Age of Wonders 3 Review27 Mar 2014  by
All units, however, differ per class and have slightly different abilities depending on race. Playing as High Elves for example, I can get Gryphon Riders or Storm Sisters by building certain structures in their settlements. These are unique to the High Elven race. When it comes to unit types, each race gets something similar to each other, but High Elven archers do more damage and move faster through forests compared to Orc archers at the cost of toughness in melee combat.
Your leader’s unique class units remain the same regardless of race though, if I play as a High Elven Warlord and research my leader’s class units, I can produce the High Elf version of Warbreeds (effectively elven types of ogres) as my strongest elite (tier IV) unit. Playing as an Orc Warlord, you can get Orc versions of the same Warbreeds that vary slightly in abilities e.g. resistances. Because of limited timeframes and resources, this can be seen as either a balance design choice or as a negative depending on how much class and racial diversity you’re after. For veterans this could spoil the magic of playing Age of Wonders 3 but new players will find plenty to discover.
As time went on, I found myself playing Age of Wonders 3 so much that I started to adapt to all these changes, finding that they aren’t really as bad as I thought.
From the large amount of fan feedback they’ve absorbed, Triumph really have improved Age of Wonders 3 and when you look back to Age of Wonders 2, you can see why they made the changes. You can feel the balance both strategically and tactically when you play.
Unit balance has been improved; this is because Triumph has expanded the unit’s tiers and experience levels. In Age of Wonders 2, if you came up against an Orc Warlord unit or army, especially fully buffed with enchantments, your basic tier 1 troops may as well just prepare for a pummeling and be done with it. In Age of Wonders 3 the new flanking and positioning mechanics can delay the inevitable, but you stand a good chance en masse if the enemy’s stronger units are few in number.
I’ve been impressed with the large variety of creatures you can find and control in-game – Dire Penguins march in formation now, but there’s no Chaos Spawn or Chaos Lords from Age of Wonders 2. It’s very cool to see what you can summon when playing as the Archdruid class. This leaves plenty of room for DLC to fill in missing units and races such as Frostlings, Tigrans and Undead.
Resource nodes on the map have been expanded significantly, there’s a good variety of treasure sites to raid and obtain powerful items for your leader and heroes. Special units might be procured, and you can even find Wyvern mounts to use. The amount of resource nodes and other map properties can be tailored using the advanced selection options before starting games, adding a lot of fun and conditions just like Age of Wonder 2.
The Independents fraction (AI) was fairly passive in Age of Wonders 2 but this is no longer the case. Brigand hideouts, for example, really enable the AI to make more impact in multiplayer games, both against itself and players. AI can build up cities and armies that will become potential threats later on if not dealt with quickly. I still feel the AI has infinite resources to exploit, though I can’t prove this.
Some cities offer quests to players during multiplayer games. If these are completed, the cities will either give themselves over to your cause or offer a gift of units, items, resources and the like. Cities under your rule can have race specific festivals, offering similar benefits. AI difficulties vary from Squire to Emperor just like the previous game.
The lower level AI can be prone to some dumb moves, but this seems intentional to me and designed to aid in player learning. Nothing in that department has been dumbed down as was feared when we interviewed Triumph Studios back in May last year.
The story to Age of Wonders 3 continues on from Shadow Magic, fully voiced over apart from in-game quests. It’s got some great 2D artwork during the lore parts, but the story won’t change based on your actions (good, neutral or evil.) Perhaps more importantly though, your gameplay experience can be affected by razing cities, hosting festivals, and having units desert due to your newly evil nature.
There are two campaigns to play, one from the Elven Court perspective and the other from the Commonwealth. Levels are rather fixed in nature, while difficulty settings can make the game considerably harder and may even bring up the odd surprise during your gaming sessions.
There’s no co-op mode for the campaigns as this would require major rework of the scenarios but multiplayer is where Age of Wonders 3 really shines. A variety of multiplayer modes and options will keep players going for a very long time. Just like the original games, there’s plenty of replay value.
Hotseat and LAN modes are still included which is rare to see these days; though LAN mode is not ‘officially’ supported. Online multiplayer is, of course, in there too, and a Play by Email mode is planned for a later date.
Game turns in both single and multiplayer can be either simultaneous or pure turn-based, but Hotseat mode is only available if you play turn-based. Co-op is great fun in multiplayer, especially versus AI. Up to 8 players can battle, with blank player slots being filled by AI of varying difficulties as required.
The amount of things to explore and discover during campaign and multiplayer games is staggering and will really add to the replayability for a long time to come. This is something veterans and new players will love compared to something like Might and Magic Heroes 6, particularly with the Level Editor and modding potential coming soon after release. Standalone maps or the Random Map generator provide a wealth of options and can be tailored to suit certain styles of play.
If you were stung by Might and Magic Heroes 6 crashes and bugs, I can safely say you’ll love the depth and breadth of Age of Wonders 3. There will be future patches, but it’s in a very playable state despite the tight launch and seems to run very smoothly on my system without being particularly demanding on hardware requirements.
Age of Wonders 3 has taken almost forty hours of my life away so far. Players new to the series will like the depth of both content and gameplay, and should also like the balanced gameplay mechanics. Veteran players will love discovering new class specific units, researching the wide variety of new spells and the expanded story, but I do fear that some veteran players might take a while to get used to the Age of Wonders 3 changes.
Overall though, players of any experience level will find enjoyable, rich strategy gameplay from Age of Wonders 3. Plus, if you’re anything like me, it’ll provide long-lasting memories of crushing your friends in battle.
Age of Wonders 3 is scheduled for release on 31 March.