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Age of Wonders: Planetfall

Posted by GG Goblin On August - 7 - 2019

4X taking to the stars.

Triumph Studios’ Age of Wonders series has been around for a long time and has a strong fan following. But it has been a while since the last Age of Wonders game graced the PC of many a fantasy strategy gamer, so the arrival of a new title is something of a red letter day. However, there is something afoot as the latest title, Age of Wonders: Planetfall, has taken to the stars with a shiny new sci-fi theme. Of, and it is also available on consoles this time around, but we don’t really care about that, do we?

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Fans of the Age of Wonders games will already know what to expect in a new title, although the sci-fi theme may throw them for a while. However, while the console gamers will all be approaching the title with new eyes, and probably a slight sense of fear, I am sure there are plenty of PC gamers out there for whom the Age of Wonders games are a mystery. So let’s take a look at Planetfall, a game that is admittedly complex and not necessarily that welcoming to newcomers, with the sense of wonder it deserves.

Potential players will need a hook to draw them in, and for Age of Wonders: Planetfall it is that the game has similarities to both Civilization and XCOM, two of the most popular strategy games of all time. While those similarities may only be minimal, it is enough to give new players an idea of what to expect. Planetfall is a 4X strategy game, with the four Xs representing Explore, Expand, Exploit and Exterminate. What that means in the game is that the player will take control of one of six different factions, each of which play very differently, and then found a colony on a planet. They will then explore the planet for anything cool that may have been left behind for them, expand the borders of their colony, or maybe even settle new colonies, exploit the natural resources to fuel all of this expansion, and pretty much exterminate anything that gets in their way. Or not. There could be a peaceful resolution. But who wants peace when they have armies with guns?

Planetfall offers the player a nice number of campaign missions that make use of the different factions on offer, although many will have to be unlocked by completing earlier missions. There is a very helpful tutorial to start things off, placing the player in control of the Vanguard faction. Now, when I say that the tutorial is helpful, I mean only to those who already have some understanding of how 4X games work and who are not too intimidated by the huge number of options in the game to experiment until they work out how to do something. There is enough info in the tutorial to get players started, and a lot of information will present itself as the player clicks on things and experiments, but it is not really that friendly to newcomers. Still, trial and error is always the best way to learn something new, right?

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The campaign missions will introduce the player to the different factions, along with how they play, while also building up the lore regarding this universe. The basics are that the previously ruling government has been completely destroyed, leaving the six factions to try and reboot some kind of intergalactic power in their own image by colonising planets. The factions are one of the highlights of the game. They are nicely varied, from the regular space marine type Vanguard, to the dinosaur-riding Amazons or the insect-like Kir’ko. The campaign missions do a good job of introducing the player to everything, but do feel somewhat limited with their win conditions holding the player back.

Fortunately, playing a more custom game, in which the player is able to control almost everything about the games set up, allows for much more freedom. From the size of the map, to the amount of resources available, there is a lot to customise. There are even a slew of different multiplayer options, although it may be best to leave them until a level of skill has been reached, y’know, to avoid embarrassment.

But however the player chooses to play, it will all pretty much start the same, with the first colony being established on a planets surface. This early game usually moves at a glacial pace in 4X games, but Age of Wonders: Planetfall may shock newcomers with the speed at which things start to happen. Expansion, for example, is usually linked to borders growing due to the population. Here, when the population is large enough, the player can simply annex a neighbouring region by simply moving a unit onto the regions flag and selecting annex. By the next turn, that region will be under the players control and ready to be exploited for resources. Sure, the player can still build colonizing units and set up new cities, but the annexing takes care of the expansion quickly and quietly.

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The gathering of resources is as important as ever, and once the player controls a region they can take advantage of whatever resources they have available. They can even upgrade the resources gathering as they go along to keep up with demand. This will allow for the likes of creating new buildings to supply various perks or new units for the armies, and will also allow for the building of armies themselves. There are two research trees in the game, one covering military and the other social. They are fairly substantial and not at all easy to understand, but at least give the player a fairly constant supply of new technologies or whatever. This will include Special Operations, special actions that come at a price but can have devastating effects. These could be rooted in espionage, be usable in battle, or simply weaken an enemy force before confronting them.

There are limited diplomatic options through the game. They don’t feel like they are an essential part of the game, especially as the AI does tend to be slightly aggressive, but that may all change with future patches or DLC. Not that it really matters, as the battle system is very enjoyable.

When the players army goes into battle, the player will be given the choice to auto-resolve a battle or manually play it out. While the battles are great fun, auto-resolving will likely be used at least some of the time, otherwise even a game as speedy as Planetfall will take ages to complete. But still, take to battle when possible. These battles take inspiration from the turn-based battles in XCOM, with units on the ground being able to take advantage of cover and overwatch abilities. With a substantial number of units available on the battle map, things can get quite rowdy. While each faction only has a limited number of units, armies can make use of units from different factions or sub-factions if they are lucky, making for really varied conflicts. Throw in special operations and customisable heroes that level up, gain skills and can equip new weapons or mods, and the battles quite quickly begin to show their tactical depth. Even the units themselves can be customised, giving the player plenty of options to how they approach battle beyond just picking a faction.

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I will admit that Age of Wonders: Planetfall is not the friendliest strategy game around. There is a lot of depth to the game, both in and out of combat, and much of that will remain hidden until the player discovers it. But damn, there is so much to like here. Fast moving gameplay, tactical battles, customisable heroes, laser-shooting dinosaurs. If there was ever a game that deserved time to learn, Age of Wonders: Planetfall is it.




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