While previous Age of Wonders titles were set in the classic high fantasy setting, Age of Wonders: Planetfall takes it to a new direction. We’re going to space. At the start of the campaign we’re following Jack Gelder, a commander of the Star Union, who finds out civilization has collapsed after his 200 years of cryosleep. The world had a reset, the so called cataclysm, which has turned the universe in chaos. The Star Union ruled with fierce and strict hand, but after the cataclysm they’ll have to look for different ways to get by. Their dominance isn’t guaranteed anymore.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall is a 4X game with advanced tactics gameplay. If you’ve ever played a previous Age of Wonders game or a game such as Civilization you’ll recognize the genre defining elements in a heartbeat. Turn based strategy, land occupation and research trees are the core elements of the gameplay. If you enjoy 4X gameplay, Age of Wonders: Planetfall is probably right up your alley.
Surprisingly deep and unsurprisingly overwhelming
This game, made by Triumph Studios and published by Paradox Entertainment, can be a little overwhelming at the start. Especially for people who don’t play 4X games and grand strategy titles each day. There is a lot happening on your screen, with walls of text, fast paced turn based gameplay and a wide variety in unit types and races.
In Age of Wonders: Planetfall you start out with a simple base and a small tile of land. In this 4X game you’ll have to gain land by progressing your city similar to the Civilization games. The tiles on the map aren’t your standard hexagons, the team at Triumph has put a lot of work in making the planets you visit feel original and real. You can also create colonies by training colonists. This way you can have multiple cities which helps your progress.
Each unit on the field is an army, which can contain up to 6 units. Besides standard units you’ll be able to use heroes, who have more advanced abilities. The heroes also help in distinguishing the armies you are using and the armies you are fighting.
It is possible to avoid a certain aspect of the game completely. If you aren’t really into turn based tactical combat, such as the Xcom games (or the upcoming Gears Tactics, we’re an Xbox site after all..) you’ll be able to skip every battle by autoresolving it. But, the tactical turn based gameplay is among the strongest points of the game. The better you get at them, the more you’ll feel like a chess grandmaster.
So, if we go back to Jack Gelder and his missions for the Star Union, it is interesting to see his army move on the planet, it is a real treat to see his and his accompanying marines’ character models. You can see Triumph has put effort into this aspect of the game.
4X.. explore, expand, exploit and exterminate
So, does Planetfall feel like a good 4X game? Yes, it does. But it’s better at some X’s than others. While at first you feel like exploring just another sci-fi world, the games exploration is deeper than expected. With interesting races, beautifully crafted biomes and interesting side missions. It’s the expand X that is the most lacking. You don’t really get the feeling that your colony is expanding all that much. Sure, you’ll get more tiles at your disposal, you’ll even be able to make use of water tiles in interesting ways, but at the end of the day it lacks depth and character. This game could’ve been a 3X and it would’ve excelled at all of its elements.
The exploit mechanics are more interesting. The technology research tabs are, while overwhelming, deep and full of added gameplay elements. Being able to traverse over water, being able to use the terrain to your advantage and researching new unit types forces you to make choices in your research tree.
As stated above, the exterminate part of the game is where it shines. While games like Total War: Warhammer give you real time strategy battles to fight, Planetfall continues its turn based gameplay elements in the battles. And it does it well.
But, also on the map on large scale the battle gameplay is interesting. Making sure your armies are close to each other, using strategic points to defend your colony or using certain units to rush over the map. The game is deep enough to be satisfying.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall is a wonderfully crafted 4X game with deep tactical combat and a sci-fi world which looks stunning. The different biomes keep the gameplay fresh and the different playable races give the game a slight Total War: Warhammer vibe. While the campaign is interesting, it can be a bit bland at times. The lack of cutscenes to give you that extra little immersion is a pity. Overall this is a fun strategy game to enjoy a slow Sunday evening with.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall is available for Xbox Game Pass for console and PC.