Magic can be a powerful tool, allowing you to give buffs to allies, curse enemy units and change the terrain, but it’s not the solution to everything. There are a variety of other factors that certain units and classes can use to their advantage, or hinder progress of all players and AI. Specifically, independents, morale and use of terrain.
No longer the semi-passive AI in Age of Wonders II, Independents are enhanced neutral AI factions. One example are Brigand Camps; if not taken out early these will grow stronger over time, resulting in bolder actions from the AI such as assaulting your throne city. I found this out to my cost as Gollum’s wife died heroically to the sword, but I’m pleased this part of the game has been expanded upon. It helps break up the combat between players and enhances the overall meta-game.
Terrain in Age of Wonders III plays a stronger role in comparison to AoWII. Strategically, the terrain has a more powerful effect on cities and the morale of units, with different races preferring different types of terrain. Tactically, some units can take advantage of certain terrain. Goblin units, for example, can see further underground than other races, while elven units can have forest walking.
Concealment abilities of rogue units are more effective in Age of Wonders III. Unless you’re one hex away from the enemy with concealment, or have true seeing ability, you cannot see them. I did wonder about forests that are straddled between two domains in multiplayer. If a unit trespasses into another fraction’s domain using a forest for concealment, does the player or AI get notified? I actually managed to test this and no player is notified if the army isn’t seen.
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Morale can cause your units to gain a critical strike, fumble their attacks or simply abandoned you, regardless of whether you paid gold for them or summoned them with mana. Terrain certainly plays a part, but no troops will fight for nothing so keeping your armies happy on their way to war with a stable economy of gold is crucial.
Support units such as Bards can keep armies happier than those without, but you may still struggle against your race’s most disliked terrain. Magic can help if you get the spells to turn the terrain into something more suitable but delays your progress whilst you wait for it to convert.
Elite support units such as Shrine of Smiting benefit greatly from units with the Devout trait. I’m not sure whether this takes into account all of your armies in battle, but this a very powerful way to add damage, particularly if combined with Martyr units that can absorb damage. When combined with defensive enchantments like Stone Skin, it can reduce even more damage.
In Age of Wonders III’s sea battles, your units are still susceptible to drowning if you don’t have water walking enchantments on them so be sure to upgrade your seafaring empire upgrade in the skill book to produce more powerful ships for your unit’s to embark on.
I personally prefer to focus fire one unit with ranged abilities now that ranged attacks can’t miss (though may still fumble), and maneuvering to the flank of the enemy for additional damage. Do note that there isn’t a line of sight between units or terrain, but if you’re shooting a unit behind terrain you’ll suffer -50% damage.
For magic, the AI seems to like buffing their units at every opportunity. Though that might change if they have larger more devastating spells. If you have options like the Destabalized Mana Core spell at your disposal, magic between players can become a poker game.
In order to keep yourself going with ‘magic wars’ across the map, it helps if you research your class’ specific casting points skill. This forces you to choose between improving your leader’s magic capabilities, researching additional units, empire upgrades or global map spells. If your leader is in the battle your spells won’t cost double casting points and mana; a decision designed to encourage bolder strategy and benefit the new RPG-style leader mechanic.
For a sneaky multiplayer tactic, why not use a pre-generated leader and pretend you’re the AI? It worked well for me. Little did my friend know that I was trying to find out what spells he had so I could research the appropriate counters. Hey, all’s fair in war.
As a final piece of advice, another friend of mine once said, “if you can muster an army of magically summoned units, your troops cost mana, theirs cost blood.” I’ll leave you to decide who wins. Even if you lose the battle, you may still win the war.
From our preview of Age of Wonders III, the mechanics are quite balanced, it’s just the units that need to be fine-tuned. With any luck, the game will be worth the wait.
Age of Wonders III will be ready for casting on 31st of March 2014. If you’ve been in the preview beta and have other tactical tips to share, you can do so in the comments below.