Age of Wonders: Planetfall’s latest expansion, Invasions, brings us a new alien faction, the Shakarn, as well as deadly incursions of Voidbringers as part of the late-game experience. We’ll also see random world events, the Therian NPC race, and the Conquered Worlds game mode. Is it worth your while? Let’s find out in our Age of Wonders: Planetfall – Invasions review.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall – Invasions: Introducing the Shakarn
The Shakarn, a spacefaring race of lizards, are the stars of Age of Wonders: Planetfall – Invasions. Warping in from the fringes of the galaxy, these conniving and calculating reptiles are, dare I say, also cold-blooded. They employ disguises and holograms to deceive their foes, while their soldiers fire advanced sonic and omni-type weaponry to annihilate fledgling colonies in the distant stars.
They’re an interesting race and it’d be a treat for long-time players to try them out. It’s not just the fact that they’ve got sonic weaponry that combines Kinetic and Thermal damage types. It’s also due to the Shakarn’s expertise when it comes to infiltration and sabotage. You’ll learn about this early on in their story campaign where the Shakarn commander, Naranga Od, uses holographic images to disguise herself as a human. That throws the Egalitarian League of Planets in disarray not knowing who they could trust.
In practice, the Shakarn excel when you focus on researching tactical and strategic operations, as well as other related techs. Not only can they infiltrate a rival’s op center, but they can also obtain their racial tech tree in the process. I’m not kidding when I say that this is an absolutely delightful mechanic introduced in Age of Wonders: Planetfall – Invasions. You’ll see an example below where I had gained the racial techs of my Kir’ko AI opponent after a successful operation:
In battle, their sonic and omni weapons have the capability to repeatedly fire, and, as mentioned, they’d use a combination of the Kinetic and Thermal elements. Likewise, their heroes are able to select from mutually exclusive perks from the Domok (crit and resistance) or Zardas castes (universal camouflage and evasion).
They may even call on an “Insider,” a unit that spawns immediately on the battlefield and has access to melee and ranged attacks. Alternatively, an “Infiltrator” could create a mirror copy of another unit, gaining its abilities in the process.
One downside, however, is that the Shakarn units suffer from the “Xeno Debilitation” trait, making them more susceptible to status effects. It’s easy to cripple their offensive capabilities if everyone’s stunned, concussed, panicked, or mind-controlled. However, they do have the “Epimorphic Regeneration” trait which lets them heal lost HP at the start of their turn (provided that they’ve survived).
While the Shakarn faction adds numerous refreshing ways to play Age of Wonders: Planetfall, it’s the Invasions part that becomes a flavorless icing on the cake. That’s due to the inclusion of Voidbringer Invasions — they’re basically an unplayable alien race — that would pose a late-game challenge for your playthroughs. Their ships would drop from the sky, and you’ll be given a choice: surrender and join them, or resist and die.
Other players or AI opponents will also need to make this choice. You could find yourself warring with multiple foes depending on who’s buddying up and who’s fighting off the Voidbringers:
I do have a couple of gripes. Firstly, it’s that the Voidbringer Invasions happen towards the end of your playthrough. In some ways, you’re just eager to get things over with. The fast-paced nature of exploration, expansion, and conquests, Age of Wonders: Planetfall‘s strongest suit, doesn’t gel well with a hostile force that’s swarming across your lands when a campaign is all but done. I feel it’s at a point in time when a match is about to end or you’re just eager to get things over with.
Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the additional challenge. I do want to see something that breaks the monotony of “one more turn” affairs in a 4X title’s late-game experience. Sadly, a random faction that’s just the equivalent of playing whack-a-mole (again) isn’t what I had in mind. Thankfully, you can change the settings in a custom match to have these invasions happen earlier in your playthrough (if you don’t want to wait that long).
The second criticism I have when it comes to this mechanic is that the Voidbringers just field the same old units you’ve seen before from various races or factions. Of course, Age of Wonders: Planetfall – Invasions does have a blurb noting that they “rain down legions of enthralled soldiers across your empire.” Still, that seems less like a way of saying that the Voidbringers are a mysterious, sentient race related to Psi-Fish, except they’re hell-bent on enslaving countless lifeforms, and more like a fancier description for “Uber Marauders 2.0.”
Therians, random events, and conquered worlds
Additionally, Age of Wonders: Planetfall – Invasions gives us the Therians, an NPC faction made up of fox people and other animals. They all worship the ancient “Deer,” and they’ve got some unique gear bonuses such as mods that give you the boons from their units or one that adds even more health regeneration.
The expansion also reintroduces random events that shake up the planet in more ways than one (a bit like what Age of Wonders III had). There are catastrophes such as quakes, acid rains, crystal showers, solar flares, and more. Each one will have an effect on the campaign map (such as acid rains causing lower food production) and the battle map (acid rains will melt the armor of units every couple of turns). They’re a welcome addition, though if you’ve already seen random modifiers during battles, then the only major change here would be campaign map effects.
Lastly, there’s the Conquered Worlds game mode (basically a new type of scenario). Here, a minimum of three players can tackle a lone empire that’s already got its defenses prepped, and you may likewise choose to pick that solo empire.
I must admit that this concept intrigued me when Age of Wonders: Planetfall – Invasions was initially announced. Can you imagine a sprawling empire that fledgling forces need to take down piecemeal? To my surprise, playing as the lone empire just provided me with three cities at the start — and you didn’t even have any techs researched just yet besides those that are innate to your chosen race. It’s a bit underwhelming, to say the least.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall – Invasions: The final verdict
Compared to Age of Wonders: Planetfall‘s first expansion, Revelations, I quite enjoyed Invasions a lot more, but this was primarily due to the introduction of the Shakarn race and their infiltration and covert capabilities. As cited in our Revelations expansion review, new additions such as the Heritor secret tech and, in the case of Invasions, the Shakarn race, truly provide more detail, customization, and experimentation for long-time fans.
The problem is that, much like the previous expansion, Invasions still suffers from other features that are significantly weaker and don’t mesh well with the overall campaign. Revelations had its archaeology feature that was forgettable, and, now, Invasions has “aggressive, beefed-up, late-game Marauders,” among other things. You have major content add-ons that truly provide a revitalizing way of playing Age of Wonders, but the other concepts feel tacked on at best. But, hey, at least you can play as our new lizard overlords.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall – Invasions is available as part of the base game’s season pass or as a separate purchase. You can find it on Steam. For more information, check out our guides and features hub.