I’ve played the Age of Wonders series from the second installment onwards. I was pleased with the third in the series but thought it unusual that Triumph Studios would move into the realm of sci-fi with their AoW III engine. Going into Planetfall with my background naturally led me to explore how the systems have changed. For returning players, one of the first things you’ll note is what stays the same – Campaign, hot-seat scenarios, and online multiplayer return as the primary game modes, although the campaign system is new and worth exploring. One can still create their own commanders and customize them aesthetically and mechanically.
The story behind Age of Wonders: Planetfall centers on the collapse of a galactic civilization. At the point the player comes in (whether in campaign or story), the damage is already done. Whereas most 4x sci-fi games operate on the galactic scale, Planetfall is decidedly local to a single world per game, and each world carries with it the crumbled remains of the aforementioned empire. Within those remains are rival factions and local flora and fauna that either want to make a deal or make you dead.
Planetfall visually captures the theme of a fallen empire very well. Each world’s terrain is beautifully rendered, and unit design is visually pleasing. The maps, although at times too detailed to make out important features, really capture a sense of desolation and ruin. The score contributes to that ambiance, as do other sound effects, all very well done.
Some curious design decisions are found in the choice of available factions. The standard Earth type humans are available, as is the stereotypical bug race, but one can also find a merchant syndicate, dinosaur riding Amazons, space dwarves, and cyborg zombies as playable factions. Moreover, rather than the classes of AoW III, one chooses a secret technology which, similar to AoW III’s classes, adds units and research that can spice up your strategy. Nevertheless, it seems that some secret technology and races have ideal synergies with each other. Accordingly, I felt hard pressed to go against the grain when customizing my commanders.
Choice of faction is likely to change your playstyle significantly. For instance, the space zombie race can engage strategic initiatives that give research bonuses for each enemy unit killed, encouraging a more bloodthirsty diplomatic style. This is a sharp contrast to the sneakier merchant syndicate race, which has technology that provides bonuses to influence, a currency used to move opponents diplomatically in your favor, for being at peace.
Technology research has undergone important changes, too, which I’m thrilled to see. Research is now divided between combat and non-combat technologies, and you can research both simultaneously with your full complement of research points. Moreover, some missions for NPC factions require you to engage in research or constructing special quest-specific techs or buildings, with no other benefit than the mission reward and diplomatic benefits.
Construction in colonies looks very much the same in Planetfall as it does in AoW III, however worlds are now divided into regions. Whereas in AoW III and other 4X strategy games one might be able to construct a city anywhere, in Planetfall, colonies and forward bases may be built on designated regional centers. More layers of strategy come with taking specific regions as one can hedge out players with careful planning… unless they simply decide to declare war and trample on your borders.
Combat itself has not changed much. Rather than ‘spells,’ one has strategic and tactical initiatives, which fill the same role (doing damage, buffing, debuffing, etc.). Some units have flight, others have an overwatch ability that really makes moving into melee with ranged units painful, and so on. Careful tactical planning in combat is essential in ensuring your units’ survival, as flanking and special abilities can quickly turn the tide of combat.
My overall experience with the mechanics of Planetfall is that their complexity brings the worlds to life, but the mechanics described above may be too much for beginners, even with the comprehensive tutorial system. That said, I really hope that Triumph Studios takes some design decisions for future fantasy installments.
If I had to fault Planetfall, it’d be in having too much going on in game at once. Perhaps, once one has a certain expertise, it won’t be difficult to make out what’s going on, but more than once I felt overwhelmed trying to figure out what’s going on in a given map, combat or world. Even so, Age of Wonders: Planetfall is a really fun 4X strategy experience.
- Great Tutorial System
- Remarkable Re-imagining of Age of Wonder III's systems
- Many options for replayability
- Map detail is sometimes too dense
- Steep learning curve for beginners