your side (peacefully or otherwise) and fighting other armies. Much like the Total War games your armies can be led by special units known as heroes, these singular units are comprised of a race and class much like your leader (who plays much like a hero unit) giving them a vast variety of spells and abilities, strengths and weaknesses, along with outfitting them with mythical gear and a deep tech tree allowing you to mould your heroes exactly how you wish.
This element is by far one of Age of Wonders strong points, adding a fair bit of personalisation as well as spicing up combat and even lets you create your own leaders for scenarios.
While not as in depth as over civ games like Endless Space, when creating your hero you are also picking the traits for the leader’s kingdom, picking from mastery of certain elements, skills in expanding one’s empire, exploration expertise and specialization in the ways of guerrilla warfare (added in the Golden Realms expansion). There’s just something really awesome about having your own avatar who has their own presence with a fully 3D model rather than some predetermined portrait, having your own beacon of hope or conquest just helps build the immersion as your leader writes their legacy in blood and glory.
Blood and glory is written in combat of which Age of Wonders manages to make tile based fighting enjoyable, for even on a purely aesthetic level battlefields will rarely feel the same each feeling like a wholey unique plane with a special amount of detail similar to what your imagination sees when playing the likes of some table tops like Dungeons & Dragons or Warhammer.
Small things like fighting near a castle will show either the castle in the set piece or show it in the distance creating a visual connectivity between the map and these individual combat boards.
These fights will not just be standard 6v6 either, since the map applies a hex grid you can have huge scale epics involving roughly seven armies.
This really brought Age of Wonders III up a notch on my list, while titles similar to Civilization were all about the empire building and Total War familiars were all about these combat set pieces that felt rather rigid (in my opinion), AOW 3 combines my joys from both types and adds a versatile combat system that has me getting involved with the thick of it. No longer do I just go for auto combat, and instead I join my armies on the front lines, caring about my heroes, finding my tactical style and reminiscing of those close victories.
However it can be said that Age of Wonders III falls down at a final hurdle, its endgame.
Of course as turns go past the 150 or so mark that it becomes most likely becomes obvious who’s likely to win and becomes a matter of time for wiping the board of all over cities. It’s a real shame too cause where so many empire games offer different victory conditions, even with the Seals of Power (king of the hill) maps it’s a shame there isn’t different ways to win. While this is an issue it’s a common problem in most empire building games but even so I’ve really enjoyed my time with Age of Wonders III; honestly if Triumph studios introduced new methods like cultural victories and added more depth to the diplomacy I would gladly buy that expansion and sink more hours into this gem.
Unique leader personalization,
Tons of unique locations,
Civ elements don’t bog down gameplay.
Lacking of city building variations,
Lacking meaningful end game.
Age of Wonders is a truly enjoyable empire strategy that does more than try to be civilization with a paintjob and instead stands on its own with a score of 7/10.