Age of Wonders 4 ditches roman numerals for digits, but it doesn’t bring the series to modern times, it continues the long-running fantasy saga with a long-awaited and proper sequel. Triumph Studios returns nearly ten years since the last entry, and fixes a lot of the issues beyond combat and strategy that was lacking in Age of Wonders III. The wait for this follow-up has been more than worth it, and it’s a game that will have you staying for “one more turn” into the wee hours of the night. Age of Wonders 4 is a sprawling fantasy 4X RPG and tactical combat masterpiece that pushes the series forward in big ways.
As the story goes, ancient wizard kings looking for old magic make their return after the decline of the third age. What ensues, is up to you and the decisions you make as all the races scramble for power. There’s a few stories to engage with, which excludes many factions, making only ten of the nineteen total available for use. However, the story realms offer a guided way to play the game and learn its intricacies. Triumph Studios even has included the fantastic nested tooltips system from other Paradox titles like Crusader Kings III and Victoria 3 that help you link and deep dive on topics to understand them fully. I started my first campaign with the Bloodfang Orcs, who conquer through sheer dominance by reclaiming the lands for their own. There’s also a beginner scenario that isn’t story-driven, but is essentially a skirmish against the AI and lets you play on even-footing without too many things working against you. In this, I chose the Necromancers who were available from the start, and didn’t appear until an expansion in Age of Wonders III . Whether you want a more focused experienced, or something a bit more free-form, there’s an abundance of options.
Unlike 2019’s Age of Wonders: Planetfall, the game’s modes are only split in two: new or continue game and online multiplayer. The way they splinter from there is rather deep. The multiplayer can be played synchronously or asynchronously, and even receive emails when it’s your turn or even a Steam notification. Playing a new game will ask you to select or create a realm of your choosing, which will give you climate traits that the developers created or that you apply to it. If you so desire, you can make it so the climate is actively trying to kill you, like setting up a desert climate with volcanoes erupting while trying to be a toad people without access to water. Conversely, you can make it a climate that would be perfect for your faction to thrive on. After that, it’s time to select or create a faction of your own making. Designing your own faction is new to the mainline series, and does have its limitations. Firstly you must choose a form that conforms to an existing race. You’ll then be able to customize more freely by taking traits from other races and hand-picking culture traits that will drive them. Next is selecting your starting Tome of Magic, for which there are fifty-four to choose from. Lastly you pick the ruler’s origin and are able to fully customize their look. Age of Wonders 4 goes hard with its factions, from humans to mole people, rat kings, frogs, and dwarves to name a few. It’s an eclectic mix of fantasy race designs that make things really fun.
This series is full of gameplay layers, the first and most important one is the 4X (eXplore, eXploit, eXpand, and eXterminate) game. The game is played on varied terrain framed in hex grids called sectors. The object of the game is defined by your actions, but there are three victory types: Military via eliminating other rulers on the map, Expansion through gaining control of the map using diplomacy, or a Magic victory by achieving ultimate arcane power. How you get there is to grow your city through researching and building, meet other civilizations and decide what to do with them. Since races are likely to have communication barriers, you will have a limited number of whispering stones which can be used to break through that barrier to ensure communication occurs. There will be tough decisions you have to make along the way that will more often than not have consequences. There’s an almost overwhelming number of resources to manage: knowledge, mana, food, production, draft, and gold. Each has their use and purpose, and become second nature over time. Knowledge is used for building, mana is used for casting spells, food is for keeping your citizens happy, draft is for recruiting units, and gold has an all-encompassing use. While there’s a lot of moving parts in this layer, it’s manageable in all stages.
The next layer of Age of Wonders 4 is the combat. This is played out through tactical, turn-based combat. Before making the first move, you’ll be presented with the option to resolve combat automatically (the AI plays out the scenario quickly in the background) or manually (you have full control of the battle), or you might be able to retreat. If you don’t like to be asked, you can configure what your preference of combat is by selecting it in the options. Prior to engaging in either kind of battle, mousing over the enemy will give you what the likely outcome is going to be, and decisions have to be made whether to engage or disengage from them. Nearby armies will also get pulled in to battle, so it’s good to keep multiple roving units near for such an occasion, since there’s a six unit limit on armies. Manual combat is really fun, and at times feels like a completely different game. Units will have a certain distance they can move, and unique abilities to be used. Your hero unit can cast spells that might set fires in the fields or freeze units in place. Combat is informative, detailed enough that you will see enemies of an army die off, showing that it is getting weaker in addition to a giant health bar. Ranged units always have a chance of hitting their target, but they have to be within range and view of the enemy. It’s good to learn an enemy’s resistances and weaknesses in order to exploit them to be successful in a fight. Break an enemy down enough and you’ll crush their morale, and will likely flee. If your hero falls, they will be imprisoned or killed. They may even be ransomed to your city, but they’ll strip them all their equipment first. If at any point you make a catastrophic mistake, you can restart the combat scenario. If you feel like you can’t win, you can surrender to save what you have left. Battles projected to be difficult or near-even might might require a hands-on approach to secure a victory. This is deep and rewarding combat at its finest.
Another layer of what makes the Age of Wonders series so complex is that it’s also a role-playing game. Units will gain experience the more they do, and even level up. Your hero does as well, and will be able to equip gear that’s loot ed off of corpses or found through traversing the world map. Loot is a big part of the game, and whether its gold or other resources, it helps you get that much closer to winning. There’s a literal skill tree to invest in upgrades that apply to the whole race, and you can specialize in specific ways. For instance, an early upgrade allows for seafaring. And on maps where water is the primary navigation method, is a no-brainer. Decisions like this won’t always be easy, but deciding whether your faction will eat the corpses of their enemies does give you pause.
Enchantments become a critical part of your faction’s evolution. As you invest in them, their magical properties will enhance every unit as they take on permanent transformations for all current and future units that get build. I really like the permanence that applies to every unit of that type, instead of having to re-invest or only having special units. There are special units, in the form of tome units that are powerful, magical units that are given after researching them. In the later game, you will have access to enchantments that can transform the entire race. These changes are irreversible, but game altering in ways that propel your faction towards a decisive victory to close the book on the story.
As it’s in the name, there are Wonders you’ll come across, and these can be attached to cities to increase their power and incur bonuses. Territory control is not only one of the ways to win, it will help you progress your faction. You can annex unclaimed lands into fisheries, farmlands, quarries, and more. You’ll eventually bump into other domains, and have to be careful not to trespass or risk an incursion. Not only is there an overworld to explore and dominate, but there’s a whole underground to excavate and explore. Often times you’ll reveal other factions living there. Age of Wonders 4 keeps the surprises coming.
You’ll be regularly given new tomes to select, and opens progression of your faction greatly. Each tome selected must be researched, but upon selection will offer an initial bonus. There are categories of spells that you will be able to cast. The first of which is world spells, that can summon new magical units to add to an army. Then there’s combat spells that can be used to weaken enemies for a period of time. The reliance on magic is paramount, and every faction is equally viable for using it.
Age of Wonders 4 runs amazingly well, and 21:9 aspect ratios are supported out-of-the box. This is a gorgeous and vibrant game with impeccable detail. Even more, is that I experienced the game running over 200fps with an uncapped framerate. Turns from the AI happen incredibly quick, and there’s no real downtime loading in the game. I couldn’t be happier with the performance of the game.
My PC Specs:
– Microsoft Windows 11 Pro
– Intel Core i9 13900K @ 5.8GHz
– ASUS ROG RYUJIN II 360 ARGB AIO Liquid CPU Cooler
– G.SKILL TRIDENT Z5 6000MHZ 64GB (32×2) DDR5 RAM
– ASUS ROG Strix GeForce RTX 4080 16GB GDDR6X
– WD_BLACK SN850X M.2 (4 TB)
– LG UltraGear 34GP950B-G (21:9 Ultrawide @ 3440×1440)
Age of Wonders 4 offers nearly infinite replayability with the built-in scenarios and ways to create your own, to include all of the included factions and ones you can manifest. This is a game that corrects past mistakes, includes expansions into its core, and has no shortcomings. This is an incredibly beautiful game that is popping with color and visuals. There’s essentially two to three games in here across its 4X, RPG, and tactical combat layers that offer variability and unpredictability. This is a massive game that is able to carry the weight of the series on its shoulders proudly, Age of Wonders 4 is purely magical.
A Steam code was provided in advance by the publisher for review purposes