If you’re a fan of strategy or turn-based battle games, then Age of Wonders should come to mind for a lot of you. The series has been a hit for a while now, handled by the team at Triumph Studios. But it’s been a while since we’ve heard from them and what they have planned next. This past week, we found out. The team invited us to a behind-closed-doors event in San Francisco to get a close look at the forthcoming Age of Wonders: Planetfall, which is set to make its debut on Steam starting on August 6th. But don’t worry, console owners- you’ll be getting a turn as well, as the game is slated to arrive on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One sometime during the year as well.
The game has been in development for around three years’ time, with Triumph taking however long it needed to pile on Planetfall with an abundant amount of content. And boy, it did not disappoint. Tactical fans will have a field day digging into the hours’ worth of battles available here, along with the various factions, each with resources that bring something new to the table.
The game stems some familiarity for those that grew up with the classic Age of Wonders games but also has some fresh ideas that mix in nicely with everything, so you feel like it’s something borrowed yet something new in the same shot. That’ll certainly pay off, especially for those of you that take the time to learn what your faction has to offer and take advantage of whatever they can produce for you.
Of course, as all things do, this game starts out with a story that sets everything in motion. For many years, the galaxy is kept at peace by The Star Union, who works with a variety of worlds through wormholes that are connected through a general hub known as the Nexus. However, thanks to The Collapse, an unexpected event that throws everything into chaos, the Nexus finds itself shut down, and each of the races now finds themselves fighting for survival. Considering that this isn’t an overnight fix, they now have to find a way to reconnect with certain races, while at the same time dealing with nasty forces that have emerged as a result of this Collapse.
Each of the races involved with the game has something interesting about them when it comes to backstory, as they have their own specific end goals in mind. For instance, the Vanguard- the most general race within the game- features a group of colonists that find themselves suddenly without a mission when they awaken from a cryo-sleep, mainly due to the collapse of the Star Union. Determined, their captain vows to help them re-establish a small but worthwhile civilization, one in which they can thrive again.
But that can actually cause a small rift with other races. For instance, there’s the Kir’Ko, an alien hive that hasn’t been fond of the Star Union, mainly due to working under their enforced rule. Now that they operate on their own, running roughshod into the Vanguard doesn’t come easy. There are negotiations available, but it’s up to the player to determine just how these will go- or, more importantly, if they choose to go to war instead. (With a click of the button, you can make it happen.)
But then you have races that aren’t so much interested in rebuilding with democracy, but with their own way of life. For example, the Amazon race comes to mind, using animals to their advantage whenever they can (like dinosaurs with lasers attached to their bodies- let’s see Dr. Evil imagine something cooler than that). They’re masters of bioengineering, and really know their way around building stuff with ease. However, very few men are involved in this race thanks to the experiments- and that leaves an interesting question about their future. Hmmm.
Getting started in Age of Wonders: Planetfall, you’ll find various customization tools available, giving the game a personable touch compared to, say, the usual tactics-based affair in which you’ve got everything laid out for you. You’ll be able to select how your commander unit performs in terms of skills and appearance, along with perks and vices to make their battle style more your speed.
But that’s not all. You’ll also utilize a Secret Technology, one that your group develops that will allow you to make special weapons and units to your advantage, including an all-out Doomsday Weapon that, once completed, can really clean house during battles. We didn’t get a chance to try this out with our hands-on, but it’s a promising end goal for those of you that don’t mind doing a little digging. (Or activating a Scholar skill for your commander, if that’s your speed.)
The options available for customization are awesome, to say the least. Want to make your commander leather-clad with a sweet handgun and a biker mustache? That’s your thing.
Once you’ve got everything to go in terms of choices, you can dive into the gameplay. It starts with your character’s ship landing in the midst of the world and you slowly establishing things within it. A tutorial walks you through every step, which is a good thing since the multiple systems and techniques featured in Age of Wonders: Planetfall can be quite overwhelming to newcomers. By a few turns in, however, you should have a pretty good hang of how things work.
At first, you won’t have to worry too much about opposition, save for some local nasty aliens that will give you a run for your money when it comes to learning about the turn-based battle system. This takes place on a real-time 3D portion of the map in which you can tactfully lay out where you want your team to go. It helps to find a good spot for cover, but also a possible range in which you can fire at enemies and do some damage. It never hurts to plan ahead, and, thankfully, Planetfalldoesn’t put too much of a time kibosh on your turn. Take your time and plan accordingly.
And it helps to plan ahead. Leaving your soldiers in the wide open could result in a quick death, as we learned from a couple of battles. For instance, in one spot of the map, we felt that it would be good to set up soldiers for a quick attack the next time around. But a few “bug” opponents got the jump on us, leaving just one to be rescued by the other squads.
Fortunately, that set up enough learning to put more of a powerhouse team in their place the next time around, mowing down one group of enemies while worrying about where the next one placed.
There are different units you can select as well, from aerial to melee to long-distance attack, And with each race, they differ extraordinarily, with some even able to deliver devastating alien-based techniques that, once properly leveled up, can really clean house. Or at the very least, leave colorful puke everywhere. Whee!
As you complete each battle, experience adds on, and stats become much better, so you grow more powerful over time. You can also do additional research and open up new skills and abilities for your characters, adding even further to the game’s growing replay value. It’s pretty cool. You can also use mods with certain characters- like your commander- which proves to be very handy.
Going out of battle and back into the main section of the map, you get a pretty good idea of how much you can establish within this world of Age of Wonders. This includes growing out your home base and creating new army members that you can spread across the landscape, along with establishing a colony with beings and homes, and growing food to keep things healthy. The more you establish, the more the colony grows, and the stronger you can become.
But that doesn’t stop the exploration factor of the game. You’ll have continuous new areas on the map that pop up, ripe for looking around and getting into battles every now and then. You can even up and move your colony around if you prefer, should you find an area that’s better suited for them. It could be a risky move, depending on who’s lingering- but so worth it for the experienced player.
You’ll need to be careful, though. Keeping your colony balanced is highly recommended, as they can easily go negative on you, forcing riots upon the land and throwing your potential group into chaos. You can declare Martial Law if need be, but, again, it’s a risk. If you’re prepared, however, you might just attain some good reward. Up to you, of course.
I’ll be honest- there’s a lot to take in here. But that’s kind of why Triumph took so long in putting Planetfalltogether. It wanted to recapture that spirit of Age of Wonders that players remember so well from earlier games, while at the same time delving deep into a battle system and race selection (again, we only tried three of the six provided in the final game) that will keep you busy for hours at a time.
And the smaller factors of the game really pay off as well. For instance, negotiation can be tough going at first, especially against a stagnant party that feels your relationship hasn’t established enough to get off the ground. But do a few things here and there and suddenly they’ll be back in touch, eager to do business and even partner up with you, should the situation call for it. Just be prepared, though- you never know just how much you need to trust your partner, especially when it comes to something as fickle as a joint war.
And the battle system, despite its learning curve, is very cool. You’ll learn tactics with each new go-around that you take, opening up new units that can do a lot for you. Mods and experience go a long way too, as your commander and company really hit the ground running in a number of ways. This will truly add up as later battles come around, as we learned after a couple of hours into getting into the game. Imagine how much crazier it’ll get when the endgame is revealed later this summer. Gasp.
One other noteworthy feature about Age of Wonders: Planetfall is its nature. While the game is serious in some cases, it’s also out to have fun in others. That doesn’t mean it’s a guffaw-filled affair, but you can see inspiration from other pieces of pop culture, from Star Wars to Dune to Fallout. We didn’t see too many of these in action over the course of our demo, but chances are Triumph is saving them for the finished product, so fans can find them on their own and see just how deep the lexicon truly digs. It’s nice to see that the company is holding back from letting too many spoilers escape before the final game releases.
There’s just…so much. We didn’t even dig that deep into the technology that’s available to you, or the parties that you can recruit outside of what your base produces, or even how much you can partner up with others, even if their nature doesn’t entirely mesh with yours. Age of Wonders: Planetfall looks to be packed to the hilt with the kind of content that turn-based strategy and role-playing fans will enjoy for hours. And who knows, it could have huge multiplayer potential as well, with others thrown into the universe and trying to grasp whatever they can grab hold of. (We’ll let you know as soon as this is incorporated into the game- for console owners, it’d be a vital feature.)
The PC version looks great thus far and plays really well with mouse and keyboard. It’s too soon to tell how the console ports will hold up, but the team is confident that they’ve got a winner on their hands. Again, there’s no release date for that version, but we’ll find out soon enough.
It’s nice to see Age of Wonders make a comeback with Age of Wonders: Planetfall, even if it did come a little later than expected. Hey, better than not at all, right, fans?
(Disclaimer: Triumph Studios provided travel to the event, and we appreciate their accommodations!)