Age of Wonders 4 Review: Fantastic Fantasy

Age of Miracles 4 is the latest iteration of the long-running 4X strategy franchise. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, not only because of my love of strategy games, but also because I’m excited to see how this offering will stand out from the crowd.

My experience with the series so far is from the sci-fi spinoff, Age of Wonders: Planetfallthat I covered for PC invasion, our sister site. Now the series is returning to its fantasy roots.

To say that Age of Miracles 4 stuffed with customization options would be an understatement. Right from the start, you’ll be bombarded with a plethora of choices.

You can choose from preset “realms,” which are essentially maps, or create your own based on tweaked choices. From there you can choose from any of the standard factions, most of which are based on fantasy tropes. These range from expansive humans and doughy dwarves to fey-touched elves and angry orcs. Alternatively you could just come up with your own as it is possible to create factions and rulers similar to planetfall.

For example, in my first game, I chose cat breed – because cats are awesome – before choosing various passive traits and their affinities and spell books. There are countless combinations you can tinker with that add some extra flavor and fluff, be it evil halflings, nature-loving toads, or magic-hungry ratmen (for the Skaven fans out there).

Screenshot of GameSkinny

At the start of each game, you have a pre-built city, and it’s up to you to obey the 4X commandments: Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate. Age of Miracles 4 lets you do all that and then some.

As cities grow, or as you turn an outpost into one, they will start engulfing neighboring areas. You can choose the type of resource added to your coffers, usually based on terrain features or points of interest. Likewise, cities have separate queues for buildings and units, so you don’t have to worry about only producing one or the other forever.

From there, clear out the infestation and delve deeper into the ancient wonders. You may encounter free cities (city-states or AI minors) that you can gradually assimilate or conquer outright. And of course there are rival empires (AI majors/main antagonists in each game). You can befriend and ally with them or plan the upcoming wars.

The Imperium system complements your expansion. It’s sort of like a skill tree where you unlock passive boons and features based on your affinity and culture. For example, the Chaos affinity relies heavily on all-out warfare and destruction, sometimes giving you gold and even free units. This is useful for barbarian cultures due to their purely offensive capabilities.

Dark affinity, on the other hand, relies on knowledge and research, while Mystic focuses on mana income, Busy types focus on production, and so on. As such, prioritizing certain passive abilities based on your affinity will guide you in a precise path that synergizes with your initial choices.

Image via Paradox Interactive

Age of Miracles 4 relies on a turn-based tactical system. Once you clash with another opposing army on the world map, you’ll switch to a smaller tactical map where units will move into hexes, cast spells, deal melee damage, or trigger certain passive traits.

Each army can consist of up to six units, although multiple adjacent armies can support up to a maximum of three armies, or 18 units per side. Likewise, you have your ruler and recruitable heroes. These special characters can equip items, acquire unique abilities, and act as city governors.

While the AI ​​itself is reasonably competent – at least on Normal difficulty, in my experience – you can still beat challenges with little to no hiccups. Additionally, if you don’t feel like fighting every battle manually, you can always bring a Doomstack from multiple neighboring armies and auto-resolve a battle to speed things up.

Also Read:  Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom — Where to Find Robbie and His Location

Image via Paradox Interactive

Of course there is magic too. Instead of relying on a traditional technology tree, Age of Miracles 4 uses tomes, sets of spells related to a specific affinity or school of magic. These include the usual examples such as fire, ice, lightning, and nature-based abilities that allow you to summon wild animals or demonic rituals that allow you to summon or transform into denizens of darkness.

You can mix and match to find a decent combo, or focus primarily on Affinity Type. Either way, you’ll slowly reach higher tome levels and unlock even more powerful abilities. It’s really just another layer of customization and replayability that’s welcome, and a way for min-max players to experiment with ideal setups.

Games can be won by:

  • Domination (defeating all rival rulers).
  • Magic (researching a high-level tome).
  • Expansion (control of a large part of the map).
  • Score (who has the highest score when he has reached the maximum number of rounds).

At the end of each game, you earn Pantheon XP based on your actions, which is then added to your Pantheon level. This allows you to acquire cosmetic items, empire types, and origin traits when creating a custom game or faction/ruler. Therefore, every completed match always leads to something via this meta progression system.

Screenshot of GameSkinny

Unfortunately, I have a few concerns Age of Miracles 4. The first is the story campaign. While you can skirmish to your heart’s content, the story campaign explores the rise of wizard kings and queens and your bid to seize control of the land. It all sounds good on paper, but with too many mechanics and systems, the main objectives and missions just clash with the sandbox.

Another hiccup comes in the form of Ancient Wonders, which are harder encounters and limit you to one hero’s army. I understand that the mode is mainly there to present a challenge that you can’t easily roll over, but it does lead to situations where you’re wasting turns reorganizing units even though you have a large force that’s only in the background is waiting.

I’m still torn about this Age of Miracles 4‘s Pantheon system as you only earn XP by completing games. Some campaign missions are fairly short, and you’ll quickly see the fruits of your labor with the XP awarded. Unfortunately, other missions with larger maps or multiple objectives and larger skirmish setups take much longer, making things a nuisance in comparison.

Age of Wonders 4 Review – The Verdict

Image via Paradox Interactive

  • Options to create a faction/empire and ruler.
  • A ridiculous number of customization options, resulting in almost unlimited replayability.
  • Nested tooltips, similar to Crusader Kings 3 and current Paradox Interactive games provide helpful information.
  • A refreshing magic system combined with research that dispenses with a traditional research tree.
  • Bright and eye-catching graphics that add to the fantasy feel.
  • The objective-based campaign gets messy with so many mechanics and features to consider.
  • The Pantheon meta progression system will likely push you to play faster matches instead of longer ones that last hours.
  • A few freezes/crashes and UI bugs.

Age of Miracles 4 brings the franchise back to its fantasy roots while offering a robust system that lets you go all out with customization. Whether you want to roleplay based on your choices or create game-changing setups on a min-max basis, you’re bound to spend hours and hours just trying new strategies.

[Note: Paradox Interactive provided the copy of Age of Wonders 4 used for this review. Featured image by GameSkinny.]

Age of Wonders 4 triumphantly returns to the realms of magic and fantasy, but is there enough to keep you busy for hours?


Age of Wonders 4 Review: Fantastic Fantasy

Age of Wonders 4 triumphantly returns to the realms of magic and fantasy, but is there enough to keep you busy for hours?

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