Age of Wonders: Planetfall just released its first expansion, Age of Wonders: Planetfall Revalations. While Age of Wonders: Planetfall was already a unique take on the 4X genre, Revalations expands on what made the original game great with a new story, new NPCs, and new mechanics.
Secrets Of The Past
Age of Wonders: Planetfall sets itself apart from other 4X games through the deep history built into every facet of the game, through the lore, the different factions, and even the game mechanics themselves. It has the standard four X's of the genre, allowing the player to explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate, but also heavily features a fifth X: exhume. In addition to building a new civilization, the player also uncovers the secrets of a long-dead space empire.
The new campaign features two protagonists: Marlok Tenor, a former member of a house from the organized crime faction the Syndicate, and Hatyl Es’ran, a member of the insectoid Kir’ko race. They try to uncover the secrets of the Es’teq Dynasty, the predecessors of the Star Union that collapsed before the events of the main game. The new campaign feels a little less personal and more divorced from the characters, since it dives into the secrets of an older past rather than the immediate history of the Star Union, but this is, to an extent, forgivable, since it seems uncharitable to complain about an expansion feeling like an expansion.
For what the campaign lacks in personal connection, it makes up in narrative complexity. The writing for the campaign is actually better than any of the missions in the original game, with about ten hours of gameplay spread across two missions. It ties into the original missions, with returning characters making appearances.
The Forgotten are a new NPC faction that tie into the mission. They are a subsection of the Es’teq Dynasty that were discarded, deemed unfit to be entombed with the rest of the empire. The Forgotten, like most NPC factions, don’t get much of a backstory beyond that, but they will give units to any player who sides with them and completes their quests, which is one of the fastest ways to get units with the new Heritor abilities.
Heritor secret tech is a new type of secret tech branch, but for players who have already played Age of Wonders: Planetfall, it will seem very similar to aspects of the Celestian, Xenophage, or Synthesis branches. It has two main new mechanics: Entropy, which is a new damage type that is especially effective against machines, and Essence Charges.
Essence Charges are gained by draining “essence” from opponents, usually by using entropy attacks or other Heritor abilities. These Essence Charges make you more effective attacking and defending, and can be fine-tuned using skills. A certain skill might boost certain defensive aspects, like damage resistance, based on how many Essence Charges you have, while another might let you release them like a charge attack. Overall, it allows for a few different playstyles, which greatly increases player choice.
It’s an interesting mechanic, if one that requires a bit more managing. You should definitely avoid using the auto-combat feature, although it’s a good idea to avoid that anyway. In all, the Heritor branch gives the player dynamic gameplay that rivals some of the best combat options of the main game.
Adventures In Archaeology
The Anomalous Site mechanic is another new addition to the game. Thematically, it fits in perfectly with the fifth X, exhume. It functions as an archeological dig, letting players uncover the secrets of the past. It gives players plenty of choices that fit with different playstyles. When a player uncovers an artifact, they can take a gamble to immediately turn it into a weapon (losing it entirely if they fail), or they can spend a few more turns to unlock the deeper secrets of the artifact, usually gaining several unique bonuses to their heroes, cities, and units. Players with certain secret technologies can even choose to destroy artifacts as repulsive, heretical icons, gaining an evil bonus against certain more morally upright enemies. Between continuing the theme of uncovering secrets of the past and offering players some good choices, this should be one of the game’s better mechanics.
In practice, it’s a bit boring, though. The gameplay in Age of Wonders: Planetfall is centered around tactical ground-level combat that provides more depth than just armies clashing together. Most armies will be bolstered by a hero leading them, which makes it a little annoying that your hero has to squat on the Anomalous Site and do nothing for a few turns, then continue to squat for a few more turns if you want to meditate on the relic, which in many cases, is the better option. It feels like it puts a pause to the hero’s adventures, and either brings the entire army to a halt or forces them to go on without their hero.
A Genre Revelation
Overall, Age of Wonders: Planetfall Revelations is an expansion that, for the most part, knows why the original game was good and does more of that. While the Anomalous Site mechanic sacrifices playability for theme, the main story lets the player dive into the mysteries of the past while getting interesting new battle mechanics.
A PC review copy of Age of Wonders: Planetfall Revelations was provided to TheGamer for this review. Age of Wonders: Planetfall Revelations is now available for the PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.