Age of Wonders: Planetfall is an excellent and gripping 4×4 turn-based strategy experience. Taking the very best concepts from its contemporaries, it blends seemingly disparate gameplay elements into an amazing whole, mixing the tactical combat of XCOM with that of large scale management reminiscent of Civilization. While it never quite reaches the dizzying heights of some of those other titles, it certainly gets close. In fact, it’s a fun time sink that you can spend many pleasant hours sinking your teeth into.
The setting and visuals jump out immediately after starting, and Planetfall has a high sci-fi setting that’s unique for the genre. It’s set far in the future on a distant solar system, where there was a great civilization that had fallen apart hundreds of years before, and now many different factions with their own philosophy and goals are trying to make their way through the wreckage. At the title screen, there is the chance to scroll through images in the background, showing each of the factions that you can choose from. Just from this first encounter, it’s easy to tell that each of these are incredibly distinct and creative. The Vanguards are remnants of the previous society hoping to restore order, the Dvar are a dwarf-like materialistic society of extractors, the Kirko are bug-like people who were slaves for most of their history. And that’s just a glimpse, with six incredibly well designed and distinct factions to choose from.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall comes with a single player story that each faction has, and they are surprisingly deep and engrossing. Many of them have characters that you actually grow to be invested in and it helps that most are not just ‘rule-the-galaxy’ type stories that you might expect. Planetfall does a great job of showing many different sides of the conflict. There are also multiplayer and regular skirmish options, which many serious players will spend a lot of their time in.
When starting, it becomes immediately clear that much inspiration has been drawn from Sid Meier’s titles. It begins on a large map covered by a fog of war, with you starting out with a combat unit and settler who can create a city. After you settle up, you then send your city off on some sort of project, whether that be a societal building that can create passive effects or a new unit, before deciding upon specific research options to study from a tree of choices. You go through turns discovering new tech and units, eventually making peace or destroying your enemies.
While it does not take the most original approach, Age of Wonders: Planetfall does this aspect of things very well and even adds a few new twists. One of the biggest distinguishers is the presence of heroes, the super units that level up and can equip new weapons that you loot from different enemies and completing quests. There are also Quests, working as secondary objectives that you can run through on behalf of minor factions or in the case of the single player, progress the story. In a tactical sense they give you resources and equipment, increasing your reputation with the minor factions, which in turn will grant access to their units when you need them. Planetfall also separates research trees into military and society options, which can be done simultaneously; this is an effective change from everything being on one research tree.
A huge complaint I have with the game though is found in the larger scale strategy, and it has to be said that there needs to be some more culture focused elements and a variety of win-states. You see, much of the societal tech and buildings seem to only help with the warmonger strategy, and those who wish to simply kill everyone. This is not such a huge problem in the single player stories but will be a major annoyance in matches because it creates a lack of variety. Yes, there are research based wins possible, but they seem impractical compared to simply beating the other players.
It’s in combat however where Age of Wonders: Planetfall pulls its biggest trick, and sees the greatest of success. Instead of like what is found in many other 4X4 games where combat is done automatically, fighting in Planetfall can be completed manually. The whole format changes in this state and it becomes a squad based tactical battleground very similar to XCOM. Every unit in the game has a full moveset in this mode, which allows access to a diverse set of strategies. This is insane fun and gives greater investment and thought into unit creation, with many different combinations of units that can be mixed together to create your best team for these fights. Adding on to this, each unit can be equipped with mods that deliver them unique abilities and buffs in these scenarios, adding another level of depth. And while some units can feel useless, most feel completely viable. These combat sections can feel like a whole game in themselves, but it’s incredibly impressive that it’s all been slotted into this huge grand strategy map.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall on Xbox One is easily one of the best in the genre, putting so many elements together into one fantastic package. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who loves the genre, and will be able to sustain strategy fans for weeks and even months on end.