For a long time I’ve been fondly playing Age of Wonders II Shadow Magic, so during my games with Age of Wonders 3 I couldn’t help comparing it to it’s previous title through a microscope and my rose-tinted glasses.
As explored in our tactical article, Age of Wonders 3 is a turn-based strategy game with a world map, tactical battles and RPG elements such as leader classes. It can be compared to Civilization V, Fallen Enchantress or Might and Magic Heroes 6. There’s no economic victory, but you can win through alliance or complete destruction by capturing your opponent’s Throne city and killing his Leader by sword or spell.
The RPG elements have been mostly been redesigned and a lot of these new changes really enhance the series. It also brings fresh life into the turn-based genre, and perhaps heals some of the pain that Might and Magic Heroes 6 wrought unto players. Your wizard, now called leader, can be one of six classes, the Warlord, Archdruid, Theocrat, Sorcerer, Rogue or Dreadnaught. The changes encourage players to directly slay enemies with their leader, rather than turtling in their tower.
If you’re slain, and your city with your Throne hasn’t be captured, you can come back to life after a couple of turns. If you feel like you might lose the battle and your Throne, you can transfer your Throne to another city you own, but this takes several turns depending on the size of your current Throne settlement.
Magical Spheres have also changed, and are now known as Masteries. They’re fewer in number but have more distinction between levels. One is Adept for the basic level of spells, the other is Master for the powerful spells like Lighting Strike and Destabilize Mana Core. Don’t worry though, as the spells have been expanded both in terms of number and their tier level, plus you can obtain more spells specific to your leader’s class.
I’ll start with the negative points of Age of Wonders 3. Looking back over the Age of Wonders series, I still find myself trying old tactical habits like ‘trade spying’ in order to glean insight into what spells my opponents may have or find myself upset with some things that are simply missing, like those witty comments on the loading screens.
Trading spells is no longer possible, so I end up slapping myself on the wrist each time I try it, but you can still trade resources, cities and items to other players and AI in the new diplomacy menu. The negotiation options have also been slightly expanded upon, from border access to gold and mana per turn requests.
Another big change I dislike compared to Age of Wonders 2 is that ranged units always hit. The same goes for close combat attacks. Hero damage taken from trebuchets had to be nerfed during the beta for better balance. These changes might be due to the way units are visually represented and technical limitations on how individuals act within a unit with the newer 3D graphics. Line of sight and cover penalties still remain for ranged units though.
Visually the game looks very good, the maps are especially brought to life with sounds from units, spells being cast, race-specific celebrations and terrain, adding to the overall immersion. Zooming out on the strategic map transforms the graphics into a paper style map with counters. Sunlight glistens off the sea; your leader’s mounts even make a noise when you select them on the map. In battle the graphics are also pretty good, there’s no blood or dismemberment, but corpses remain for the duration of the battle.
Some players have disapproved of the new 3D models of the Draconian race, and I tend to find the granny-fingered waving animation of all races rather ugly, but the rest of the models and animations are pretty good, particularly when you see your cool looking hell-hound mount visually represented on both the world map and in battle. Having items and mounts show on a character’s stat sheet would be a bonus to RPG fans.
Units in sea battles are also shown on their boats and represented fairly well, although ogres, giants and cavalry might look a little odd visually. Tactically, there’s no water walking spell and unless your unit’s can fly, they’re now automatically transported on boats as soon as they move onto deep water. Researching advanced boats can swing sea battles in your favour but at the cost of researching other more useful spells and units.
Units on the world map take up the Coat of Arms you’ve selected, and you can customise your leader’s starting look with a wide variety of options. Although some choices like clothes and armours are limited, there’s enough options to enable your leader to look distinct (whether sexy, badass or absurd) from your friends custom leaders in multiplayer games.
The interface has also seen an overhaul. You can now see what spells a city has on them more easily and potential retaliation damage in battles. As covered in our preview, if I had to be picky about the interface, all of your empire upgrades, spells and class specific units are researched from the same tab, its feels like a cheap tactic to give you more on the surface, but the magic soon wears off and you start to notice after a while where content could have been expanded given the time and resources.
The music contains all the notes that fondly remind me of the previous Age of Wonders, but I feel they can get a bit repetitive this time round as I do miss the old soundtracks. I also prefer the end-turn sound from the previous game but I realise I’m just being picky there. Some of the old sounds are still very familiar and will really give that nostalgia feeling of playing the older games.
There are six races in the game, Elves, Draconians, Goblins, Orcs, Humans and Dwarves. Without going into story spoilers, races such as Dark and High Elves have been merged as part of the story will reveal. A large controversial topic on the beta forums is unit and racial diversity. This has improved compared to the sequel, but more of the previous races are needed to fully flesh out the content.
Triumph Studios have noted this as an ongoing issue and acknowledged the need for DLC after they’re happy with the core gameplay mechanics.