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Age of Wonders: Planetfall Review

Developed by Triumph Studios and published by Paradox Interactive, Age of Wonders: Planetfall is the latest iteration in the Age of Wonders series — a traditional, turn-based strategy series. Well-loved by fans for its attention to detail, the Age of Wonders games have traditionally taken place in medieval or ancient settings, even featured magic and the like — the newest title is, however, set in space.

The Final Frontier: Strategy

Planetfall follows the same basic principle as other Age of Wonders games — it’s a turn-based strategy adventure. That said, Triumph certainly took risks when it comes to this newest iteration of the series. Compared to previous titles, this one feels quite heavily combat-focused. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does favor combat-intense strategies.
The units the player fights with are extremely customizable — in addition to “standard” options like attack/defense, individual attacks, damage types, and more. The only thing that can’t be swapped in the base game is the weapon itself, though with mods, even that can be done.

Trial by Space

As is normally the case for strategy titles, this one is very complex. There is a lot of info to pick up, along with a lot of options, functions, and more. For complete novices to the genre and series, that can be a problem — a pretty big one, actually. With little in the way of explanation, players are thrown in relatively quickly, so a bit of experience with similar games is definitely recommended.

Coincidentally, the complexity of it can get frustrating relatively easily as well. It’s not so much the difficulty as it is the sheer amount of options, actions, and etc. to choose from. Coupled with incredibly simple behavior patterns from other factions on the map, there is definitely room for improvement here.

What A.I.?

In any sort of human vs PC game, AI is a crucial aspect. An overly difficult enemy makes for as frustrating an experience as one that can barely lace its own shoes. Sadly, that’s exactly what neutral factions in this title do. They produce the same units over and over, ask for the same resources, and even give repeating quests. Another thing to note is that on rare occasions, the game can freeze when it’s the enemy’s turn — this means that the player can’t continue because the AI doesn’t finish its move. This is obviously quite annoying, and feels unnecessary — a timer for rounds on both sides would quickly prevent such issues!

Commandeering Space

The first step in playing is creating a commander. There is a pretty good selection of factions, secret technology, and perks to customize any character with, in addition to further character options. Once a commander is selected, it’s time to pick either a campaign, scenario, or another game mode. Whichever the player chooses, they end up on one starting planet with a relatively small settlement. That’s where it all begins — expansion, training, and eventually conquering more and more of the known universe.

As mentioned, the game is heavily combat-focused, while diplomacy takes a backseat. This doesn’t actively inhibit diplomacy-focused players, but there are very limited responses from other factions, so don’t expect too much.

Learning the Ropes

With limited intros and tutorials, the player has to figure things out quite quickly. Some emphasis is placed on moving with and acting in units, but other elements, including the actual scenarios and goals on the map, are a little more on the hazy side. Even straightforward actions like claiming and annexing areas takes a bit to figure out. Once you’ve got the basics down, though, things pick up fairly well.

After a steep initial learning curve, it’s relatively smooth sailing, and Planetfall quickly focuses more on the strategy aspect of gameplay, expecting the player to perform basic actions relatively easily. A good variety of missions and scenarios, as well as the different races and factions, not to mention the mods already out for the game, give Planetfall a pretty large amount of replay value — from space rescues to classic (and annoying) fetch quests, there’s just about everything you can imagine for players to partake in.

The Beauty of the Void

One thing needs to be said — Planetfall is visually stunning. The complex mechanics make it seem almost likely that another aspect, such as graphics or sound, would be neglected, but this is not the case. Character models, the world map, and animations are great-looking, and the voice acting, as well as the music and sound effects are atmospheric and well-made. 

In general, Planetfall has a lot to offer in the way of immersion. While round-based games can feel a bit less “real” than real-time strategy titles, this is not the case here. Having the ability to control a lot of fine nuances in the game makes it feel like even small decisions matter and influence what happens — and this really is the case!

The same goes for resource management. Units take resources to maintain and thus the game prevents players from “spamming” units to create incredibly overwhelming armies that simply roll over the enemy in numbers. No, with scarce resources limiting how many units of higher value can be created and used, the player is forced to act strategically, rather than just overwhelming enemies through numbers.

The Vastness of Space

In addition to scenarios and single-player campaign, there is also online multiplayer as an option – though, in order to play against others, you need to create an account with Paradox. That’s a bit unnecessary after already paying for a game. While having online multiplayer is a fun way to compete with friends and strangers, forcing players to create yet another account they really have no use for is just bad design on the developer’s part. You don’t need an account just for single player games; that’s something, at least!

6

The Verdict: Good

Age of Wonders: Planetfall is a beautiful game in general, but not everything is as good as it could be. Changes from previous titles make this one feel fresh, but also frustrating for new players, not to mention overwhelming in its complexity. Highly compatible with mods, there is a lot of replay value in this title and overall, it’s a pretty well-rounded experience with a few flaws, such as the simplistic neutral AI. There is a lot of fun to be had, especially for combat-heavy players that prefer weapons over diplomacy. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but space armies are another matter entirely!

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Mel Hawthorne
Written by
Friday, 23 August 2019 03:00
Published in Strategy

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Mel is a London-based copywriter that has been writing about video games for a few years now. After growing up in Vienna, Austria she followed her dreams and moved to London. Said dreams took her through a few different jobs (which included working as a web developer, shopkeeper and translator) before she settled on what she really wanted to do – periodically anger video game fans by expressing her opinions on games through various online publications. When she’s not writing about video games, she’s probably playing them... or walking her dog in a park. Since that depends largely on the English weather, Mel has plenty of time to indulge in her favourite games. These include but are not limited to Ark: Survival Evolved, Skyrim, GTA V, and oddly enough, Amnesia: Memories. She loves Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. She thinks Star Trek is way better than Star Wars and isn’t afraid to admit it – Live long and prosper!

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