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Age of Wonders 4 Review

Age of Wonders 4 Review

The Ancient Wizard Kings have escaped from their imprisonment, and their return has begun a war between mortals and gods that will shake the world. Can you bring your faction to victory and unite the realms to rule under your command? Nine years after the release of Age of Wonders III, it is finally time to delve into a new realm and conquer new lands with Age of Wonders 4 — a 4X title mixed in with turn-based strategy and roleplay elements. 

The Ancient Wizard Kings have waged a war that has begun the new Age of Wonders, and it is up to you to help destroy them... and aid them in battle. As part of the campaign, you will often play as both the mortals and the corrupted Godir, taking different roles in the story and watching the war unfold as a whole. While at first, the Story Realms seem like a tutorial, you will fight and protect your lands and unfold the story of war, and quickly it’ll become a normal campaign as any other.

Coming into Age of Wonders 4, I didn't really expect much of a story mode, but with the new Event system that creates random occurrences, alongside the quests you get along the way, I was quite pleased with the Story Realms overall. Veterans of both the 4X genre and Age of Wonders might find it easy, and likely a bit simple, as many of the worlds are relatively small. You can't skip Story Realms (you unlock them chronologically), but being able to choose between Easy, Normal, and Hard was a welcome addition for a newcomer like myself.

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Considering there isn't much of a story, and what there is I don't want to spoil, I just want to say that I was pleased with the narrative overall. Although it isn't ground-breaking and won't be winning any awards in storytelling, it was a pleasant surprise that I enjoyed partaking in. I was particularly fond of clear objectives and a quest log that changed it up from the usual Realms, which gave more of a reason to explore the story mode, even as a veteran.

Once you've finished with the Story Realms or decided to skip them and go on to play standard matches, you will have two options to select from — a preset realm with different traits or a randomly generated one with features you can choose. This essentially becomes the endlessly replayable aspect of Age of Wonders 4, as you will then embark on realm after realm conquering either the A.I. or others in online PvP.

As a 4X noob (I'm willing to admit it — my only experience with the genre is Heroes of Might & Magic 3, and even that is a loose definition of 4X), I was pleased with the A.I. difficulty, though I was often just fumbling to understand the various complex systems that Age of Wonders 4 has. With body traits, and mind traits, and culture, and society traits, and tomes, and origin to choose from, it is all simply too much for anyone that is unfamiliar with the setting, but this isn't a complaint about the game, just my intelligence.

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The character and faction customisation is fantastic and in-depth in ways that I didn't really comprehend in my first match; everything is customisable, and you can create pretty unique styles and builds to take into the battlefield. From choosing a mage-focused build to winning through expansion, there are viable options and unique factions to play with, and it is a big part of the game's charm... and all this is before counting the Pantheon system.

Each time you complete a game, you are rated for the actions you took. From whether you won to how many people you killed and how much you levelled up, you will gain points that rank up to Pantheon levels. These can then be spent in your Pantheon Progression, which can unlock various things from cosmetics, new pre-made realms (depending on your level), traits, weapons, and even origins, offering new ways to play as you progress.

This system nullified one of my greatest worries going into the game — I was anxious that the matches would feel motiveless. After hours of fighting to dominate the realm, I worried that it would feel for nought after staring at an empty victory screen, but this gave each run a new meaning and purpose. I wasn't only going to enjoy Age of Wonders 4 until I knew how to win (because a big part of the charm is online PvP, but sadly, I'm too bad at it), but rather I could get new builds and try new approaches.

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After you've finally created your Faction and jumped into the game, it plays pretty much like other Age of Wonders titles — for better and for worse. The gameplay loop is split into two styles: exploration and expansion, exploitation and extermination. Basically, overworld exploration and turn-based tactics gameplay.

The overworld exploration is great. You start the game with your hero unit partly ready for war with an army and a scout unit that you can use to explore the world. Search around as you find various resource nodes, ancient wonders, and relevant locations to expand towards and begin building your empire. This, paired with the new diplomacy system as you can befriend Free Cities and other players to create alliances, could not be made better. Choosing where to expand and how is an enjoyable task that can screw you over later in the game if you aren't careful enough, but it also isn't so punishing that a newcomer like me was unable to understand.

Turn-based combat focuses on the exploitation and extermination aspect. You can run into A.I. camps and foes to fight against, free up some space, and increase the rank of your units (which gives them benefits) or start battling other Factions and win through Military victory by exterminating everyone that isn't your ally. The turn-based aspect is relatively simple, as you will soon understand how every unit and enemy behaves on the battlefield, though likely the best and worst system is unit strength.

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Each army has a total "strength" given to them by the worth of their units. Whenever you are about to start a fight, the game outright tells you your odds of winning against any given opponent by highlighting your army strength versus theirs; this boils fights down to trying to have equal or more points to persevere, as winning "risky" battles can oftentimes prove arduous. This isn't exactly a complaint, as once you've become adept at a specific game, you can more confidently calculate these risks yourself; it removes the need-to-know aspect of the mechanic in favour of more accessible gameplay for new players

While risky fights are harder to win, Age of Wonders 4 gives you access to play all combat in "auto" mode, allowing you to skip the battle process entirely and get to a result section that shows you how hard your army got struck by the fight. You can then choose whether the fight was too bad and battle it yourself instead, allowing you to perform better. This option is definitely welcome, but I wouldn't say it's good — in anything but riskless fights, the auto-battle can sacrifice your units needlessly, leading to a weaker battle position overall. It's good to be able to speed up the process of killing low-level foes, but it won't save you otherwise.

My only complaint of the game is that the army building felt slow and a bit uninspired in some areas. Starting cities define a lot of how your army is going to look, especially considering that there is a limit to how many cities you can have before you are punished and have to spend obscene amounts of Imperium to expand. With only five army units per hero, this was restrictive and didn’t allow for a lot of unique builds, making the combat a bit more cookie-cutter than other titles I’ve played.

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With victory comes ascension, as once you've won any game, you can ascend your main hero to Magehaven, which will give you the opportunity to recruit them in the future as heroes in your army or face off against them in their own Faction. It's a great way to remind you of battles of the past and encourage you to try new builds and characters.

I could go on about in-game mechanics and write for several thousand words more, but for the sake of brevity, I'll leave it at this —  Age of Wonders 4 is a delightful and well-rounded 4X title. Experience a story about fighting back against the Ancient Wizard Kings that threaten to rule the world with an iron fist, or head out to new realms and enjoy the gameplay loop as you ascend your favourite Factions to Magehaven. I have nothing but praise for most of the game; I cannot wait to play more, unlock new traits and origins, and try again.  

9.50/10 9½

Age of Wonders 4 (Reviewed on Windows)

Excellent. Look out for this one.

Age of Wonders 4 is a great title that will have you wanting to play only one more turn, and only one more round, as you unlock things in Pantheon progress and decide to play one more match.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Artura Dawn

Artura Dawn

Staff Writer

Writes in her sleep, can you tell?

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