There’s just something about world domination that’s appealing, you know? Taking over the planet, lounging on a throne, looking to the stars for my next conquest…yeah, that’s the life for me. In the real world, I’d have to worry about things like logistics, planning and having no strategic talent whatsoever, but in 4X games I can just amass hordes of infantry and win the day. Theoretically, at least; let’s not talk about the win rate with that plan. Anyway, the latest 4X worth checking out is the space opera Age of Wonders: Planetfall.
Once upon a time, the galaxy was a pretty great place! Everyone was united under the banner of the glorious Star Union. That was awhile ago, though, and after some foolish experiments the Star Union…well, let’s just say that it’s not really a thing anymore. Instead, you’ll take command of one of several remnant factions left over after the Star Union ceased to be, exploring and reclaiming worlds that used to comprise that glorious empire.
Each has their own perspective on how things used to be and how they ought to be going forward. The Vanguard, for instance, was the Star Union’s frontline pioneers, and in the new order they hope to use their toughness and versatility to build an empire of their own. Meanwhile, the insectoid Kir’ko were a servant race that now have a chance to reclaim their independence. Each race has their own unique feel and gameplay, so it’s a significant choice, but equally significant is your pick from the array of Secret Technologies. These represent the dark side (or, in one case, the light side) of the Star Union, a set of studies ranging from teleportation to biowarfare that add a second unique quality to your faction. Mix and match to your heart’s content to get the perfect combination for crushing your enemies.
Said crushing has a lot in common with 2014’s Age of Wonders III, which itself owe a lot to the Heroes of Might and Magic series. You’ll explore the land, defeat the locals, claim their territory and complete quests. This allows you to accumulate various resources, from food for growth to Cosmite for advanced units, and advance your civilization’s interests. All of this will inevitably bring you into combat against NPCs and players alike, which plays out in a turn-based style somewhat akin to recent XCOM games. You’ve got a single-player campaign, various skirmish options and multiplayer in various flavors to suit your fancy, including the ever-popular asynchronous play for those months-long games.
It’s all so similar to Age of Wonders III, in fact, that if you’re looking for something new and bold you might be a little disappointed. This is very much Age of Wonders III with a new sci-fi exterior and some updates here and there. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; that was a solid 4X title, after all, and interesting concepts like the Secret Technologies are just different enough to work. Maybe I’ve just go ta soft spot for the “X with a sci-fi exterior” trope.
That sci-fi exterior is certainly nice, for what it’s worth. Classic concepts like insect aliens, zombie cyborgs and space marines are all present and accounted for, but that alone doesn’t make for a compelling experience. The huge amount of flavor text and lore interspersed throughout is what ties everything together. Irritated your friends by reading during multiplayer! They’ll love it! From both a graphics and sound perspective, meanwhile, Planetfall is a treat. In particular, the environment design during combat is lovely and it’s always interesting to see where your troops are fighting next.
It’s not going to revolutionize the genre or anything, but Age of Wonders: Planetfall is still a solid 4X game. Take command of an army of psychic bugs and consume the foolish humans! Have your psychic traders toy with reality using Voidtech! Teach robots how to love! Do it all with friends! If you can appreciate the genre at all, you’re bound to have hours of fun here. You’ll have extra fun if you try the “hordes of infantry” thing. It works every time. Mostly.