age-of-wonders-4-evaluation
Must know

What’s it? A fantasy 4X with a unbelievable magic system.

Launch date Might 2, 2023

Count on to pay £42/$50

Developer Triumph Studios

Writer Paradox Interactive

Reviewed on GeForce RTX 1080Ti,  Intel i7-8086K, 16GB RAM  

Steam Deck Unsupported

Hyperlink Official site

Magic isn’t wondrous in its frequent videogame appearances. It harms, it heals and if you happen to’re fortunate it perhaps transforms enemies into sheep or frogs. Not so in Age of Wonders 4, nevertheless, where it drives each element of this arcane 4X, dramatically reworking worlds, cities and the creatures that inhabit them. Along with your expansive assortment of magical tomes, you possibly can dabble with god-like powers to your coronary heart’s content material. 

The Wizard Kings—would-be deities—have awoken within the Astral Sea and are able to exert their affect over the multitude of worlds that exist on this magical realm. As certainly one of these Wizard Kings, or a mortal champion, you need to develop in energy to dominate these worlds, utilizing magic and warfare to place the competitors as an alternative. 

(Picture credit score: Paradox)

Age of Wonders 4’s construction must be acquainted: you begin with a single metropolis, erect new buildings, develop the encircling provinces, recruit armies and discover the map to seek out treasure and new enemies. Sources like meals, gold and mana have to be managed, rival rulers might be engaged diplomatically or aggressively, and ultimately you will begin working in direction of one of many victory circumstances, maybe specializing in magic, or perhaps simply conquering everybody. 

However the newest game on this long-running sequence continues to be distinct from each its forebears. It makes this clear instantly, while you choose the foundations of your magical empire. First, there’s the map. There’s an abundance of premade maps, together with ones which might be a part of the story-driven marketing campaign, however you may also spawn your personal, choosing its traits. Possibly you wish to conquer a frozen wasteland filled with monsters, or a fiery hellscape cut up up by a molten sea, where the one secure route throughout is underground. There is no dearth of compelling decisions right here, letting you make all kinds of unique battlefields. 

It is within the creation of your potential empire where issues get actually attention-grabbing, although. By choosing the bodily kind, traits, cultural leanings and societal quirks of your folks, you are in a position to create all kinds of bizarre empires, from sinister mole-people with a penchant for cannibalism to industrious goblins who simply wish to construct epic cities and make new pals. By way of these decisions you will decide your empire’s beginning bonuses, alignment and magical affinities, establishing how you will affect the world.

Wizard builder

(Picture credit score: Paradox)

Practically as essential is the creation of your ruler. Should you choose a mortal champion it will likely be from the identical species you simply created, whereas Wizard Kings might be from any species. Initially you are simply choosing their bodily look and beginning weapons, however over the course of the game you will discover loads of new gear and XP to bolster their energy. Rulers, and the heroes you will recruit later, signify probably the most highly effective items within the game, and whereas they’ll profit your empire by governing cities, where they actually shine is within the tactical battles. 

Your long-term purpose could be to rework your empire’s residents into undead monstrosities themselves.

The draw back of this model of empire creation is that, whereas a number of the decisions you make can have a big effect, numerous it’s extremely situational or beneath the hood, or extra flavourful than sensible. Within the early game particularly, you will not discover an entire lot of distinction between your industrious goblins or sinister mole-people. You are not going to get the form of wild selection that you will see in, say, Amplitude’s Countless sequence, where every faction has dramatically totally different, bespoke playstyles with distinctive programs at their disposal. No less than not at first. When you begin constructing on high of those foundations, nevertheless, your experiences will begin to turn into extra distinctive, resulting in a a lot stronger mid and late game.

Whereas these early turns is usually a bit repetitive, the creation course of nonetheless ensures that you will begin with a well-defined empire and thus some clear targets in thoughts. Should you’ve crafted an empire of evil doers who use soul magic, as an illustration, you will wish to begin stepping into fights rapidly, stealing enemy souls to gasoline an undead military. Your long-term purpose could be to rework your empire’s residents into undead monstrosities themselves. That is what Age of Wonders 4 calls a “main transformation”—certainly one of a number of methods you possibly can improve your empire’s denizens.

(Picture credit score: Paradox)

As an alternative of a standard analysis system, Age of Wonders 4 doles out tomes of magic, every containing quite a lot of spells. Tomes are linked to the game’s cosmic affinities, like order, chaos, nature and so forth. There are 5 tiers of tomes, and for each affinity you get two doable tomes for every tier. In step with the game’s love of experimentation, there aren’t any restrictions right here. You probably have an empire with a love of order, you possibly can nonetheless choose no matter tomes you need, although these decisions will begin to change your affinity, and thus how different empires and free cities (unaligned metropolis states who might be vassalised or conquered) view you, and the way your empire develops as new affinity abilities are unlocked within the separate empire improvement tree. 

By researching spells from these tomes, and unlocking new tomes, you will quite rapidly end up with a wealthy bounty of metropolis enhancements, summons, transformations and enchantments, in addition to all kinds of defensive and offensive spells. The affect these spells can have is gargantuan, particularly when working in tandem. Should you’ve reworked your species in order that it is quicker when travelling by way of forests, as an illustration, you then’ll undoubtedly wish to choose the spell that allows you to create new forests, reworking the land itself with the intention to higher traverse it. Granted, sequence veterans will recognise numerous the spells that crop up, however the way in which that magic evolves your empire, and the synergies these transformations create, is extraordinarily novel. 

It is genuinely thrilling while you get the chance to seize a brand new spell, as you strive to determine the way it matches into your repertoire and what position it should have in your conquest of the world. The tomes additionally allow you to unlock new buildings and recruitable items, so they are not completely a source of spells. Some items must be recruited at a metropolis for gold, however others seem as magical summons, serving to you out in a pinch. I’ve misplaced depend of the instances I have been confronted with an enemy that is sure to squash me, removed from any of my cities, and a summon has saved the day. 

(Picture credit score: Paradox)

Magic nonetheless has its limitations. Spells require mana, and any enchanted or reworked items will chip away at your stockpile. And whereas you need to use as many minor transformations as you need, the highly effective main transformations are restricted to at least one. However that restrict is per species. Add members of one other species to your empire, both by way of conquest or diplomacy, and you’ll evolve them in fully alternative ways. This offers you great flexibility and so some ways to counter obstacles. 

Tomes are a lot greater than only a magical tackle tech timber, and I’ve by no means had a lot enjoyable creating an empire earlier than. Even in Stellaris, with its huge variety of methods to evolve your species, I at all times really feel like I am making numerous much less participating decisions earlier than I get to the good things. In Age of Wonders 4, I am getting new toys to play with, new skills and new methods to progress continuously. 

One factor which may rankle micromanagement followers is how streamlined that is in comparison with Age of Wonders: Planetfall, where each unit had a bunch of mod slots that allow you to improve them at a person stage. Age of Wonders 4’s transformations and enhancements are a lot broader, in order that moment-to-moment you make far more dramatic adjustments. Each programs have their strengths and weaknesses, however there’s a lot that is already happening in Age of Wonders 4 that I discovered I appreciated the power to make sweeping adjustments to my complete empire on the click on of a button. 

Take a touch

(Picture credit score: Paradox)

The result’s a extra approachable Age of Wonders, however it must be famous that streamlining shouldn’t be the one approach that Triumph has achieved this. There’s the useful nested tooltips, a codex and a touch system that ought to make your life simpler, but additionally mechanical enhancements. Take your cities, for instance. In Age of Wonders 3, you’d want to choose between recruiting items and setting up buildings, however right here you are able to do each concurrently because of the separate queues. With out the necessity to prioritise, you would possibly count on to expire of stuff to construct and recruit fairly rapidly, however the frequency with which you will unlock new items, and the big selection of building initiatives, which in flip unlock much more initiatives, imply that even in a protracted game you will have loads to maintain you occupied. 

Loads of complexity stays, too. Metropolis borders might be pushed out by annexing provinces and creating enhancements on high of them. At first it is simple: if you happen to want extra meals to develop your inhabitants, you will wish to construct some farms. Should you’re close to a gold deposit and must fatten your checking account, construct a gold mine. However to benefit from these provinces you will want to verify they are not occupied by monsters. And you have your rivals and their claims to fret about. Annex a province that they have a declare on they usually’ll get a grievance towards you, which can be utilized as an impetus for conflict. 

Including but extra wrinkles, but additionally alternatives, are unlockable particular enhancements that may be constructed at your metropolis after which positioned on provinces already in your border, eradicating the bonus that you just’re at present receiving for one thing extra esoteric, like a spelljammer or a teleporter. The latter is an actual godsend, particularly within the bigger maps, as a result of getting round can take an age, particularly if it’s worthwhile to cross by way of areas where the terrain is tough. There is a metropolis cap (which might be elevated), however outposts do not contribute in direction of this, so I typically discover myself utilizing them to create teleportation networks, permitting my armies to blink throughout the map and react to any disaster immediately. 

(Picture credit score: Paradox)

Not that there is not worth in exploring the map on foot. Age of Wonders 4’s worlds are putting, extremely detailed fantasy realms completely teeming with diversions. Historical wonders filled with treasure, monsters needing to be chased out of provinces, infestations that may spawn invasions and occasions that may crop up for all kinds of causes—the one factor rulers need not fear about is a lifetime of peace and quiet. 

Age of Wonders 4’s worlds are putting, extremely detailed fantasy realms completely teeming with diversions.

You may by no means need to look far for a battle, with most maps bursting with monsters, even if you happen to’re enjoying good together with your rival champions and Wizard Kings. The UI, which is superb throughout the board, is particularly useful while you’re making ready for a brawl, as hovering over an enemy will show you precisely who will likely be concerned (as much as three armies with six items every can work collectively in battle) and what end result is predicted. You may auto resolve each battle, but when it would not go your approach, you possibly can strive once more with guide management with out reloading—a really welcome comfort.

While you’re able to get into the thick of issues your self, you will be transported to a tactical map that displays the world you are preventing in. Typically this implies an historical spoil or some rocky terrain full of canopy and chokepoints, however too typically I discovered myself duking it out in a largely open space. Planetfall’s maps undoubtedly appeared extra tactically nuanced. Even the extra open maps have environmental hazards and different factors of curiosity, nevertheless, and the fights themselves have quite a bit going for them, as magic and monsters and particular world traits collide to create energetic conflicts where it’s worthwhile to parse numerous info to succeed. There’s quite a bit to soak up as you strive to determine what every impact really does, after which rethink your plans in an try to counter them.

Demolitionist 

(Picture credit score: Paradox)

Sieges, in the meantime, contain an additional layer, where the defender can utilise quite a lot of fortifications and tips to win the day, whereas the attacker can undermine them by spending sources on siege initiatives previous to the battle. And relying on how you have constructed your species, you would possibly be capable to overcome a few of these obstacles. In case your military has advanced into angelic beings they’ll fly over partitions, whereas astral armies can merely cross by way of them.   

Exterior of battle, there’s at all times one thing stopping you from leaving the game or hitting Finish Flip over and over. Possibly you will be approached by some residents who need your recommendation, probably netting you rewards, an alignment change or giving your species a brand new trait. One other ruler would possibly get in contact with a quest, sending you off on an journey to some unexplored place. Or it may very well be so simple as a military you are about to assault deciding that you just’re approach too powerful for them, letting you resolve their destiny and not using a battle. Possibly you will recruit them to work in certainly one of your cities, or be a part of your military. By way of these occasions a story kinds: the story of your empire. 

AoW4 additionally has a extra specific story, advised by way of 5 missions. It is typical stuff, with two teams of Wizard Kings preventing over historical energy, however the missions themselves provide participating aims and particular options. The third mission, as an illustration, provides you a spell that reveals sneaky methods to defeat your rivals, like shopping for a rival’s contract from their demonic grasp, permitting you to take away them from play with out conquering their empire. Finally, although, the sandbox maps are simply as deft at producing compelling tales and aims by way of random probability.

(Picture credit score: Paradox)

With all of the methods you possibly can develop your empire, Age of Wonders 4 calls for to be performed time and again. However there’s additionally an overarching development system, the Pantheon, that encourages you to hop again in. Founding cities, forging alliances, finishing quests and numerous extra actions will web you Pantheon XP, which in flip unlocks factors that may be spent on the Pantheon tree. Rewards embrace new cosmetics, icons and equipment, which can be utilized in your subsequent game. By way of this technique you will additionally routinely unlock new map varieties. In the meantime, rulers you have created can be a part of the Pantheon, permitting them to seem in future video games as potential pals or adversaries. Conceptually, I am an enormous fan, although I confess that I’d have favored Triumph to do extra with it. A brand new cape or hat would not hold an entire lot of attraction. 

Not that I want extra excuses to maintain coming again. Age of Wonders 4 scratches my itch for experimentation like few different technique video games, seducing me again in to strive new tome combos and drag my empire in new, bizarre instructions. And each time, I return from my fantasy foray with a sack filled with anecdotes, like after I resurrected a rival ruler who had been plaguing me all game as an undead minion, compelled to serve me for eternity. Magic simply makes every part extra enjoyable.