Sieges in battles have also changed. In previous entries in the series you could assault a city or tower from any direction. Now they’re exactly like MMH6, with a wall between two forces, which is a change I don’t really like. I feel it removes some of the tactical depth. Fortresses however, still allow the assault to take place from any direction, so if you assault with multiple armies, you can force your opponent to spread their forces more thinly, presenting multiple targets to shoot at, whilst the unit you actually want to deal the damage with approaches unharmed. More backstabs ahoy.
The AI has improved, but the campaigns are still being fine-tuned in difficulty and unit balance. For example, I’m still not sure if the AI can produce armies without the required resources. Players beware that if an AI has trebuchets they’ll gladly aim at your hero or leader. And since they don’t miss, expect to be killed on turn one. Happily, their balance is currently being tweaked.
Music still contains all the tones and notes we like, though I haven’t come across any of the classic tracks yet. There is currently an issue where the music is too loud and smothers the unit sounds, but Triumph is aware of this and working on fixing it. Some sounds make a familiar return and the Cherub (flying zombie babies) sounds are suitably freaky. I don’t like the ‘new turn’ sound though; hopefully a modder will fix that. That might sound picky, but you hear it a lot.
The 3D graphics are quite pretty, and the classic units and graphics have come across from their 2D equivalents quite well. Character creation wise, some fans have been turned off by the Draconian look, but I find they’re okay. All races hand animations and poses need some improvements though, I find their crinkly granny-finger waving animation quite freaky, even for the female elves. I also miss some of the 2D artwork.
There’s a good selection of options to create something unique. Have a look at what I made in the screenshot below. My first character is Gollum’s wife. Err, not that I think about “Goblin dating material” all day long. But when I frantically clicked through the banner icons for my leader and saw that ring, I was touched by inspiration.
In Age of Wonders II, you had specialisations which gave you an advantage or disadvantage when you chose your wizard. You now can take up to three specialisations that are all positive benefits for your leader and empire. There’s no need to take any that give you a disadvantage as there no longer are any. I do find the selection too limiting though, it would be good to see them separate from choosing your magic spheres or masteries as they’re now called.
Masteries (formerly spheres) are still chosen at the time you chose or create your leader, however with the expanded Tier levels on spells, you now have Adept or Master versions. There are six in total, Creation (life), Destruction (death), Earth, Air, Water and Fire. Taking a mastery of Fire for example, takes up two of your specialisation slots rather than one. Most of the spells have made the transition to AoWIII, and there are plenty of new ones; which means lots of new combinations to come up with.
One UI issue stands out to me. If you take the layout of the spell book above, you can see it shows the global and tactical (battle) spells you can research, empire-wide upgrades and class specific units. I feel the upgrades and class units should be separated into different tabs from the spells at the very least.
There’s also an in-game encyclopaedia called the Tome of Wonders. It gives you an overview on how to play Age of Wonders 3, as well as listing every unit, ability and spell in the game. If you’re new to the series, it’ll be helpful to visit.
Story wise, I can’t comment on much as only the first level of the two campaigns were available. The races have been merged and the story continues on from Age of Wonders 2: Shadow Magic. It appears to have a few plot twists, but the gameplay is where the Age of Wonders series is really at. The intro to the campaign is filled with some nice 2D art as well.
As well as the expanded random map generator, I did manage to ask Lennart about modding skills and file types, as this is an important aspect of the AoW community. Here’s what Lennart had to say about that:
The editor, that will be given for free with the game, allows players to make campaigns, scenarios, create new leaders and heroes and script special map quests. This editor is fairly user friendly and doesn’t require people to have in-depth 3D environment modelling skills (players can easily sculpt terrain and plunk down structures) nor do they require hard core C++ programming skills.
Later we might add more modding tools, allowing people to delve deeper into the resources, so they can construct their own spells, abilities, etc. We need proper asset pack management and distribution for deeper mods for this though.
Triumph have also acknowledged the demand from fans for the ability to add races that didn’t make the transition across. Races like Tigrans, Frostlings and Halflings.
Overall, despite a few misgivings, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time playing Age of Wonders 3. It feels fresh and I’m happy with the majority of the changes and the fan suggestions from the beta forums. Triumph have fixed some of the problems from previous games in the series and any new ones created in the will hopefully be resolved before release. I do have some reservations about Triumph managing to incorporate as much beta tester feedback as possible on the racial unit diversity and bugs before release, but it would be great to see this happen.
Will I go back to Age of Wonders II as some fans have expressed? If I compare Age of Wonders 2 and 3 to a sword, the blade is familiar but the hilt and handle are different. This alters the feel, but once the game has been smoothed out and additional content comes in I can say you should be proud to have Age of Wonders 3 as
MY your precious.
Keep an eye out over on Triumphs website for more info on more the classes and developer diaries. If you have any questions about the preview build I played, leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them.