As the remnants of the Star Union squabble over the fate of the galaxy, something else is awakening and looking to alter its fate. Quite literally. The Es’teq dynasty is rising from their slumber, stepping out once more into a galaxy that has changed wholly from the one they chose to leave behind.
In most games, this would be a predominant new threat to tackle, a menace to the remnants of the Star Union, a new race to battle with or as. In Revelations, it’s almost the polar opposite. They’re not a new menace, but rather a new Secret Tech that lives alongside your race’s natural abilities in the tech tree. You’ll still play as the Vanguard, the Kir’ko, Dvar and so on, but if you so choose, you can become the new prophet to the Heritor, awakening them and leading them to new glories.
Lennart Sas, co-founder of Triumph Studios and Game Director, explained “We specifically chose to do that, because it’s a sort of theocratic religion, basically, that has a particular view of the universe and creation. They don’t want to die, really. You become the prophet of their resurrection to bring them back.
“If they weren’t a secret tech, they’d be one race that you couldn’t adopt those doctrines and principles to the other ones. I think it’s a good move to make them a kind of class, like a priest class in an RPG.”
It’s a fascinating move that democratises the new content to try and fit in seamlessly with all the existing races. Sure, it might not have quite the same impact as a new race, but this offers more possibilities, as all the Secret Techs found in the main game do.
In practice what it means is that you have access to a new tech tree that runs through your empire’s development, adding some new weaponry options, new equipment for your troops, and you can unlock new Heritor units as well.
Putting these to use, there’s two new campaign missions being added to the game, exploring the lore behind the Es’teq and their decision to cryogenically freeze their brains, becoming the robotic Heritor. However, there were those whose minds simply couldn’t handle it, or undesirable people that the Es’teq decided were not worthy of immortality, poisoning their stasis without the intention of ever letting them wake up. Wake up they did, though, becoming a new NPC faction, the mindless and broken The Forgotten that you can encounter in the new Tomb World scenarios.
“This universe is both about the past and the future,” Lennart said. “We built a society, everything went to shit, so what went wrong and how can we do it better next time? That’s the big premise and also maybe looking at the world today, our society and all the problems with it. We’ve got huge difference between the rich and the poor, mass unemployment, big data, big AI, those are all things that led to the fall. Genetic modification as well, people trying to live for eternity. Those are the key themes to the Star Union.
“So looking back, there were these religious zealots who didn’t like where the universe was going, so they decided to go into hiding to wait for a better time. It was a doomsday cult, but on a universal level.”
The Forgotten aren’t the only new dangers you can bump into as you’re expanding, as Triumph flesh out another side of the Star Union’s history, giving us a glimpse of how its citizens were kept fed by genetically modified farm animals. As with so many things in this torn up galaxy, the bio-engineered Megasow and Piglets have gone wild and will gleefully try and eat anything in sight. That includes nomming on your Commander!
‘Actually, did you know that these pigs were made by vegans [in Triumph]?” Lennart revealed. “They modelled them! They were like, ‘Let’s make a case against the meat industry,’ so they were super gross.
“They’re also a spawner, so it’s a world map location where they come from, these genetic monstrosities. You have your biotech and xenoplague, and now you have a few little pigs walking in…”
Anomalous Sites are a new feature dotted across the maps, engaging players in a subtly new way to the missions and encounters that you find during a regular campaign. These pose more narrative conundrums to you as you dive into, for example, an ancient forge that’s starting to pump out new units. Depending on your choices, the encounter at the end could be dramatically more or less difficult, or pose different moralistic decisions to you.
All of this will coincide with the first meaningful pass of gameplay improvements and quality of life tweaks. A big one will be an absolute blessing for the mid-late game with Orbital Relays a new upgrade for annexed territory, letting you instantly teleport your armies to another relay. You can only do this once per turn though, so there are still some limits on how quickly you can make serious troop movements, but it’s far better than just tramping across the world for a dozen turns.
“There’s a lot of quality of life stuff,” Lennart said, “including the combat retry option, for example. At the moment, if you don’t like the results, you have to load a save, go back… and even in a multiplayer game, where you play the play by email thing and only have a couple of combat cards, if you don’t like the outcome or lose a hero, you can press retry and play manually at the cost of a combat card.
“That’s a big quality of life thing, but also in terms of features, we’ve got the big Imperial Defense structures scattered across the map, but they were a bit useless because they only worked as a kind of PvE threat thing. Once you acquired them, they were a bit useless, but now you can actually own them, and the effect from that sector you can then deploy as an Operation. That makes them a lot more useful.”
Console players can also expect some fresh tweaks, as Triumph continue to improve the experience on these new platforms for the company. This was the first game in the series that they brought to console, and personally I found the game to be a bit too visually noisy at times. That’s not fatal for a turn-based strategy title, but still an area that could easily be improved.
Thankfully Lennart said, “We are addressing that; we are looking at ways to reduce clutter. What sort of interface needs to be present all the time? Do these pop ups really need to be the entire screen? But it also heavily depends on the size of your TV. We find that if you’ve got 65″ versus 32″, that’s a factor. It’s an experience that we’ll learn from and are improving, but we’re happy with the reception [it’s had] overall.”
Revelations might feel a little short on, well, revelatory new gameplay ideas, but as a first expansion to Age of Wonders: Planetfall, it does a lot to refine parts of the game, add new possibilities for all the races and expand the galaxy’s lore.