Golden Realms is the first expansion for Age of Wonders 3, and coincides with the release of a free patch for all Age of Wonders 3 players containing changes to the game’s mechanics based on the past few months of community feedback. These include AI enhancements in both battle and diplomacy, but for the purposes of this review I’ll be focusing on the features and mechanics contained within the expansion itself.
The most sizeable Golden Realms addition is the new Halfling race and 3-scenario campaign. Similar to the Lord of the Rings Hobbits, Halflings love their food and fireworks. They’re probably keen to avoid combat too, due to their 20% physical weakness. However, my time playing with them has been fun thus far and they can actually be quite handy in a fight and capable of dealing some good damage.
Halflings have a unique racial feature called Lucky. If triggered it allows them to avoid damage completely, which is very handy providing you can keep their morale happy. Damage wise hobbits can pack a punch, particularly early on. Their pikeman unit, called a Farmer, can throw chickens at long range for 13 physical damage. That’s not a bad attack value, but I can’t understand the logic of throwing away a good meal.
Their tier-3 unit is an Eagle Rider with a unique skill that enables them to knock down and damage enemy units. I managed a staggering critical hit of 35 physical damage whilst using this ability on an enemy’s flank, so it’s particularly effective if you position yourself well and trigger critical hits against archers and other soft units.
The new Halfling race gives just about enough variety when combined with the other classes to be worth your money. Halfling succubi units give me the shudders though, and I did feel at least one or two more units could have been added. An extra unique unit for the other main races would have also been nice, but things of that nature may well occur in other DLCs.
Amongst the fistful of Golden Realm’s new features to enable more competitive gameplay, are new map locations. One of these enables players to capture and improve a race of Nagas, much like the Undead cities already in the game. Very reminiscent of the Orc’s elite unit from Age of Wonders 2, the Glutton, which looks rather like Jabba-the-Hut, can swallow units whole. It’s a nice touch and really does bring back some good memories from the previous series.
Somewhat similar to the Total War: Rome 2 Patch 15 features, Triumph have created Mystical City Upgrades to enhance city placement strategy for players. They can be built once a player has captured an Arcane Treasure site on the world map and provide unique bonuses to that city, such as an Enchanted Armoury which provides a defensive bonus for armoured units.
Whilst Ziggurats, tombs and ruins can already be found in Age of Wonders 3, Mystical City Upgrades appear to be a more powerful variant in the Golden Realms expansion. I believe multiple cities might benefit if they shared a Mystical City Upgrade, but I haven’t managed to test this out. If you were lucky to find two or more quite close to each other like I did, then you can obtain some rather nice combinations of bonuses for your units, such as Killing Momentum and Shrine of Animation, creating enhanced death dealing self-resurrecting units. Such combinations will let players create some tasty combinations for opponents to worry about.
Seals of Power brings a king-of-the-hill game mode to Age of Wonders 3, allowing for more objective based gameplay than just annihilation. Empire Quests, meanwhile, are an optional feature that provide players with unique once-per-game incentives, such as becoming the first player to create a tier-IV unit. This unit will subsequently receive enhanced attributes, becoming a one of its kind. Another Empire Quest bestows the first player to become purely evil in alignment with a batch of evil units. Both of these features make for strong competitive gameplay, particularly for those who feel isolated on the larger maps or are aiming for a particular objective.
While Empire Quests could potentially spoil the meta-game, on the official Age of Wonders 3 forums fans were quick to point out to me that they can also add some minor role-playing elements, which may be no bad thing. Oddly, the press release says 13 Empire Quests are currently available but I only counted 12 in the game. Whether this is a press-build bug or typo, I’m not sure. In any case, the addition seems to have gone down fairly well becase fans have been quick to suggest more Empire Quests to Triumph.
To expand upon the city building and tactical aspect of sieges in Age of Wonders 3, each of the races now have a unique Defensive City Upgrade that becomes active when besieged. This is much like the magic tower in previous series’. The Draconian’s Flame Tower and Human’s Bell Tower have already been shown in development diaries, but I can confirm that the Elven one shoots out a cosmic spray of every damage type to one random unit.
The benefit for Age of Wonders veterans, from what I’ve experienced, is that the new defense’s behaviour seems more standard compared to Age of Wonders 2 magical tower which sometimes didn’t seem to fire every round. It also brings some nostalgia back to Age of Wonders 3 and really further defines the characteristics of each race.
Where both Empire Quests and Defensive City Upgrades are concerned, I really wish they were visible on the world map; it would reward players for the effort scouting out an enemy’s base and army composition before an attack. Particularly because of the new, ambush-friendly Partisan specialisation, which combines well with Rogue leader classes.
Golden Realms also adds 20 new units, including Mermaids and the poop throwing Dread Monkeys who remind me of the Black & White series (Remember flinging turds across the map all day long with destructive force? No? Just me then.) When units are hit from the Dread Monkey’s poop, they become ‘Disgusted’ which lowers their morale heavily and spreads to any adjacent units. Great for negating the Halflings ‘Lucky’ mechanic and for generating the feeling of smug superiority as you lower your opponent’s fighting spirit by smearing faeces all over his lovely units.
While we’re on the scatological subject of shit-slinging, allow me to mention the fact that I managed to forge a majestic magic item that enables my leader or heroes to throw poo for the discount price of 13 gold and 52 mana. A bargain, I’m sure you’ll agree. It’s great to see the variety of items expanded upon, as it allows for more diverse sets of abilities (not all of them turd-based) among hero classes.
It’s also good to see Triumph expand on Age of Wonders 3 with new and (much needed) magical specialisations. Wild Magic causes lots of mayhem and chaos through randomisation of unit’s positions or abilities. For example, as well as causing units to be become ‘Disgusted’ at others, you could morph your ‘forlorns hope’ unit into a big red dragon when on their last hit point, swinging battles in your favour. While not quite the same as the old ‘Mass Confusion’ days of the previous series, balance might still be an issue with Wild Magic; though it seemed broadly fine during my time with the expansion.
The Partisan specialisation looked like it would be an easy favourite of mine from the new spells, as it allows units to become camouflaged, making for great ambushes. But I was actually a little disappointed that it only worked on one unit rather than armies as a whole. You would need to split each unit up individually to get a universal effect, which adds a lot of effort and micro-management when playing in time-based games. The specialisations are also rather lacking in quantity, making them feel conceptually sound but rather squeezed-in as an additional enticement rather than a polished feature.
Golden Realms has a couple of typos, and I experienced one crash when using the surrender option to set up a new game. Otherwise, the expansion felt quite stable throughout my remaining time with it.
Overall, Golden Realms offers a little bit for every Age of Wonders 3 player; whether they want a heavy competitive game, expanded tactics and spells, or simply to turtle their way to victory. For fans and Triumph Studios, this is the start of a fresh journey forward after the release of Age of Wonders 3. Golden Realms isn’t perfect, but it’s a good foundation to hopefully be further built upon.