It seems as though we are in a golden age of strategy games being released on Xbox.
We’ve seen games like Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition appear and do well, and also Crusader Kings III, but now there is a new entry in the genre. Age of Wonders 4, from developers Triumph Studios and publishers Paradox Interactive is here to really test your muscle memory to the limit, as you try to remember the combination of buttons needed for each given situation we find ourselves in.
So, is the world ready for another massive, massively complicated game? Well, come with me to a world of fantasy and we will have a look.
We will start with the story found in Age of Wonders 4, mostly as having a nice goal to work towards is always important, especially in a game of this scope.
It appears that a gang of powerful Wizard Kings have returned to the realm, and have set themselves up as gods among us lesser mortals. Now, obviously, we can’t let this stand, and so it falls to our character, as a leader of whatever tribe we choose, to drag our people up, evolve our society and take the power back from them.
Graphically, the game is pretty good looking, with a nicely detailed world and creativity to the units that you have deployed in it. There are a few different landscapes, ranging from an underground kingdom (where my first leader hailed from) through to a standard looking green and verdant land, and everything in between. The view in the world map is like this, but when you are engaging in fisticuffs with another faction, the camera zooms right in to give us a proper view of the turn based action. The camera can be repositioned as you like, to make sure you have a good view of the action, although the isometric viewpoint remains the same, and you are in no doubt as to what is going on. Having said that, it can sometimes be hard to pick out your units from the background clutter, but it all works pretty well.
Sound is all as you’d expect as well. Various fighting sounds and pleasant music float over it all, but a special mention has to go to the text screens. See, they are tiny and densely packed with information, and so I found myself sitting on the floor near the TV in order to be able to read them; any further away and my ageing eyes had no chance. This is how the tutorials are played out, and so you will need to read and digest as much of this info as you can. Just remember to bring your very best pair of eyes.
In terms of the gameplay that is on offer, and the choices here really do boggle the mind. Just as an example, from the moment you start Age of Wonders 4 and enter the character generator, the amount of different races you can play with seems never ending. A halfling? A cat type thing? An elf? A human? Whatever you want, it is here, and the sheer number of choices in everything from hair to body shape is crazy. I picked a half snake type woman, randomised her appearance, and dived straight in, but whatever you want to make, it is pretty much doable.
After selecting attributes, you will be thrown into the game. I was dropped into an underworld cave system, with a city, a few things with me (units like shield guards and scouts), before being left to set about exploring.
Now, the rest of Age of Wonders 4 is pretty much equally split between exploration and fighting, and so I shall split the rest of my words along the same lines.
Exploration wise and on the world map we have the standard kind of choices for these types of strategy games – we can move our unit a certain amount of spaces and also interact with things, and once all our action points are used up, we have to end the turn to replenish them. Once our turn ends, other, unknown units can also move, setting the scene for encounters.
These encounters can play in one of two ways – you may stumble across other races and engage in dialogue with them, or you can choose to attack enemies that you see. Each approach has things to recommend, and it just depends upon your mood at the time as to which way you go. Meeting a friendly society does give you the ability to forge alliances and build relations, and sometimes diplomacy can get results that putting the enemy city to the sword couldn’t.
As an example, I met a group of frogs (don’t ask) and they invited me to go on a hunt with them. After that, I was able to recruit one of their best Hunters to my team and build another army around him. The diplomatic side of things is again very deep, and if I had to go through all the permutations this review would be about 20,000 words long. Believe me, no one wants that.
Now, the other side of the coin is found in the fighting, as sometimes you can’t be bothered with tiptoeing around and just want to slay stuff.
As we go and fight, Age of Wonders 4 will give us some options. If we are much stronger than the opposing force, we can let the battle play out automatically and take the rewards afterwards, and to be honest this saves a lot of time. One top tip – if you are going to go down the fighty fighty route, make sure you have overwhelming force on your side, as the enemy are cunning and relentless in actual battle. You can recruit new soldiers in your cities, and while it takes a few turns to train them up, it is time well spent.
Going into battle is again very familiar if you have played a strategy game before, and while there are tweaks, like a morale system (basically, kill them more then they kill you and you’ll be winning), the action is very familiar. You will need to pay attention though – keep arrow troops in the rear and protect them with melee units and so on. The main thing I found that helps is to let the enemy come to you, after an area has been fortified. Spreading your forces is a recipe for disaster, even if, on paper, you are pretty closely matched. Again, there are so many different troops and attacks and defences to talk about, this is only very broad brush strokes.
If you’re coming in to Age of Wonders 4 as your first 4X game (and if you don’t know, it stands for Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate), you’ll probably be pretty overwhelmed. That’s not helped by the controller mapping, as sometimes just finding the right response to a diplomatic question involves many screens and subscreens. But overall, it makes a decent stab at it.
The depth and the difficulty of Age of Wonders 4 – and this is properly hard, be in no doubt – as well as the sheer amount of things to do, ensures this is a great way of losing a few hours, days, weeks or maybe even months.