I have to admit that I am a complete and utter FAIL when it comes to the strategy, 4X genre. Luckily in order to write this review I have my Total War addict partner to hold my hand every step of the way. I had never been attracted to the genre before, but it was the siren-like call of the RPG elements woven into Age of Wonders III which ensnared me into its time sucking trap.
There is simply too much content in this game for me to cover all of it. It really is a never ending pit of procedurally generated adventures. Specifically I won't be reviewing the Online Multiplayer aspect so if you want to know more about that then a good overview of that can be found here.
Let's get down to the basics. Age of Wonders III is at its heart a 4X strategy game placed in a fantasy setting. The campaign is lengthy and has a steep difficulty curve, though it does give nice detail and background to some of the races and characters. The story is your basic fantasy RPG stuff but it works well to add flavor to the world. Age of Wonders III is certainly a game that is easy to play and incredibly difficult to master. I found myself immediately sucked into the fantasy world going off exploring, though completely lost when it came to many aspects of the gameplay and building of my empire.
Triumph did something very daring when they built Age of Wonders III. Instead of going for a straight up Civilization 5 clone, they split gameplay into two halves: there is the map world where you explore, expand your empire and develop your take over strategies, then there the turn based battles. These are probably what makes Age of Wonders III stand out in a sea of 4X games. Further strategy is implemented as you sacrifice moving closer to the enemy for the number of shots you can fire. Enemies have different skills and abilities and you have to be careful of retaliation.
When a game tries to do two vastly different things like this, one can often drag it down, however Triumph pulled this balancing act off perfectly. The combat is engaging and set at the right difficulty, though there is an auto combat mode if you are certain of victory or defeat. While the 3D graphics are nothing extraordinary they do the job well, and the environments do look very pretty. Where Age of Wonders III stands out is the 2D art which graces the (sparse) loading screens, and the music which really gets you pumped up for the action.
The customization is unending. This was mentioned by many as a plus point as each unit, army and hero has its unique quality and flavor to it, especially as you can customize everything down to each individuals weapon. For me this was just too much. There were so many options of different paths to take that it simply scrambled my brain. From buildings to units, directions for exploration, each heroes individual skills, new settlements and taking old ones, diplomacy options, research, quests and all the minutiae in between, there was always something I wasn't properly attending to. This of course is purely personal however, and I know fans of the genre will be enthralled by the complete detail of this customization.
The one major thing I was disappointed in was the diplomacy. I am a make love not war kinda gal, and while I completely understand that I am not the intended audience for this product, I wish there was more that could be achieved before invading another's borders. There is no victory through diplomacy here, and NPCs will rarely accept your offer of a peace treaty no matter if you could crush them in a matter of turns. The game pushes you into combat, which is understandable given all the fancy combat mechanics, but I just wish with all the choices you could make that there could also be some sort of choice to rule hand in hand with another race.
When it comes down to it though, there is very little I can complain about here. As someone who doesn't play strategy games, this one really stuck with me and called me back to play again and again. The random nature of the worlds means this is a game with insane amounts of replay factor, and something which will give you good value for money. This to me is the mark of a good game. If it can entertain everyone from the most hardened 4X fan to me, a mere beginner, and have all shades of gamer in between covered, then it must be something that is worth your time.
I received my copy of Age of Wonders III courtesy of the developer. You can purchase yours on Steam.
What are your thoughts on Age of Wonders III?