Age of Wonders III Preview (PC)

If there’s one thing more difficult than brining a new IP to today’s market, it’s bringing back an old one. It’s been ten years since the last Age of Wonders game, and in that time, developer Triumph Studios has gone off to try other things, namely the Overlord franchise. After the 2010 digital anthology of the original games sold well however, the team are back to try and take their beloved turn-based empire/strategy game into the modern era of PC strategy games. In their own words, this is a cross between the empire & ‘big picture’ gameplay of Civilization, and the more up close tactical battles of XCOM, all wrapped in a high-fantasy setting. You could say it’s like Total War, I guess, but the game is solely turn-based and the tactical battles are on a smaller scale.

Building a fort will increase your area of influence, and allow to control local resources, without needing to found a new city.
On the surface, there are a lot of elements in this game that you’ve probably seen before. Hex based grid system, city management and expansion… it’s not officially a ‘4X’ game, but a lot of the strategic elements will be familiar to veteran players. Where Age of Wonders differs though is the emphasis on RPG and adventure-like elements. Before you start a game, you create your ‘leader’ as a character, like you would in any RPG or MMO – there are six races to choose from, and several classes which can become ‘specialised’ later in the game. You can even design their facial features, and the avatar you create will be represented in the game world. Your leader will control one of your armies, or parties, and you can recruit heroes to control others. Parties can have a max of six units. The interesting thing here is that you can send your armies or parties out and explore your surroundings, wherever they may me. In the demo the driver was playing as a dwarf, and we started underground. His hero was able to tunnel through walls to get to caverns on the other side, and he could expand his underground domain or conquer/annex cities on the surface. The game is technically capable of generating an infinite number of game layers, so it’s only really limited by what your machine can handled. Each game map is procedurally generated, and will be randomised each time.

Expanding your domain isn’t simply about plonking down new cities or taking over other people’s ones, however. There is a myriad of independent cities that you can approach in different ways (namely diplomacy or conquest, but it’s still a choice), and you can plonk down forts to expand your zone of control, especially over key resource nodes or entrances/exits. The fact that the game exists over multiple levels as well will present you with a real challenge, as you may not be able to get a foothold in your immediate neighbouring levels, but perhaps in the level beyond that? There are several key sites around the world which are worth controlling, so expansion, by whatever means, is key. You can even terraform the local environment, from simple things like building roads or chopping down a forest, to making an area a barren wasteland or bring such site to life with greenlife. Many of these things are done through spells or abilities, which can be research through a massive ‘book’ of things that you can cast, research or otherwise summon.

Because of the smaller scale, the tactical combat mode looks a bit basic at the moment, and we’re not sure how much that’s going to change before release. Still, there’s plenty of depth in this area for those who want to play battles out, over auto-resolving. Support units, for example, can work in conjunction with other units to give them special buffs or effects, and the engine is really good at replicating the local area in the battle map, even with terrain obstacles. Siege matches especially should be fun, as city walls are rendered properly and can be garrisoned by buildings, presenting you with a real and present challenge.
This is an example of siege tactical battle.
Age of Wonders III also retains the series strong multiplayer and mod support features. The game will be able to handle up to eight players, using simultaneous turns so that proceedings don’t drag on for too long. It’ll also support hot-seating and even relay (play-by-email) features. Modding will also be included from the start, as the community for the original games have already done a great job at keeping the previous games alive and kicking. Triumph also already have plans for future DLC and expansions, which can include: new classes, races, city upgrades, units, heroes, magical items, spells, map locations, scenarios and story campaigns, to name but a few things.

I’ve never played the previous Age of Wonders games, but I liked what I saw of Age of Wonders III. Civilization tempered pointless military expansion through offering differing routes to victory, and Age of Wonder's exploration and interactive environmental features act in a similar fashion – the player doesn’t need to just bring everyone to heel, they can go on quests, or discover hidden sites on other levels of the map. The hidden depths that this game hopes to offer should be plenty to distract players from simply conquering everyone. I’ve got a lot of time for Civ-like strategy games, but especially ones that try to be a bit different. Age of Wonders III is due out on PC in late Q1 2014.

Most Anticipated Feature: See how the challenging managing an empire that spans multiple levels can be, and whether AoW III really does inspire a sense of wonder…

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By Mindrax (SI Core) on Sep 04, 2013
Sound good, many good features like simultaneous turns.
Will get this eventually.