If you’ve been craving a new 4X turn-based strategy game then you might be in luck! Triumph Studios, with the help of publisher Paradox Interactive, is at it again with a follow-up to the well-receive Age of Wonders III. This time around, Triumph has traded in fantasy for a futuristic sci-fi setting in Age of Wonders: Planetfall.
Similar to other titles in the genre, the point of Age of Wonders: Planetfall is to explore each world while expanding your empire and eliminating threats. Of course, it’s much more complicated than clicking a couple of buttons and watching your units do all the work. Not only do you have to venture out into the wilderness looking for materials while fending off enemies, but you also have to manage your citizen’s happiness level and research new technology for war and civilization growth.
4X With a Twist
The term 4X comes from the main premise of the game: explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate. The genre dates back to the early 1990s with games such as Master of Orion and Civilization, and they typically take on a slower pace than real-time strategy games, such as StarCraft, or other turn-based games like Total War.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall hits these key points quite well. There are lots of unique planet choices that vary in size, while war and political systems can be worked to your advantage. Of course, the latter two systems shine when playing against other players instead of A.I. commanders. You never know when your neighbor might backstab you and attempt to seize your capital, however, the A.I. seems a little more reserved.
There is one other important aspect to Age of Wonders: Planetfall that sets it apart from all the other Civilization clones out there. In most 4X games, the focus is on the bigger picture and combat rarely involves more than reading a battle report telling who lost what units during a battle. Planetfall, on the other hand, uses a tactical turn-based combat system.
Instead of battles simply playing out based on who has the better army, players can choose to take control of individual units and turn the tide of battle. The game makes full use of cover mechanics, commander traits, and battlefield powers that make combat feel integral to the game instead of a cheap add on. If you’re looking for Civilization meets XCOM then this is probably the closest thing you’ll get.
However, if all you’re looking for is the 4X portion of the game, or want to shorten game duration, then the combat can be auto resolved to play out like others in the genre or skip battles that would otherwise be a waste of time. Additionally, there are various gameplay settings to determine how these battles unfold when against the computer or other human players.
Before starting up a game of Planetfall, be sure you’re ready for the long haul. It’s easy to lose a few hours with a single campaign mission, and that can be doubled if you play out each skirmish in the tactical battle mode. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and finally achieving your victory conditions is definitely satisfying, but there’s no instant gratification here.
The game includes a lengthy campaign mode that plays through multiple different factions, local and online multiplayer, and a custom mission mode. The hot seat, local multiplayer, is a great experience whether you’re teaming up with a friend or have a house full of commanders.
The core gameplay loop isn’t anything new: go out and kill things, collect resources, build up your empire, and try not to piss everyone else off in the process, but there are tons of different ways to play the game. Furthermore, there’s a deep customization and upgrade system for commanders, which can really tailor the way you play a faction.
While Age of Wonders: Planetfall didn’t redefine the 4X or tactical strategy genres, is does marry the two in a way that feels extremely organic. It’s still possible to enjoy the rest of game without diving into the tactical portion but the two game modes really complement each other to give a level of completeness that few other strategy games provide.
Additionally, the game excels at providing a unique level of customization for commanders. Typically, in 4X games your race determines certain gameplay bonuses or might give you a selection out of a few heroes. However, Planetfall provides players with a plethora of commander options, and if you don’t like what’s available then you can design your own commander from the ground up.
Learning Curve: 5/10
Genre veterans might be able to jump into Planetfall without much trouble, but it’s going to be a rocky ride for newcomers, especially on console. Strategy games were really meant for PC where you can easily toggle menus and dive deep into the nuances of every piece of research. Unfortunately, the UI is a bit clunky on the PlayStation 4 and it can take a few games to understand how to access all of the menus or even properly run though a turn.
Thankfully, the system does a decent job of walking the player through the campaign and other hints can be turned on as well. It’s just going to take a lot of time to simply get the basics down, let alone master the game.
The visuals in Planetfall aren’t anything special but they also don’t take away from the overall experience either. They simply get the job done, and that’s perfectly fine for this genre.
The bright reds and greens can be a bit overwhelming at times, but this is a sci-fi game after all. Unit details get a bit better in the tactical battle mode, but most of the non-commander units look fairly generic. You can fully customize the appearance of each commander, however, which is a nice touch.
When it comes to value, there’s quite a lot to unpack with Age of Wonders: Planetfall. First off, there’s a fairly lengthy campaign. Then you can customize single-player skirmishes to your heart’s content. Finally, there’s both local and online multiplayer. If you really like 4X games, there should be hours and hours of content here, and you’ll never have the same experience twice.
Anyone who really enjoys 4X or tactical strategy games set in a sci-fi universe with overgrown bugs, androids, and dinosaurs with laser beams should definitely consider picking up Age of Wonders: Planetfall. However, this one likely doesn’t break away enough from the mold to bring in players who haven’t been previous interested in the genre, and if you’re on the fence then possible wait for a sale before giving it a try.
- Excellent combination of tactical combat and empire building
- Lots of game mode options to really customize the experience and improve replay value
- Having both online and hot seat multiplayer is a big plus
- Clunky UI
- Games can last a really long time
- Mediocre A.I.