Age of Wonders: Planetfall Review – An Epic Science Fiction Experience of Danger & Exploration

Age of Wonders: Planetfall
Triumph Studios/Paradox Interactive

I’ve tried out all of the Age of Wonders games at one point or another, culminating with Age of Wonders III back in 2014. The franchise’s high fantasy setting and fun, turn-based tactical combat always appealed to me, as did its intuitive city management and beautifully rendered strategic maps. Pretty much the only thing that I didn’t like about AOW III is that for some reason Triumph Studios never released a Dark Elves DLC for it, since that faction had always been one of the mainstays (and badass) of the long-running series.

I really didn’t know what to expect when Triumph announced that their next incarnation of the AOW series would be set against a science fiction backdrop. I guess I was so used to the fantasy theme. This newest game is titled: Age of Wonders: Planetfall and after binge-playing it for an embarrassing amount of hours now, I can tell you that this newest experiment with genres has definitely paid off.

I’m not sure why many people are comparing Age of Wonders: Planetfall to Civilization—I guess not many have ever played an AOW game because that’s what it resembles most strongly. XCOM comparisons are also made, but AOW games have always had tactical combat as well. Age of Wonders: Planetfall simply resembles an AOW game except it has a science fiction theme instead of a fantasy one.

Age of Wonders: Planetfall, just like Age of Wonders III, let’s you pair one of the game’s quirky races with a number of technological proficiencies (instead of magical schools as in AOW III). Since there are six races and six types of tech types to choose from, you can end up with some very unique combinations. Even if you play a game with the same races, since they’ll usually have different tech types they’ll each play completely differently from one another.

After landing a colonizer ship down onto the planet’s surface at the beginning of each game, Age of Wonders: Planetfall unfolds like most 4X games—you send your paltry starter units out to explore the area around your capital, secure various resource nodes, expand you borders, and do battle with NPC as well as AI factions (or other player factions in multiplayer games).

The strategy layer is divided up into sectors, which contain various points of interest which can boost your colony’s production, research, food, or energy levels. You can also build new outposts within sectors around your colony, but you have to be careful since random AI creatures, indigenous to the planet you’re on, can really ruin your day. Luckily, the game has a handy garrison system that you can implement for your burgeoning colonies so that you don’t have to worry about constantly guarding them with your main forces.

The diplomacy system present in Age of Wonders: Planetfall is surprisingly deep and allows for many types of dealings with your neighbors, be they good or bad. You can make trade agreements, alliances, and even vassalize other factions depending on whatever suits your needs at the time. There’s also covert ops technologies that you can develop to manipulate things behind the scenes, which I never see in strategy games anymore.

The other aspect of the game is its rich tactical combat system. Instead of just battering away at your enemy’s units on the overland map, whenever you enter into battle the game zooms-in to a tactical map.

There are all kinds of frontline units, support units, heroes and so forth that you can employ within these battles. But I think it’s the intricate cover system (with completely destructible environments) and extremely well thought out combat system that are most impressive. Since you can modify your individual units with different types of offensive and defensive mods, you can formulate all kinds of strategies for taking on foes.

For instance, certain units are more susceptible to specific types of weapon types, so you can tailor your forces to that of your adversary’s weaknesses. Likewise, you can boost your forces defensive buffs that counter the weapons of your enemies. While in tactical combat, you can also call down tactical strikes that can shift the tide of any battle.

You can also stack several of your armies and have them join into a single battle. This can result in some truly epic conflicts with many units involved. For instance, I during one game I was attacked at one of my larger colony cities by another player’s forces—3 of my unit stacks against 3 of his (his army was more powerful than mine). We engaged in a long, pitched battle which could have gone either way, but eventually my city’s defense turrets (that I’d luckily built just a couple of turns previous) augmented my weaker army and in the end, we barely managed to slaughter the invading forces.

All six factions have their own, individual, single-player campaigns. The campaigns are a good introduction (besides the tutorial) that can really help you to come to grips with Age of Wonders: Planetfall’s many, multifaceted systems. The factions themselves are generally well-thought-out and offer enough individuality to suit just about anyone’s playstyle.

For instance, since I’m more into a defensive style of play, I usually choose to go with the Dvar, a race of space dwarves which are into mining (of course) and have all kinds of wires and cables for beards. They have tons of defensive buffs that can be hard for enemies to overcome. Another favorite is the Vanguard, remnants of a once-powerful fallen empire, which utilize lots of hardcore ranged firepower along with a wide array of drones and healing buffs.

Age of Wonders: Planetfall is simply one of the best strategy games I’ve played in years and definitely the best Age of Wonders game in the series. It combines a nuanced strategy layer with a fun, thinking man’s tactical system which results in that “one more turn” feeling that you get with superb strategy games. Just be sure you clear your schedule before delving into this modern masterpiece.

SCORE: 84%

Age of Wonders: Planetfall has some pretty nice looking graphics that make its 4X strategy gameplay truly shine. However, you want to have a pretty beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:

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