Age Of Wonders III is the latest installment in the Age of Wonders series of turn-based strategy games for the PC. The series has been around since the 90s and has players battling across a fantastical game world involving your typical fantasy races. This latest expansion pack, Golden Realms, adds in a new race, the Halflings, based on fantasy lore to this latest game in the series, as well as a new campaign for players to play through.
For those that have never played an Age of Wonders game in the past, it is a turn-based strategy game that plays very similarly to both the Heroes of Might and Magic and Stronghold series of games. Players take turns capturing castles, capturing units and battling both creatures and each other in order to eventually invade each others lands and capture all of their towns. This is done by having players collect army units into their heroes party, with a maximum of 6 units in total, and then having them do battle with heroes or groups met on the field. However, to build an army, one must first build up their resources. So the game becomes one of attacking, defending and conquering of lands.
The expansion pack doesn’t change any of the core gameplay elements in Age of Wonders 3. What it does change, though, are a few things that will make this a noteable release. The introduction of the Halfling race to the game, along with them are new units and new structures that all add to the flavour of the race. Even more, the expansion pack adds a major campaign to the two previously available, specifically centered around the Halflings and their adventures. There are also a bunch of minor additions that add just a bit of change in balance and are there for players to find and work out as they go (like the new Naga Dwelling, for some really nice units).
The storyline for the Halflings is pretty fantastical in nature. Similarly to the other two, there’re tales of the past, but the story is one of exploration for these Halflings. If you haven’t played Age of Wonders before, the story is told before a map in the form of a tale, told from a book in a cutscene. However, the storyline also unfolds during the game as conversations between heroes on the map. This kind of storytelling fits in well with the whole fantasy vibe of the game, considering that fantasies strength lies in literature. While the storyline can seem pretty involved at times, it is ultimately a background to the gameplay itself, with the game itself taking the forefront of everything.
Something that gamers familiar with the genre will appreciate is that Age of Wonders does not hold your hand while you try to work out how to play. There is a tutorial mode and a random map builder that players can use to hone their skills and try new strategies. However, the singleplayer element maintains a level of difficulty where players will have to plan out their engagements and move tactically around the map in order to make the most of their armies. It wont be uncommon to resort to building mass armies to simply overwhelm an opponents castle in battle. It seems strongly that the game is built with this kind of strategy in mind. This is because, when you engage an enemies town, you’re given a kind of overlay that shows the player their units before engaging the enemy. It’s possible to park multiple units on tiles around a city and have another army start the battle in order to bring in multiple groups into one sortie.
Combat plays very similarly as a mix between Stronghold and Heroes of Might and Magic. On one side, you’ll have a besieging force, while on the other, you’ll have the defenders. This is, of course, different if you engage an enemy unit on the field, where it will be a field map instead of a town. In combat, players take turns placing their units across the map via a grid. Each unit can move a certain distance, and can only attack if they’re within a certain range. However, the attacks and movement have an effect on each other, so if a unit moves more it can attack less. If a player has a hero character in the battle, they can also use spells. Quite often, it’s best to burn the strongest spells on the opposing hero before they do the same to the players. This makes spellcasting seem like an odd addition, as the majority of the spells will be used in the death of the opposing hero. It would have been a little more interesting if heroes couldn’t be attacked, much like in Heroes of Might and Magic games.
Much like the strategy game staple, players need to acquire land and resources to accomodate their armies, as well to win. Unlike other strategy games where players need to send out units to collect resources, players gain resources by building their cities near resources on the map. This is similar to Civilisation games. Players are able to upgrade their towns by purchasing upgrades in the cities menu and adding them to the build queue. This will then build across a number of turns. After those turns are up, the cities image on the overworld may change and players will be able to build new units or have their resources affected by whatever the description for that upgrade states. If you’ve played games like Civilisation, or Heroes of Might and Magic, this system will seem familiar to you.
One of the things that we found unengaging in Age of Wonders III was the soundtrack. It just could not give the game any kind of grip or friction. It seemed inconsequential to the world around it, as though it was an element that was put there because it needed to be there, not because it supplements the game in any way. Conversely, the voice acting was pretty good and really added a level of realism to the game. The narrators especially were pretty great.
Over the course of the storyline campaign, players will be given tasks or quests to complete. However, none of these particularly seem to have any sense of urgency or importance. It’s a bit odd, because it’s understandable that a game that’s of this scale would need to be slowed down, and constant prompts would be annoying, but it’s pretty much relaxed. Early on there’s this one quest where there’s something down across the map, but I took like 50-60 turns to get there because I was more interested in small scale skirmishes on the border of my town and an enemies. Perhaps the sense of reward or accomplishment could serve as urgency, but ultimately, it was more fun not to do the quest. But not by much.
Overall, Age of Wonders III is a game that feels like it borrows a lot of elements from other games, but does so in a way that’s a bit strange. There are a lot of good concepts in this game, and anyone interested should check it out. However, it’s hard to recommend this game if you’ve played the games that the elements are borrowed from. It’s not that it’s bad or anything, it just doesn’t have a sense of tension that makes it easy to recommend. Fans of the Age of Wonders series will likely like this, fans of turn based games like the ones mentioned across this text will likely like this.
Age of Wonders III: Golden Realms was supplied by Triumph Studio’s PR company. This was the full game as well as the Golden Realms expansion pack code. Age of Wonders III can be purchased on Steam for ~$40 for the standard edition. Converse to our review, Age of Wonders 3 has a meta-critic user score of 80, according to the Steam store page.