Tobold's Blog
Monday, May 01, 2023
Races in Age of Wonders 4

I’m still waiting for the release of Age of Wonders 4 tomorrow before I can actually play it. But the game is already available to a larger group of streamers since Saturday, so Twitch and YouTube are full of AoW4 content. And while there is some consensus that this is the best 4X game to have come out since Civ6, I couldn’t help but notice that there is some smoke and mirrors trickery going on here.

One of the biggest selling points of AoW4 is the extraordinary variety of choice you have in creating your world, your leader, and your faction. This is something 4X players really care about, and most 4X games produce a lot of DLC that offer players more factions to play. For Age of Wonders 4, there are 10 possible factions in the game from the start (Human, Elf, Orc, Dwarf, Halfling, Goblin, Cat, Rat, Toad, Mole). And there are already 4 DLC announced which will contain a lot more races, like Draconian and more anthropomorphic beasts.

But if you look closely, you will notice that the game calls these races “physical forms”. Because, as it turns out, they are purely cosmetical. While every race comes with a default body trait and mind trait, those can be changed. You can make halflings with the traits of orcs, and vice versa. Adding more physical forms to the game is just fluff, which doesn’t add replayability.

It is in the next step of faction creation, where you select a “culture”, where the core identity of your faction is being set. Unfortunately there are only 6 of those (feudal, high, barbarian, industrious, dark, mystic), with only a single mention of 1 additional culture being added in the DLC. But culture determines what units you will have, major bonus features of your faction, and some city buildings. Culture also determines 2 of your 6 starting affinities. This all adds up to make culture your most important choice in faction creation, and your dark elves will play somewhat similar to your dark dwarves, because being dark culture has a much bigger impact than what race you are.

I do hope that more cultures will be added to Age of Wonders 4. But it seems to me that adding a new culture is a lot of work, as it contains a whole new set of units from all tiers. Adding a new race just as a physical form is a lot easier, because it is just new artwork, and doesn’t change gameplay.

I guess it depends on whether the body and mind traits contribute much of significance. E.g. if it's important whether you're strong and angry, or if you get bonuses underground, then the orc and mole races really do exist, even if you can swap their cosmetics.
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