Age of Wonders 4 Review – Absolutely Wonderful

Age of Wonders 4 Review

When it comes to 4x (Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate) games, there are lots of options, from games that focus on 18th-century Europe to far-future science fiction worlds. Of course, high fantasy is well represented, perhaps none better than with the Age of Wonders franchise. Nine years after the third installment, we have Age of Wonders 4. It’s big, incredibly deep, and lots of fun.

Your Game Your Way

Like most of the games in the genre, Age of Wonders 4 has two components. The grand strategy layer is where the player builds cities, captures resources, and expands territory and influence through combat and alliances. There are three ways to win. The first is military conquest, defeating all opposing rulers and their armies. The second path to victory is through territorial expansion. The final path to victory is completely climbing one of the long and arduous magical upgrade and research trees. Secondarily, the turn-based battles at ground level allow you to see how all those cool spells you’ve researched actually work. Magic is the dominant force for nearly every faction.

Speaking of factions, rolling your own or using one of the pre-made factions hints at Age of Wonder 4’s depth. Players can create a faction, its appearance, alignments, and starting stats from scratch. It’s a process that goes deep into the weeds. But even the quick-start. pre-fab faction selector still requires extensive input. Both are a tinkerer’s dream.

Unlike Total War: Warhammer 40K, Age of Wonder 4 doesn’t focus its turn-based battles on massive armies but on smaller, more manageable collections of units and more intimate maps. It allows the player to make use of those powerful spells and magical abilities researched from 50 Tomes of Magic. The number of spells, weapon buffs, and powerful enemy de-buffs is immense.

Fast Paced Deliberations

I’ve played some recent 4x-style games where the strategic map was an eyestrain-inducing cluttered mess. By contrast, the overworld map in Age of Wonders 4 is easy to read, not fussy with too much information, and interesting to look at. Considering how much data is percolating under the hood, the UI is a model for clarity. Each turn includes a plethora of choices but the game does a stellar job of guiding the player through their options. There’s an excellent tutorial, but it will still take players many games and several hours even to master the basics.

There’s a faction to suit every taste and playstyle. While they’re not direct imports from other games, you’ll see some familiar designs like rat-races, elves, dwarves, lizard folk, and orcs. Not every race has a unique spell and skill tree, but starting stats that give them advantages on one path or another.

The Sound of One Orc Clapping

Age of Wonders 4’s art style does a great job of selling its high fantasy setting. It’s colorful and the strategic map, units, and structures look great as your territory grows in power and complexity.

Down at ground level in the middle of a tactical, magic-filled battle, things are a little less shiny. The spells and effects are immensely satisfying to look at, and the units are creatively designed and reflect player input. Animations aren’t always elegant, however, and there are plenty of framerate stutters as forces and maps are loading in. The battlefields have opportunities for cover and dangerous hazards to avoid, but they lack textural complexity and detail. They’re just a bit simplistic, like the kinds of maps produced by a decent but limited map editor.

Also slightly disappointing is the sound design, which doesn’t match the visual punch of the game’s magic combat. The game’s voice work is more successful, and the musical score channels high fantasy valor and menace in equal measure.

Set Aside Lots of Time

While Age of Wonders 4 doesn’t shy away from depth and complexity, it rarely overwhelms the player. Starting with the faction creator, Age of Wonders 4 is dedicated to letting the player shape their experience as much as possible. No matter how you prefer to play, you’re in for hours of engaging strategy and tactics with an incredible array of mix-and-match fantasy elements.

***PC code provided by the publisher for review***

The Good

  • Deep and satisfying strategy
  • Immensely customizable races
  • Clear interface and gameplay
  • Addictive one-more-turn fun

The Bad

  • Bland sound design
  • Up close textures are very simple
  • Tactical maps lack character
  • Some framerate issues