Despite being the fifth title in the Age of Wonder series of 4X turn-based strategy games, AGE OF WONDERS: PLANETFALL feels like its own entity. Developer Triumph Studios is once again at the helm, but it’s clear that it wanted to do something new after spending the past 20 years working on just Age of Wonders and Overlord games. As such, the team has ditched the high fantasy theme that the strategy series has proudly represented for decades and replaced it with a sci-fi world that takes plenty of inspiration from Star Trek. And it’s one mixture that works out rather well.
That isn’t the only other major change as Planetfall incorporates a new combat structure that is a lot like XCOM. Players can control all of their individual units, use skills like Overwatch (not the Blizzard game) to play defensively, and it becomes a lot more possible for upsets to occur rather than the more powerful army automatically winning. It’s a wonderful blend of genres, although anyone looking for the tactical depth of XCOM will be disappointed as it is quite streamlined. It gives the player a deeper attachment with its important units as they actually use them to succeed and can see their upgrades in action for themselves. This isn’t the best-playing turn based tactical game nor the apex of 4X strategy design, but it has managed to carve out its own niche.
While this is a sizable change, Age of Wonders is still a 4X strategy game at its heart. That means there are plenty of colonies to create, armies to build, and residents the player will need to make happy as they attempt to gain control of the world either peacefully or through more violent matters. With six unique factions ranging from aliens to Amazonian women that battle while riding dinosaurs, there is plenty of depth to be found here despite the gameplay moving at a faster pace than most of its contemporaries.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall Review | Packed with content
The user interface for Age of Wonders: Planetfall can be a bit overwhelming at first and for good reason as there are different research trees to dump points into, multiple ways to keep your colonies happy, and plenty of upgrades to gain over time. However, Triumph Studios has done a great job of making sure newer players, and even veterans, don’t forget to maximize their turns with some helpful reminders on the right-hand side telling them what to do next. This can range from moving an army unit to making sure your production pipeline isn’t running dry. These small tips go a long way towards making a taxing game that juggles a ton of systems much more manageable.
Beyond its dense gameplay, Planetfall just has a lot to offer players in general as it has a number of different scenarios for players to face off against up to 12 players. These range from worlds that have been ravaged by past wars and ones that have been reclaimed by deadly predators to peaceful planets that are ready to be colonized upon. These maps are randomly generated each time out and there are a ton of options present so players can make games that end in just an hour or two rather than spending their entire evening staring at a computer screen like Civilization often requires.
A great way to get accustomed to all of what Age of Wonders has to offer is in the game’s lengthy campaign mode. This has players controlling the human faction called the Vanguard, whose warriors just awoke after spending over 100 years in cryosleep. Getting used to the ever-changing interstellar power struggle is one of the angles that the campaign takes, but it really serves as a good way to learn more about all of the game’s different factions. Players will get to meet the bug-like aliens Kir’Ko, who specialize in melee combat, and get a good overview of how the universe currently coexists despite all six races having different ideals and societies.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall Review | A satisfying blend
Sadly, the campaign struggles to tell a very interesting tale. A 4X strategy game isn’t a great place for storytelling in general, especially when so many factions are battling over a small world. Most of the characters aren’t all that interesting to negotiate with and this sci-fi universe lacks some of the charm that the older fantasy titles had. On top of that, none of the missions stand out as all that exciting, but they do their job of getting players accustomed with all of the gameplay systems and ready to dive into the scenarios.
The real highlight comes in the form of its combat, as the struggles for planetary domination shine when players get to take apart in key skirmishes. There is still the option to automate battles, which is a helpful option considering how often combat can occur during a single turn, but it’s easy to want that extra layer of control when facing one enemy’s top commanders or infiltrating one of their key colonies. This one strength helps Age of Wonders: Planetfall feel like its own game and different enough from the pack that players won’t constantly be comparing it to Civilization or past titles in the series.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall is one of the most unique 4X games released in recent memory, and that is great news for a genre that can be a bit stale at times. Its blend of XCOM-like combat with the traditional strategy elements isn’t perfect, and there are some rough spots that Triumph Studios will need to work on in the future, but it provides an enjoyable and fresh challenge. While the generic sci-fi world isn’t as rich or organic as the previous high fantasy settings, its amount of depth and ways to play carry it up and beyond many of its genre rivals.
GameRevolution reviewed Age of Wonders: Planetfall on PC with a copy provided by the publisher.