Age of Wonders: Planetfall (PC) Review

By Eric Ace 27.06.2020

Review for Age of Wonders: Planetfall on PC

The space 4x "genre" has become somewhat of an odd one these days that pretty much any strategy game in the sci-fi world can loosely style itself as one. Age of Wonders: Planetfall is no exception, taking an interesting mix of city building and grids from Civilization, an over-world experience like the old Heroes of Might and Magic games, and a battle system unabashedly in the same vein as XCOM. Starting with one small city, players must guide their units to either peacefully take over the planet, or kill everyone - with one unique option of igniting the atmosphere to really make sure the job is done.

If there is one thing that stands out in Age of Wonders: Planetfall it is how much there is on offer. There is an absolutely stunning amount of... stuff packed into it. There are around 10 different races, and each race gets to pick a "secret technology," which is a type of specialization ranging from wanting to burn the world down, to manipulating time, meaning on this face alone, there are easily over 50 different combinations of people to play as, which has a tremendous impact on the game. This plays at its root perhaps most similarly to Alpha Centauri, or the ill-received Beyond Earth. A player starts with a small city that they have to start expanding and exploring a hostile alien world. The city slowly expands over the map gaining more resources, meanwhile the player controls units they move over resource nodes, enemies and locations eventually leading to frequent battles.

One thing this needs an overhaul of is the tutorial system. As stated there is tons of depth, and the game drastically needs better explanations. For example way too much time is spend telling the player what a unit is, but the very complex sector system gets a single page or two. It seriously took over 10 hours before it was easy to understand what was going on economically. The way the economic system works is mostly through the sector system. A city gets income through three ways: buildings in the colony, its population, and primarily its sectors that slowly expand as the city gets more people. As the player explores the map, it is subdivided into 'Sectors' that cities can claim, and these will have a random output of one of its four resources of energy, food, production, and science.

Screenshot for Age of Wonders: Planetfall on PC

Now, what the game largely failed to adequately explain, is that these sectors do nothing until the player picks ONE type of resource to focus on in each sector, so for example picking production. By picking this specialization it then produces that resource as well as giving a bonus depending on what type of production specialization is further developed, for example either better military or better civilian production. This system, when explained, it's actually pretty fun, and a major contributor to a sense of trying to hurry to grab the best spots. It offered a very enjoyable strategic element.

Beyond just this, each sector is often filled with a bunch of other things. These might be small perks, such as flat increases in resources, maybe a random pickup, enemies, or special buildings that give tremendous bonuses. This idea is actually really cool, but as one of the primary flaws of the game, starts to encroach into the realm of simply being "too much." The reason it matters, is some of these things have huge implications for other parts of the game, such as massive global bonuses to combat. To sum it up in simple terms, the exploration aspect is fun, but given how powerful and important some of them are, it all quickly slows downs into an experience where you are just checking each little thing.

Combat, for better or worse, is where most of the time will be spent. At its root it is a simply tactical affair of moving units forward, using action points, trying to attack the enemy until one side is left. If it only was so simple, though. As stated above, one of the critical flaws of Age of Wonders: Planetfall, for all its charm and depth, is that there is simply way too much to keep track of. Battles are not fundamentally that hard, but very, very quickly, it all spirals out of control with every unit (of which there are a lot) has special moves, special defences, special status, special everything. Even the exact same unit could be wildly different based on where it was made, how it was equipped, and so on.

Screenshot for Age of Wonders: Planetfall on PC

It feels a lot like what happened to the Heroes of Might and Magic series (to which this is a clear spiritual successor). As a quick detour, the latter achieved it's generally agreed upon peak on the second or third entry, as there was depth but fundamentally everything was pretty simple: move forward and kill the enemy. Sure some units generally did something different, but really you could go into battle and it wouldn't really matter what you were facing down. This changed as the series progressed, and later iterations were absolutely plagued by this problem of every unit having so many things to keep track of it stopped being fun. The reason this matters is because of how relevant it is to Age of Wonders: Planetfall. Any time a unit is encountered it is almost by default that the player has to stop, check each unit, see what it does, see what equipment it has on, and so on. It is not enough in the slightest to simply see some bigger unit and assume it just does more damage. It could be doing anything from massive AoE damage, healing, summoning things, resurrecting dead units, reflecting damage, and far more. Even the same unit can be equipped to behave far differently, with more than five different types of damage (flame, poison, entropy, etc), tons of armours, movement, extra attacks and so on.

On one level, some people might absolutely salivate at all the options present to them, and in truth that cannot be denied. The problem is the game sets itself up for a type of analysis paralysis. Every battle takes way longer than it should, and a single change in a units loadout can be the difference from doing nothing to blowing away everything else. Maps are big, and combat is frequent - for how often you are fighting, it really should have been simplified. Unfortunately, the game dug itself a hole that it might not be able to get out of. There is certainly a 'cool' element equipping flame rounds on your soldier, a new force field, and a healing item, but it starts to get old having to change ammo and gear every time a new enemy pops up or risk annihilation. For all its depth everywhere else, heroes felt lacklustre. Eventually levelling up they get a few skill points to spend. In a game buried with a million other things, the options were pretty dry: boost range damage by 10%, or gain +10 life for example. No neat skill trees or anything like that. This felt odd given everything else.

Screenshot for Age of Wonders: Planetfall on PC

Likewise, the direction is a little all over the place. On one hand there is plenty of space-cheese to go around, from a dog-like unit the humans get called a 'PUG,' to a typical insectoid race to go kill. On the other hand some of the unit quotes can be dark and grim about melting bodies, or the foreboding Prometheans pumping flammable gas into the atmosphere until they are able to ignite it and kill the entire planet. In this regard it was tough to tell what exactly they were going for. Sad as the apparent lore is quite extensive.

The absolute dizzying numbers of various races/units is both a blessing and a curse. The creativity of having dimensional beings, fighting with human troopers, fighting with tiger beasts, fighting with sex bots, is really something alright. At first, as with any game, the player just goes along knowing they will not understand everything. The problem in Age of Wonders: Planetfall is the more the player gets into it, the more they realize they actually do need to know everything. The stakes are far too high in battle to not pay attention to the myriad details that every unit possesses. It is not an exaggeration to state that most units have somewhere around 10 various traits/attacks, defences and so on, and many hang around the 20 mark of things to keep track of. This is just a touch insane for how much information a player has to dig through because of its very high consequences.

It is really unfortunate as the game itself, as its core, is great and fun. Having a sci-fi setting where you can either ride jungle tigers, or go a 'kill them all' route of literally exploding the atmosphere is very audacious. The issue, in this reviewer's eyes, is that there is too much that bogs the game down. In a way some of its spiritual predecessors kept the magic alive in game after game by being simple enough to get into quickly - this goes the opposite way as it game punishes a lack of very thorough knowledge. Even when equipped with said knowledge, it really isn't that fun at times having to check unit after unit because of some random item or ability someone has on.

Screenshot for Age of Wonders: Planetfall on PC

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Truly exemplifying the maxim of 'too much of a good thing,' there is simply too much here that bogs itself down. The battle and strategic systems have some really cool and interesting ideas, but there is far too much... stuff that takes both of them down a notch. The strategic layer has way too many things to do with too much consequence, and the battle system takes too long, and is replete with a dizzying number of little things that must be taken into account, lest destruction result. It's really too bad as the core of the game is extremely solid, yet there is just too much in the way for it to shine.

Developer

Triumph Studios

Publisher

Paradox Interactive

Genre

Strategy

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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