The Age of Wonders franchise is a prominent one in the strategy genre. Decades old now, this is the first iteration of the series to make its way to current generation consoles. In fact, this is the first time that the Age of Wonders franchise makes its debut on consoles altogether. Historically, Age of Wonders has been set in the realm of fantasy. With Planetfall, this is the series’ first take on sci-fi. Want to be a Russian space dwarf wielding a rocket hammer? Age of Wonders: Planetfall makes that and a whole lot more possible. Planetfall brings the engaging tactical turn-based combat and vast empire building of the old entries in this franchise and brings it to a new frontier.
The first step is to select which faction to play as. There are six playable factions, each with unique empires, and thus picking which one you play has a significant impact on the game:
- The Vanguard
The Vanguard are the most Earth-like faction out of the more “out-there” factions. This is the faction you play as during the tutorial and will be the go-to standard faction. They are of the human race and are comprised of troopers. They might seem ‘basic’ compared to the other factions, but they can be modded. For instance, troopers can be upgraded with jetpacks and other various mods to upgrade their abilities and make them more versatile in the battlefield.
- The Amazons
The Amazons are wildly different from The Vanguard faction. How, you ask? Well, The Amazons ride laser-dinosaurs into battle. The Amazons have a symbiotic relationship with the dinos, similar to the Na’vi and their dragon-like mounts in James Cameron’s Avatar. The Amazons started off as scientists, aiding their genetic modification of the dinos and sentient plant beings. How far will their pursuits in genetic modification alter their own DNA?
- The Dvar
The Dvar are the atypical dwarf trope often found in this and similar genres. That doesn’t mean they do not stand out in their own right. In more atypical fashion, the Dvar also come from a mining planet. What this means is that the Dvar are masters of machinery. There’s a gritty Russian-era theme to their looks, specifically World War II era.
- The Assembly
The Assembly faction are the cyborg faction in Age of Wonders: Planetfall. The Assembly are by far and large the most ghoulish faction you can play as. Through their battles, they have taken various parts from their enemies for the sake of survival. They have a life-steal ability where they rip out enemies’ internal organs to heal themselves. They have a punk look about them and are part-human, part-machine.
- The Kir’ko
Next, The Kir’ko are the out-and-out alien race in Planetfall. In fact, the Kir’ko are the only distinct alien race in Planetfall, which makes them unique in their own right. Personally, I am reminded of the alien race in Ender’s Game when I see the Kir’ko. Like in Ender’s Game, this race was under the control of a hive mind, but after the hive mind collapsed, they are now a free race. The Kir’ko have a unique gameplay effect known as “swarm”, which gives them buffs when they are grouped close together.
- The Syndicate
Lastly, The Syndicate are the faction that reside in the shadows. They remind me of dark elf or rogue classes from similar games. This is the saboteur faction that operates under cloak and dagger conditions. If they have to get out of the shadows, then they have lightning weapons at their disposal.
The two largest gameplay components are the combat and the empire building. Combat is what one can expect for a tactical turn-based game, and there is the added bonus of upgradeable units and destructible environments. A really cool feature is how the game includes vehicles. For example, The Vanguard faction has an assault bike that mounts laser weaponry designed for close to mid-range combat. Other factions have their own vehicles, and it makes the combat all the more engaging. The combat also maps very well to a console controller, which is a pleasant surprise for a console strategy game. The Empire building element allows you to steer the future of your colony. Each faction has different motivations for extending their colonies. Planetfall can get political, and it really makes the game more engaging. You find yourself getting invested in your chosen faction as you become more engaged with their history and their personal motivations.
One quality about this game that I am most impressed with is the replay value that Age of Wonders: Planetfall represents. The factions themselves are so distinct that a playthrough with each one will feel like an entirely new experience. In addition, the variation of game modes offers up even more replay value. There is a single-player campaign, and random map generation ensures each mission feels different. Multiplayer features online play, and the overall content on offer feels like a lot of value.
All in all, Planetfall is an impressive debut for the Age of Wonders franchise on consoles. Moreover, unique factions, each with their own personal history and motivations, ensure that no matter what faction is played, it will be en engaging game. The combat and empire building are the foundations of what makes Planetfall a special game, especially on consoles where games like this are a rare sight.
Developer: Triumph Studios
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 6th August 2019