The long-awaited Age of Wonders sequel has arrived and the fantasy setting looks better than ever. Offline and multiplayer mode promised a lot of fun, so I went to play for few hours last week. At least that was the plan, though it ended up with more than 5 hours so far. Ever since the first instalment in the series, and similar games like Heroes of Might and Magic, turn-based strategy games have provided more fun than I could imagined. It has been 11 years since the previous title was released, and I cannot remember whether it was anything like the latest one. Although after playing for an hour, the concept looked familiar yet enhanced.
Here I was, deciding whether to play as Sundren, princess of the renewed High Elves, or as Edward who is a loyal citizen of the Commonwealth. Both campaigns looked good, but taking a role of Edward was said to be the path to glory and conquest. What are games for if not to make impossible things possible? Conquering the world was too tempting not to have a go. Dark Elves threaten the empire and aim to divide it. Fighting for peace has always been a good way to show humans you are there to protect them.
The game puts you in control of every single element of a fantasy world and as soon as you start a campaign you will experience how politics can change its destiny. It’s all too innovative as we have seen that in other games, though Age of Wonders 3 combines all aspects in a unique way. You are the one who was to create a functional empire. From economic and politics, through military planning, researching and micro-management of inhabitants. AoW 3 is complex, it is not just click this or that tile to win a scenario.
Gameplay controls consist of selecting a unit, town or other elements with left mouse button, and right-click gives an order to your unit or lets you cast a spell. Could not be simpler, though there are hotkeys available if you want to speed up the process. Instead of tutorial, game has its own wiki-like Tome of Wonders, which gives detailed explanation of lore and all other aspects. Back in days, each title would arrive with a printed manual, the Tome Wonders is just that but in a digital format.
Leading an army in an epic battle is what Age of Wonders III does best, with such a detailed map, various spells and units. Although each race has its advantages and disadvantages, mixing them up can result in an interesting combinations. Some will help you win a fight easier, while others will downgrade race’s abilities. Apart from traits each race has by default, your hero’s class-specific skills and related units have to be unlocked through research. Some can be gained by constructing different structures in villages, and this is where you will go to get new units for your army. Battlefields are gorgeous, though fights can be won by outnumbering an enemy, without having a good combat tactic. I supposed it could have been done better, but those who like tactical combat can still choose that way.
Visually, Age of Wonders III is stunning. Looks like beautifully crafted board game that has been transferred into a digital form. Obstacles such as boulders and trees are there to make it harder to reach opponent’s army. With such focus on details that I kept looking at the world map more than I should have. Distinctive races’ features are amazing. For instance, Draconians resemble lizard-like creatures, while orcs are green-skinned and look rather ugly. The game features too few classes and races, and after a while it all feels similar. It might have been done on purpose, to keep your focus on the battlefield which is the strongest element in Age of Wonders III. Spells have their own gorgeous effect when casted. The whole game felt like a modernized version of an older turn-based tactical strategy. Sound effects are there as well, but there’s not much to say about those. They’re not bad at all or mismatched, just not as important as game’s art-style.
Age of Wonders III has rewarding battles and the world can have you exploring it for hours. Graphics have been polished to perfection, but there is little variety in other elements. With intuitive gameplay and an extensive in-game manual, you will learn the concept fairly easy and immerse into turn-based combat where you will keep thinking “just one more turn and I’ll go to bed”. At least that’s how I felt for first 3 hours. When Offline mode gets slightly boring, you can go online and see how you fare against another human player. It is far more interesting then defeating an AI enemy.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.