Waging Wonderous Fantasy Warfare in Age of Wonders 4

Age of Wonders 4
Reviewed On
Steam (PC)
Available For

The Age of Wonders franchise from developer Triumph Studios has been evolving for quite a while. All of the Age of Wonders titles have been solid entries in the so-called 4X strategy (explore, expand, exploit and exterminate) wargames genre, with many gamers considering them to be a worthy successor to the classic Heroes of Might and Magic games. And for previous entries in the Age of Wonders series, that was a pretty direct comparison. However, Triumph has been busy taking the series in a whole new direction for a while now, especially since they became an official studio of Paradox Interactive, which likely gave them the freedom and the funding to really work on their unique vision for turn based strategy wargaming.

We actually got to see a little bit of that new vision back in 2019 with the release of Age of Wonders: Planetfall, which brought the series away from the fantasy realm and into sci-fi territory. However, while most people focused on the sci-fi aspects, if you looked a little deeper you would clearly see the basis of Age of Wonders 4 there too with deep customization and the ability to evolve both heroes and armies as a scenario was being played.

Age of Wonders 4 took many of those concepts found in Planetfall and greatly expanded them, making them the core of the gameplay for the new title.  There is a very short campaign mode in Age of Wonders 4 which is worth playing to both practice the mechanics of the game (it’s pretty much a long tutorial) and to learn a little bit about the lore. The main focus for most players is going to be the endless battles that come afterwards. So, if you are looking for a deep story, you won’t find it here. But I would argue that it’s not really needed. There are plenty of titles that offer an interesting plot combined with 4X battles. Instead, Age of Wonders 4 provides one of the most beautiful and customizable sandboxes for 4X gamers to enjoy endless battles of their choosing.

In Age of Wonders 4, the universe is ruled by immortal wizards who are constantly battling against one another on countless worlds. They enter these worlds through stargate-like portals with their starting armies and proceed to conquer cities, build improvements, grow in power and eventually conquer everyone else to become the undisputed ruler of that particular world. Leaders and armies don’t carry over from game to game, so there is no penalty in experimenting with different builds (both in leaders or their armies) until players develop a strategy and a build that they really like. And even then, Age of Wonders 4 still encourages players to evolve that build even further.

Customization in Age of Wonders 4 is off the charts. I don’t think I can recall another title, and certainly not a strategy wargame, where there were so many options for customization. And this applies to both leaders and the armies that will fight for them. On the leader side, you can change out both your leader’s looks and their unique powers and abilities. In a way, it almost seems like the start of a role-playing game. And then you can do the same thing for your armies. So if you want to be an angelic-like being from heaven leading devoted barbarians into frenzied battles or an demonic rat person at the head of an undead army, have at it. There is no restriction on mixing and matching heroes and armies, so you can be quite creative. And with the newly released Dragon Dawn DLC, your starting wizard king can even be a dragon, which is quite a powerful unit just by themselves.

The thing to know is that even with all of those early customization options, you are really just scratching the surface. You will be able to evolve and grow as you play and earn more power. That is because of the ingenious way that Age of Wonders 4 allows players to apply all customizations earned during a game globally to every unit. And they stack too, allowing pretty specific builds to develop depending on the situation. This can totally change the disposition of your army throughout a scenario. You might start off with a small force of nature-loving hobbit-like creatures marching into battle with spears and bows and then evolve them into ethereal beings who can fly across the battlefield to smite their foes with magic by the time you reach the last enemy stronghold.

In terms of actual combat, Age of Wonders 4 follows the same basic format that was perfected by the developers a long time ago. Units have a limited number of action points to spend each turn on movement, and then can also use combat skills. So, a melee unit might be able to fight if it gets up close to an enemy or take a defensive action if you suspect that they are about to get attacked in the following turn. Ranged units can, of course, shoot at anything that comes into their zone of control, so good commanders will likely put heavy melee units up front and cover them with archers standing close behind. There are also magic units which add a lot of versatility to combat, doing things like buffing or healing friendly units or even providing them with shields or damage reduction powers. Magic units can also attack with whatever destructive magic or de-buffing powers they have in their arsenal.

Your wizard king is also a viable combat unit. And, of course, they have access to spells which are very powerful. They can often change the tide of battle. That said, the developers have smartly limited a hero’s offensive power somewhat so that they can’t cast any apocalypse-like spells to completely devastate the world like is possible in some other titles. If they could do that, they probably would not need the armies.

All of the battles in Age of Wonders 4, from early game skirmishes with just a few units to late game sieges with dozens of powerful combatants in the fray, are tactical and fun to play. The enemy AI is also pretty smart about most things, although not nearly as good as a capable human player. For example, if you move a scouting unit too close to the front lines, the computer will be smart enough to attack them with either a fast or a ranged unit, but probably won’t be able to figure out that you are giving ground in the middle of the field because you want to funnel their most powerful units into a trap.

There is also a bit of a Civilization-like interface in Age of Wonders 4. You will need to improve the various territories and cities that you conquer. Those investments are almost always worth their cost because over time they will provide more resources, which equates to more population for your armies, additional research, gold, power and other things to keep your war economy on track. Players aren’t required to get too bogged down in the management side of things, but will need to at least keep a bit of an eye on kingdom management, especially if they are aiming for some specific upgrades that are expensive, and want to earn them as quickly as possible.

The one thing that might be a little off-putting to some players is that every game in Age of Wonders 4, after you complete the short main campaign, is going to be different. All of your earned achievements, your wizard hero, whatever society you built and your evolved armies reset once you have conquered a world. The next time, everything will be different. This encourages players to try new builds, and there is no penalty if you end up not liking a hero/army combination and abandon a world to start over. But some players will likely miss having an uber-hero that they can take across multiple wars and worlds. The fun in Age of Wonders 4, however, is the sandbox which gets shifted and shaped anew every time.

The developers are also releasing a lot of DLCs which constantly add even more new features to Age of Wonders 4. Most of these have been free, such as the recent addition of wyverns, but you also need to buy some of them too.

For those looking for an everlasting and endless series of battlefields with limitless customization options, Age of Wonders 4 is the current king of the hill. It earns 4.5 GiN Gems (out of 5) to add to its impressive war chest of accolades.

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