Age of Wonders: Planetfall is quite a major change of pace for the series. Instead of a fantasy setting, Triumph Studios’ latest game is venturing into the realms of science fiction, with a fallen star empire and the factions scrabbling to succeed it. It gives the game’s title an odd lilt to it, but there’s lots of interesting ideas at play as you look to dominate each world you visit.
In the wake of the Star Union’s collapse, hyperspace travel essentially halted as the technology of this empire simply vanished. Many years later, the races that once lived in (or under) the Star Union are rising once more, seeing the opportunity to grab the throne for themselves. While it’s an epic backdrop spanning an entire galaxy, Planetfall narrows the focus on one planet at a time, charging you and your leader with building up an empire and leading your forces in battle. There’s a familiar mixture of empire building, role playing elements and turn-based battles.
You can follow the game’s story, which will see you jump between the various races, such as the Vanguard, a crack military unit that’s woken from cryosleep to find their former empire in tatters, the explosive obsessed dwarf-like Dvar, and the Kir’Ko, a race of psionic insectoids who were enslaved and pacified by being lobotomised. There’s a darkness to the galaxy here.
Having customised the commander of your House, you make planetfall for the first time and set about creating your empire amidst the ruins and remaining life on the planet. There’s plenty of depth to the empire management, from growing a settlement with many different types of building – adding a Military Garrison to strengthen defences is always a good idea – and you can tweak the economy or manage the colonists and reassign them to different jobs.
Branching out from your first settlement, it could be an outpost of another race that you find, just waiting for you to exterminate them and free up a little more territory for you to grow into. OK, that’s just one option available to you, and a more peaceful approach might be to parlay and trade with them, or at least make sure you have casus belli on their territory.
Sending out scouts will also lead to finding the ruins of ancient facilities like the Xenos Life Institute. It’s here that you get to tap into the galaxy’s backstory a little, as you might find the remnants of some terrible experiments that have since evolved even further. They might be a little formidable to take on with just a scout, but bring an army to bear and these crumbling facilities will often hold high level tech treasures to boost your empire.
A key aspect is growing your commander’s abilities and equipping them with different weapons and gear, such as a sniper rifle. Regular units can also be modded through quite a simple looking system, adding items to modding slots that could add different types of ammunition or jet packs to make them much more manoeuvrable in battle.
There’s some great twists and ideas in the turn-based tactical battles, which should add up to something that’s nice and pacy, keeping you on the go as opposed to the softly-softly approach that often defines turn-based games. For starters, pretty much any and all scenery can be blown up, meaning that cover is far from permanent if you or the enemy wield enough firepower. You’re also encouraged to go for close quarters combat with the automatic melee overwatch, in which units will lash out at those moving through adjacent squares.
That can be countered by staggering the unit though, using area of effect attacks instead of direct focussed fire to reduce an enemy unit’s potential impact. That can be removing special moves like melee overwatch or knocking off some of that’s units action points for the next turn. In essence, you’re reducing that units utility in the next turn and building pressure, and it’s a fantastic new style of play to consider when compared to the traditional focussed fire that is the go-to tactic. I can easily envisage battles where you suffocate the opposition under these stagger inducing attacks.
Grazing is another fascinating tweak for the genre, in response to people bloody hating it when their attacks miss. Playing with percentages often leads to those moments where it feels like none of your units can hit a barn door, however in Planetfall there’s still an added chance that they’ll still deal a small amount of damage via the grazing, lowering the chance of a total miss.
Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures, and that’s where the Operations attacks come in, calling upon weapons from off-screen to attack. There’s off-field artillery, orbital strikes, marine drop pods, napalm-like Pyrex missiles, and much more that you’ll be able to unlock and occasionally lean on as you uncover more tech.
Triumph are bringing the series to console for the first time as well, citing the increased density and detail that large 4K TVs can show as a way to let them provide the game without compromises. They have experience with consoles from the Overlord series, but grand strategy is something else, and developers do need to be mindful that not everyone has a 55″ 4K TV mounted on the wall.
While it seems odd to be taking what’s so ardently a fantasy series and dragging it into a sci-fi universe, there’s a lot of good ideas running through Age of Wonders: Planetfall that should change the game’s feel and pacing in a really positive way.
This preview and related coverage came from attending PDXCON last week. Travel and accommodation were provided by Paradox Interactive.