Review copy provided by Paradox Interactive. Reviewed on PC.
We all know Age of Wonders as the series of tactical turn-based strategy games from Triumph Studios. The series is now in its fifth volume, called Age of Wonders: Planetfall. Triumph has now chosen to exchange the fantasy setting we know from the previous sections for a sci-fi setting. At first glance, the game looks beautiful with colorful environments and different unique playable varieties. Is this, however, a welcome change, or should Age of Wonders have stayed in its fantasy world? Here is my review!
Age of Wonders: Planetfall follows the story of six different factions that try to rebuild everything after the fall of Star Union. Star Union was an intergalactic empire in which humanity ruled over many planets and races. There was peace, and every faction lived together in harmony. After the death of Star Union, the factions became divided and hostile to each other. Some heroic members of the different factions saw that this could no longer go on, so they decided to rebuild Star Union. This is, of course, not without a struggle.
In the single-player campaign, you get the opportunity to play with all six different factions. You play the first mission as the Vanguard, a human military faction led by Jack Gelder. This faction is an essential part of the Star Union. When Jack and his team encounter problems during an interplanetary mission, they are forced to spend two hundred years in cryogenic sleep to return home. When these two hundred years are over, Jack is shocked to discover that the Star Union has perished and the human race suddenly consists of several new factions from genetically modified people.
These other factions are the Amazon (a female faction that uses dinosaurs equipped with lasers), The Assembly (a faction consisting of genetically manipulated cyborgs), the Dvar (a group of heavily armored space dwarfs), and The Syndicate (a group of sneaky aristocrats and slave drivers). In addition to these various human factions, there is also the Kir’Ko, an extraterrestrial insect-like breed that was used by humanity as a slave under the Star Union. All these factions have their own story, but they also meet each other during the various missions. When you play as one of the factions, you can decide for yourself whether you want to work with the other factions to rebuild Star Union or to eradicate them to save your own race.
In addition to an exciting story that is partly told through mission briefings, you can tell by everything that Age of Wonders: Planetfall is a real 4X game. Each breed has its own storyline that consists of different missions. For each mission, you travel to a different planet with a procedurally generated map. Here you start with a colony and a small army, and you have to explore the map to complete specific tasks or achieve goals. The map consists of different hexagonal tiles over which your troops can move. Also, the folder is divided into different sectors, each with its own set of benefits. For example, an area with fertile land gives you more food and an area where a research center is present gives you more research points. As the population in your colony grows, you can annex sectors around your colony to exploit the resources present there. In this way, you can expand your territory, but also your army.
There are usually several conditions that you must meet to complete the mission. This can be something straightforward as finding a particular area, but also eradicating any other breed on the map. As you explore the planet further, you usually unlock new victory conditions. For example, you can generally choose for yourself whether you want to solve the mission diplomatically and peacefully, or by hard warfare. In the end, every faction also has the option to unlock a secret superweapon in the research tree. You can also use this later to complete the mission, but of course, that has significant consequences.
Each playable breed also has its own military units. For example, the Amazon makes use of modified dinosaurs that can be used as war vehicles, and the Kir’Ko use a corrosive poison that they can spit on their enemies. Warfare is almost inevitable in Age of Wonders: Planetfall, as there are other non-playable factions and aliens on the map that may or may not be friendly to you. So when it comes to a fight, you can choose to let the computer solve the battle itself, but you can also play the battle yourself.
These fights are strongly reminiscent of the turn-based battles of XCOM. Your units have several action points that they can spend by moving, attacking, or performing another action. However, during the fighting, you can do more than just walk and attack. For example, you can have your units look for cover behind buildings or keep them on the lookout for enemy units passing by. The interaction with the environment and the terrain is essential during these battles, which gives an extra strategic dimension to the battles.
In addition to the tactical turn-based battles themselves, you must also engage in the development of your army outside the fights. You can, of course, expand your army with new units, but you can also adjust your existing units. For example, by doing research, you can unlock new weapons for genetic modifications. This way you can, for example, convert your standard infantry units into dangerous snipers or a handy medical unit that can patch up your troops during a fight. Every faction has its own research tree with which you can play freely. The possibilities are endless, and there is a solution for every playing style.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall is an excellent 4X game in a very cool sci-fi setting. You follow an intriguing story from different perspectives, and you decide how the story progresses and how you complete a mission. The different playable varieties are all unique, and each has its own playing style that is best reflected during turn-based battles.
These fights are easy to pick up, but as the game progresses, they become more and more challenging. Age of Wonders: Planetfall as a whole is a game that, even for people who are not yet familiar with the series or genre, can be picked up quickly. However, if you’ve never played such a game before, everything can be a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, you can start quietly and explore everything at your leisure.