Age of Wonders: Planetfall on PC
2019 has been a banner year for strategy games, with critical and commercial successes like Total War: Three Kingdoms and Fire Emblem: Three Houses raising the bar for the genre. Age of Wonders: Planetfall, while not quite reaching that mark, is an enjoyable game in its own right.
Planetfall is a turn-based, 4X strategy game developed by Triumph Studios and published by Paradox Interactive. Age of Wonders is a long-running series, but any fan of modern strategy games should feel right at home here.
The obvious and easy comparison is that Planetfall combines Civilisation’s turn-based strategic gameplay with XCOM’s tactical combat. And while apt, the result is a mixture that is lesser than the sum of its parts.
You play as one of six different factions that lands on a planet with the goal of subjugating or subduing your opponents through military, societal or scientific means.
This is done through either a story-driven campaign or in randomly generated scenarios. The campaign will introduce you to each faction’s play style, but the scenarios are where the game shines, allowing for near limitless replayability.
Before arriving on the ground, you select a commander for your faction, who provides some extra punch in combat and can level up through combat to impart all kinds of bonuses to the troops they lead. They can even be customized visually, which is a nice touch.
You then make the titular planetfall, as your starting colony drops from orbit onto the surface, and you are able to begin exploring surrounding regions and begin to expand your influence.
The overworld map is divided into different regions, and I found this quite impressive especially on the randomly generated maps. Each region is a grouping of hexes that share a common geographic and economic focus.
As your commander and starting army moves into these regions, you can annex them into the zone of control of your colony, provided you have a high enough population. If not, you can build a forward outpost to effectively call dibs until you do.
As you explore these regions, you will encounter the inhabitants of the planet guarding additional resource sites and points of interest. These can be engaged in combat to free the spoils up for your own factions use.
Combat is, as mentioned, similar to the way XCOM handles things. You move each of your units around the randomly generated battle map, taking cover from enemy fire and seeking to outflank your foes.
While certainly functional, I found the whole thing to be just too slow. Thankfully, you can automate combat from the strategy map, and even on the battle map itself.
I appreciated this, and would often jump into a battle and watch my AI-controlled forces take down their opponents. The animations are fairly stilted, but I took a certain satisfaction in watching them battle.
Depending on which faction you play determines what troops you have access too, and there really is a lot of variety here. I played the Vanguard mostly, who are fairly standard humans with conventional firearms and gunships.
But the Kir’Ko is a hive-race of vicious insectoids, with their units able to vomit corrosive acid and swarm down their opponents. Then there are the Amazons, bio-engineered warrior-women that ride dinosaurs into combat. It’s pretty wild stuff,
Trying to hold back a charging phalanx of dine-riders with a gun line of Vanguard troopers, while airborne Shrikes wreak havoc on your backline is when Planetfall’s combat is at its best, and there is some real fun to be had here.
It’s just that in comparison to games that are all about the tactics, like XCOM or Mutant Year Zero, the mechanics at play in Planetfall are incredibly barebones. It’s functional, but there isn’t real depth here.
An army can consist of six units, and when combat is initiated adjacent armies are drawn in as well, which means encounters can be sprawling and violent affairs. It would be incredibly tedious to command your units directly in these battles, but again, thankfully it can be automated.
One of Planetfall’s biggest issues is its UI, which is cumbersome and unintuitive. Simple things like upgrading regions or trying to find out how much a region is producing can often take a few clicks too many.
The game’s encyclopedia can also be incredibly frustrating. Often, after right-clicking on something to get more information on a unit, you are simply taken to a page that is just a word for word copy and paste of information found in the tooltip.
It’s these little niggles that really bog Planetfall down, and overall make it feel kind of low-budget, which is a real shame. There is the outline of a great game here, but I couldn’t help feeling like Triumph’s resources were spread too thin, trying to cover too many bases.
Graphics-wise, the game looks great, and it ran well on my system. Something I really appreciated was that there is virtually no loading at all once you are in the game. The transition from the overworld to battle map is near-instantaneous.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall is a satisfying strategy experience with a ton of replayability, and factions that feel truly distinct. Its randomly generated maps can feel so organic you might think they were hand-crafted.
It has a bevy of minor issues, however, like a cumbersome UI and stilted animations, and its lack of tactical depth on the battle map leaves it feeling like a game from a decade ago.
But if you are looking for a 4X game to get lost in, with interesting lore and diverse factions, Planetfall will feel familiar and scratch an itch that isn’t often catered to.
Score: 3/5 – Fair
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