Age of Wonders 4, the latest installment in the renowned Age of Wonders series, brings forth a captivating blend of strategy and fantasy. With a mixture of new features and familiar mechanics, this game offers a unique experience that may leave fans with mixed feelings. While some changes may deviate from the series’ core complexity, Age of Wonders 4 still manages to deliver an enjoyable 4X journey that appeals to both seasoned veterans and newcomers to the genre.
A World of Exploration and Infestations
The game invites players to explore its vast and immersive world, filled with wonders and dangers alike. Infestations, serving as formidable adversaries, add an extra layer of challenge and excitement to the wilds. These encounters provide thrilling set-piece battles and gradually escalate in a predictable and believable manner. The variety among the bandit armies, outlined by their striking red color, adds an element of danger and intrigue to the exploration process. However, some players may find the aggressive behavior of marauders slightly frustrating, as they tend to prioritize the player’s presence over other threats.
Map Generation A Playground of Creativity
Age of Wonders 4 introduces a map generation system that allows players to unleash their creativity and customize their realms. With a wide array of realm traits and customizable challenge maps, players can engage in unique scenarios and create their own narratives. While the abundance of mountains may impede movement and expansion, it caters to industrious players. The map generation system marks a significant improvement in the series, offering diverse gameplay experiences and strategic possibilities.
The Lore and Story Realms
One area where Age of Wonders 4 falls slightly short is in the presentation of lore and story. Unit descriptions, absent in this installment, hinder the immersion and depth of the game’s world. However, the inclusion of Story Realms compensates for this deficiency by providing structured narratives and backstory. The enjoyment of these story-driven scenarios depends on players’ attachment to campaign-style gameplay. While the Story Realms offer additional context and events, they may not match the impact of the campaigns in earlier titles. Overall, the lore and story elements serve as a net-neutral aspect of the game, providing some immersive elements while leaving room for improvement.
Imperium A Resource of Power and Strategy
Imperium takes center stage as the replacement for Cosmite and Influence from previous titles. This vital resource represents the empire’s power and allows for various strategic decisions. Players acquire Imperium from conquered Wonders, wizard’s towers, and magic materials. Its usage spans from absorbing cities, boosting growth and allegiance, to supporting high-tier units and unlocking empire-wide upgrades. While Imperium management presents interesting choices, the limited sources for generating it can pose challenges. Nevertheless, the Empire Tree, which allows players to purchase bonuses and skills, enhances the overall strategic depth and connection between different game mechanics.
Balancing and Pacing
Age of Wonders 4 demonstrates careful balancing and pacing, ensuring an engaging and strategic gameplay experience. The overall balance of the game is well-tuned, with each faction offering unique strengths and weaknesses that require different approaches to succeed. This encourages players to adapt their strategies and make thoughtful decisions throughout the game. Additionally, the pacing of Age of Wonders 4 strikes a satisfying balance between early, mid, and late game stages. The game gradually introduces new challenges, technologies, and units as players progress, keeping the experience fresh and exciting. The pacing allows for a sense of progression and growth, while also maintaining a level of strategic depth that keeps players engaged and invested.
Age of Wonders 4 offers a variety of victory conditions, allowing players to pursue different paths to triumph. From military conquest to diplomatic dominance, technological superiority, and cultural achievements, there are multiple ways to secure victory in this game. Each victory condition brings its own set of challenges and strategic considerations, providing players with diverse gameplay experiences. The implementation of these victory conditions is well-executed, offering strategic depth and variety. Players will find themselves making important decisions and adapting their strategies based on the chosen path to victory.
Diplomacy: A Delicate Balance
Diplomacy in Age of Wonders 4 builds upon the refinements made in previous installments. AI personalities, reminiscent of those in Age of Wonders: Planetfall, influence how opponents approach their conquest of the realm. The implementation of casus belli, inspired by Paradox games, adds complexity and consequences to declarations of war. These changes, coupled with slowed combat pace and limited city acquisition, promote a more thoughtful and deliberate playstyle. Diplomacy prevents reckless engagements and fosters a strategic approach to warfare. While diplomacy does showcase the personalities of each leader, it doesn’t significantly surpass its predecessors. However, it offers a different approach to the concept and adds a distinct flavor to the gameplay experience.
Leaders and Heroes: Aesthetically Pleasing and Empowerful Commanders
Age of Wonders 4 introduces a refreshing take on leaders and heroes, providing players with aesthetically pleasing and powerful commanders to lead their armies. Unlike many other games in the genre, players themselves serve as the avatar, representing their empire. The distinct visualizations and functionalities of the two leader types make them visually striking and strategically diverse.
Heroes, the loyal lieutenants, and comrades-in-arms, are equally captivating and play a crucial role in various aspects of the game. They are essential for exploring Ancient Wonders, initiating sieges, and undertaking important quests. The random generation of heroes adds an element of surprise and ensures a diverse pool of potential commanders with unique skills and abilities.
The hero cap, while initially restrictive, can be circumvented by recruiting additional heroes at an increasing cost. This allows players to assemble a powerful team and experience the thrill of unleashing leveled-up heroes with devastating signature skills in combat. Despite the occasional immersion-breaking limitation, the improvements to leaders and heroes in Age of Wonders 4 make them more engaging and versatile than ever before.
Polished Production Values
Age of Wonders 4 excels in its production values, delivering a visually stunning and sonically immersive experience. The game’s art department deserves props for their exceptional work, creating captivating visuals that bring the fantasy world to life. From beautifully designed landscapes to intricately detailed units, every aspect of the game’s visuals is a treat for the eyes.
Michiel Van der Boss’s remarkable music composition once again shines in this installment, enhancing the overall atmosphere and creating a sense of grandeur. The carefully crafted sound effects further contribute to the immersive experience, whether it’s the clash of weapons in combat or the ambient sounds of the world.
While minor nitpicks such as arrow trails and unit transformations may not please everyone, Age of Wonders 4 undoubtedly stands as the best-looking and sounding game in the series, showcasing the developers’ commitment to delivering a visually and audibly captivating experience.
Multiplayer and Replayability
In addition to its engaging single-player experience, Age of Wonders 4 offers robust multiplayer options that enhance the game’s replayability. Whether engaging in cooperative or competitive modes, players can challenge their friends or join online communities to test their skills against human opponents. The multiplayer component adds a new layer of depth and unpredictability to the game, as human players can employ unique strategies and tactics. This, in turn, contributes to the replayability of Age of Wonders 4, as each multiplayer session offers a dynamic and ever-changing experience. Furthermore, the game’s customizable options and diverse factions provide additional avenues for replayability, allowing players to explore different strategies and playstyles in their quest for victory.
Modding and Customization
Age of Wonders 4 embraces the modding community, providing tools and support for players to customize their gameplay experience. The game’s modding capabilities allow players to create and share their own content, including new factions, units, maps, and even gameplay mechanics. The availability of modding tools opens up a world of possibilities, extending the longevity of the game and fostering a vibrant community of modders. Whether players want to enhance the existing content or create entirely new experiences, Age of Wonders 4’s modding capabilities provide ample opportunities for customization and personalization.
Technical Performance and Optimization
Age of Wonders 4 boasts solid technical performance and optimization, providing a smooth and enjoyable gaming experience. The game runs well on a variety of system configurations, ensuring accessibility for a wide range of players. Triumph Studios has demonstrated attention to detail in optimizing the game’s performance, minimizing load times, and ensuring stable framerates. While no game is entirely free from technical issues, Age of Wonders 4 stands out for its overall stability and lack of major bugs or glitches. Players can dive into the game with confidence, knowing that the technical aspects have been well-handled by the developers.
Age of Wonders 4 successfully merges strategy and fantasy, offering a compelling 4X experience that balances familiar mechanics with new features. While the game may deviate from the series’ core complexity and may not cater to all veterans’ preferences, it manages to provide an enjoyable journey for both long-time fans and newcomers to the genre.
The game’s emphasis on city management and expansion throttling, along with changes to diplomacy and combat pace, create a unique gameplay experience that promotes thoughtful decision-making and strategic planning. The exploration of the vast and dangerous world, enriched by infestations and customizable map generation, adds depth and excitement to the gameplay.
While the sparse presentation of lore and story leaves room for improvement, the inclusion of Story Realms provides structured narratives and enriches the game’s world-building. The Imperium system adds a new layer of resource management and strategic choices, and the refined diplomacy mechanics contribute to a more balanced and engaging diplomatic gameplay.
The visually stunning graphics, accompanied by the exceptional music and sound design, elevate the overall production values of Age of Wonders 4, immersing players in a vibrant and immersive fantasy world.
Age of Wonders 4 presents a unique and enjoyable 4X experience, though it may not please all fans with its departures from the series’ traditional complexity. With its captivating blend of strategy, exploration, and fantasy, Age of Wonders 4 remains a compelling addition to the franchise, offering an enticing journey for both strategy enthusiasts and fantasy lovers alike. Triumph Studios’ commitment to future expansions and DLCs bodes well for the game’s longevity and continued enjoyment by its dedicated fanbase.
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S