Tobold's Blog
Thursday, April 10, 2014
 
Age of Wonders III

I've been playing the new Age of Wonders III for about 20 hours now, but my overall impression is one of disappointment. I feel that all the elements needed are there for a great 4X fantasy game, but the balance between them is so horrible that it spoils the experience.

Let's start with resources. As you would expect, there are a lot of them. There is gold, mana, production, knowledge, and happiness being produced in each city. And it quickly turns out that the only one you ever are short of is gold. Mana you always produce more than you can spend. Production you have enough to make production times not the limiting factor, you simply don't have the gold to pay to start production. Knowledge is for researching spells, of which you will have all long before you won. And happiness you increase to get more gold.

A similar lack of balance exists with the size of the typical map and the number and speed of your armies. While that is annoying enough for the player, the AI frequently can't deal with that. Using a flying army or underground path is far more effective than it should be, because you can frequently find undefended or just very lightly defended cities in the enemies' hinterland. Overall that makes the game lack defined frontiers, everything appears to be open to attacks from all sides.

One the one side Age of Wonders III has a very nice system for leveling your heroes with different abilities. On the other side I have rarely played a 4X fantasy game in which the heroes felt so useless in the campaign game. There are very few points on the map to explore where a hero in the army would be necessary to scoop up the loot. And most of the time you don't want to move most of your heroes in the campaign game, because some moron decided that it was a good idea to make you lose the game if any of your secondary heroes dies. The current primary hero of the map can die and will come back a few turns later, but if you lose a secondary hero, it is game over. So you can only ever send them out to do the safest of actions, for which of course you wouldn't have needed a hero in the first place.

By pure coincidence it turns out that today is the release day of Warlock 2. Not bad for a genre that was presumed to be dead, two major releases in a month. I might just have picked the wrong game.

Comments:
Mmm this has been my experience of it, all the elements are there just pitifully balanced.

Morale? /ignore
Buildings? /ignore
Spells? /ignore
Heroes? /ignore
Quests? /ignore

Just spam units to victory on any difficulty level. That said, the game is so deliciously rich with inconsequential stuff I'm sure it will be an exceptional game after 12 months of balance patches.
 
My thoughts on AoW III, I'll get it during summer '15 steam sale when it's received a year of patches.

I am much more excited about Warlock 2, I put over a hundred hours into the first one. It scratched my Civ 5 itch while adding humor and just enough of a tweak on gameplay to not burn me out while playing both games. I am intrigued by the new multiple world system and like that there is now some sort of campaign mode.
 
The more I read reviews of new fantasy strategies, the more I go back to HOMM3.
 
I feel that the game didn't evolve enough from the last version. The only differences are how the heroes level up, graphics and more resources (which, as pointed out, don't matter much). I was hoping for more depth.
 
Oooh Warlock 2. That gets my attention more than Age of Wonders. I really enjoyed Master of the Arcane.
 
But the tactical battles are quite good, very closely mimicking Master of Magic.

Warlock 2 is strategically more sound, but a limit on the number of cities is harsh. The upgrade-generating buildings now have limited "uses", so you need a lot of cities...
 
Thanks for the info on these!

I added W2 to my list.

Anything to cheer me up after the sandbox that Smed teased is an owPvP zombie game. ugh ugh ugh.
 
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