Lost in time, Lost in space.
Well, gang. Old Man Mordaith has gone and stumbled upon a whole new heap of trouble. So once upon a time, there was this tremendous galactic empire, the Star Union. Some bad stuff happened, it broke. I swear – it wasn’t me. I was just the janitor. How could I have triggered some galactic calamity? Anyway, I wound up through a variety of means thrown into a cryostasis pod on a fun place called Leave-6.
A bunch of time had a past. I was hankering for a brew, but I still hadn’t been paid. So I tried finding my old employers, turns out they were all dead. I thought for sure those Paragon fellows were going to give me the energy credits owed me, but they were just plum hostile. Well, unless payment is now transferred utilizing high powered arc weapons, fired multiple times, into my backside. Somehow I doubt that.
Now, the Old Man is far too secure in his emotional state to do something as cowardly as curl into the fetal position and cry loudly for someone to save him. But, there was a misconception that such a thing happened. That is when I met her — Sister Change. (I will be playing a fresh campaign with her starting on the 5th of August over on my Twitch page – feel free to drop by.)
She looked pretty badass. Her face was old and pocked — mysterious hood with a deep shadow obscuring all but a glint of her eyes. She rode in on a loud and dangerous velocipede looking thing that she called a Chopper. Yep, she was a sight to behold, drug my wrinkled frame up over her shoulder and drove off with the Paragon still trying their experimental business transaction methods at us. It was around this time I noticed that she was mostly some cyborg abomination cobbled out of random parts. I’m pretty sure she had hands from two different bio-forms.
While there were many different sects of this cyborg collective called The Assembly, the one that Sister Change led was a Celestian one. They had the power of faith on their side. And boy howdy, didn’t they try to make me a believer.
My spiritual deficiencies aside, we got important stuff to do today. Namely taking a gander at this new title out of Triumph Studios and published by Paradox Interactive. Age of Wonders: Planetfall is the latest in the Age of Wonders series, this time taking a traditionally fantasy-based game into the bizarre realm of sci-fi tropes. The game is available on PC, Xbox, and PS4 for 56.99 CND on August 6th.
Enlightening the Stars.
So, after a bit of time in their biological amalgamation assessment device, it was decided that I would be an exception. You see, typically when Assembly folk find incompatible or subpar material, Assembly groups, well, dispose of the remains. But Sister Change had taken a likening to me. Everyone needs someone that knows how to make a decent cup of tea, and it seemed to calm her down.
Sister Change told me a bit about the Celestian order, the whole pseudo-religious group that her faction of the Assembly was centred around. There was a bunch of ‘Truth between the stars’ and ‘Complete balance and harmony’ stuff I didn’t understand. I did get the long and short of it — psychics – religious psychics – religious psychic cyborgs that assimilate people into their collective.
Now most civilized people, who don’t believe in galactic hogwash, look at the Celestian teachings as a form of technology. So let us take a quick look at the landscape and figure out the difference between factions and technology. The choices of faction and tech will create a wide variety of difference in play styles.
For factions, you have the Vanguard, the Dvar, the Kir’ko, the Syndicate, the Amazons, and of course, the Assembly. I should have probably landed with the Vanguard. We share the same plight — a bunch of hoo-rah humans fresh out of cryo. The Dvar, from what I can tell, are space dwarves, happy to live in fiery volcano infested regions, bent on exploiting nature to their whim.
The Kir’ko, I honestly didn’t know they were sentient. Rumours have that these former slaves grow their weapons. Including guns? Who grows a gun!? Not that they need guns, if they get their claws on you, you’re good as dead.
The Kir’ko likely don’t get on too well with the Syndicate. These guys are a bunch of money-grubbing slavers. Whoops. Hold on. Just got slapped with a threat of legal action from someone named Femita Abaz. So, let me correct my previous statement. The Syndicate are a bunch of money-grubbing guilds that participate in enforced indentured servitude.
It is a foolish person who trifles with The Amazons. Calling them a matriarchy is a bit off as there are simply no men. Steadfast, they live in harmony with nature and ride dinosaurs, dinosaurs with lasers. I like them, but they seem to have resentment with Sister Change.
And well, I already told you about the Assembly. Cyborgs who think the only way to have peace is to break everything down and reassemble it into a new order.
So these are the factions. But I tell you, I’ve seen Vanguard mowing each other down with their giant tanks. I’ve noted Dvar murdering each other over plots of land. Lots of Assembly have opinions on the best way to put things back together. Anyway, you get the idea. Just because they share an origin, doesn’t mean they are pals. Ideological differences can manifest in many ways, and tech is the most obvious.
Beyond Celestian, there is Xenoplague, Psynumbra, Promethean, Synthesis, and Voidtech. So all six factions can have six different variants — these tech flavour unit mods, the technology available for research, methods of interaction, and your victory conditions.
I tell you, folks, if you are looking for variety in playstyles, buckle up. Each faction has a very different feel, and every tech fantastically modifies them. I played with each of the six factions in my lead up to this review, and even when I selected the same tech, it felt like a very different experience. Syndicate Celestian and Assembly Celestian were fun to explore the differences.
The Star Union needs you!
Sister Change and her fellow crusaders had found a small cell of Assembly that had not taken a side in the growing strife. A small colony named Hyperion. Sure she was thrilled to bring another group of her brethren into the Celestian fold, but Crusader IV/R-128 had more pragmatic thoughts on the matter.
IV/R-128 was an Assembly cyborg but did not hail from a Celestian background. Sister Change didn’t ask many questions, feeling that all should have a chance for enlightenment. IV/R-128 showed up, fully merged in a Lighting Rider, one of the Assembly ariel units. I’ll be honest. It looked like a pointy UFO with a face. The hero of our grand Crusade had a background in Voidtech, granting him abilities that the Celestian agents didn’t have. Teleportation, time manipulation, you know – stuff that if you talk too long about it makes your head spin.
IV/R-128 always seemed more grounded. Like he was happy to belong but didn’t precisely drink the Celestial Kool-Drink. But I will say this. He was very excited about us annexing the sector south of Hyperion. The region known as the Municipal Courtside was an industrial powerhouse and allowed our growing colony to proliferate.
Two things I should point out about Sister Change and her Assembly. They may be spiritual and generally peace-loving with other sects around the planet, but they had no qualms about cleansing the world of troublemakers. You know, small groups of marauders, wild beast, or those unwilling to leave them in peace. Second, for a bunch of aggressive religious zealots, their science department was off the charts.
This behaviour was an attitude formed because of a pair of their founding doctrines. Celestial Judgement made all forces that were ‘Enlightened’ able to harm the unenlightened more effectively — the enlightened were the combat units that adhered to a variety of Celestian Tenants. The Tenant of Tranquility was popular among the Vorpal Snipers, known as ‘The Calm.’
The other doctrine was a more dirty business, shared among most Assembly sects. Battlefield Autopsies. Intense study of the fallen enemies allowed for massive breakthroughs in both civic and military technology.
So using the Assembly colonies of Hyperion and Budrion, Sister Change started developing her sects powers rapidly. Eventually, the relative peace of the land broke after IV/R-128 captured and annexed the Applied Esoterics Institute. The Institute was an ancient site of the Star Union and was peacefully taken from the Psi-Fish. The Psi-Fish had a good relationship with Sister Change. It just took a few reminders of the good she had done for them to have their troops pull out with no incident.
The Institute was fully functional. It allowed her already impressive scientific development to expand even more rapidly, that meant quicker converts to her glorious Crusade. Sadly, our recently met neighbours, a sect of Kir’ko led by Chin Til’Trz, also wanted the fantastic structure. Thus war came to our door.
So dear reader, I’m sure you gather there is a whole lot to unpack in this game. You start with a colony and the sector in which the colony originates. As the colony grows in the population, you can annex sectors adjacent to any already owned territory. Some sectors are going to have different resources, unique structures, and of course the all valuable Cosmite.
One of my biggest problems with other strategy games is city placement. You create a new colony, and it is sometimes hard to determine what resources you will be able to grab. Sometimes you need to fight using subsystems of a game to flip tiles over to your control. I imagine this appeals to some, but I find it a hassle after a while. So the sector system that Planetfall uses is fantastic for players like myself.
When you are going to settle a new sector or annex a sector, you know what you will be getting as a pro, and the hazards that await. It makes a game with so much to process easier to understand. Expansion is simple to understand, so too is the ability to guess who you will anger with said expansion. If you settle close to another player without the right treaty in place, it can be cause for justifiable war.
The path to victory in this game has multiple routes. An important note trodding down one way does not mean you can not reach the other. The three interesting methods of winning are Unity, Military, and Development. You can also have the game end after so many turns, and a score is calculated, with the highest score winning. I am not so much of a fan of the forced ending and scoring, but I can see where it would have a place – particularly in multiplayer.
If you have been here before, you know how much I love diplomacy in these games. The richer a diplomacy system, the happier I am. The fact that diplomatic victories are here in a fashion that makes them competitive with the others is fantastic. Granted it is always hard to get those diplomatic victories in multiplayer games with no AI, but not impossible if you are smart.
The Military path to winning allows you to either take out your enemies with raw strength or claim and hold a particular number of sectors. As a player who typically plays defensive turtle empires, this choice also makes me happy. Just holding what is yours can lead you to the top spot.
Development is an interesting one and one I imagine most people will want to go for, if only for the cool factor. This victory condition involves spying, invoking doctrines in the world to shape your empire, and expanding. Eventually, this leads you to the deployment of your technologies doomsday weapon. With the Celestians the doomsday weapon is the forced enlightenment of the world.
Empire building and victory conditions are rich enough to make me keep coming back to try something new. While deep, they do not go to the realm of over-complicated. Here is a game that when you make a mistake, you know why, and you sit and squint at the monitor for a bit, only a little disappointed in yourself. But at least you know what went wrong.
Like many of the best strategy games, the complexity of the systems isn’t dumbed down. Instead, the player can customize their experience. You can alter the difficulty, disable some victory goals, alter resource distribution and much more. I love when games do this. It allows a person to ease into the game in a way that leads to mastery and comprehension without frustration. Options and playing your way seem to be a common theme in Planetfall. This customization allows one to sit back and enjoy the tropes presented in this wild game.
Lasers, Dinosaurs, Bots and more!
The war against the Kir’Ko was quick. Aggressive as they are disgusting. Unreasonable as they were brutal. Sister Change offered several generous peace concessions, not out of fear, or out of weakness – but out of compassion. The Sister and her crusaders had the military numbers, they had the advanced technology, and they had the will of the galaxy on their side. The Kir’ko didn’t stand a chance.
I felt terrible for them, honestly. Sister Change had upgraded into a Lighting Rider, seeing their effectiveness in battle, and she took to the field to lead the troops into battle personally. The arc weapons, the lighting strikes, the missile barrage. After the second Kir’ko colony fell, she tried peace again, but their fury wouldn’t end.
I was there when Chin Til’Trz brought the severely injured remains of his once-proud military to our door. I was there when the Kir’ko died. With their leader defeated, Sister Change brought the colonies of the bug folk into the fold. All troops were outfitted with cybernetic implants and instructed in the tenants of Celestian faith.
War can be hell. It can be a gruelling drawn-out strategic battle. I’ve had tactical fights in this game that lasted upwards of 30 minutes, some a bit longer depending on the number of troops involved. Or if you are pressed for time, don’t want to make other players wait, or just not interested in tactical combat – you don’t need to do it. It is pretty darn optional.
I think there are a couple of mandatory tactical combats in the tutorial, but after that, you can use the auto-combat system. Less smart than you, for sure, but it can save a bunch of time. I tend to lean towards a balanced approached. Super easy fights, or ones I know I’m going to take a loss in, I will leave to auto-combat.
But I love rolling up my sleeves and getting into the tactical aspects of the combat system. The maps can have modifiers, breakable (and sometimes explosive) cover, events that trigger, and defenses. Your troops come outfitted with fun abilities based on the mods you’ve built with Comsite. And of course, the devastating powers of your hero characters and the tactical powers you can deploy.
As a fan of tactical combat, this is a highlight of an already brilliant game. With different strategies available, customizable troops, and tactical options based on your faction or tech choices, there is a load of info to unpack. I think players are going to have hours of fun trying to figure out the craziest combinations. Thankfully all the mods, the abilities they grant, and units inherent abilities are all easy to understand. The game wants you to play, and it shows in the information layout, and its easily searchable in game encyclopedia.
Wonders of the universe abound.
We saw our share of hardships, but the Old Man knows when to get going. The Beacons of Truth are ablaze, and the psionic choir is buzzing in the back of my brain box. Sister Change already told me I wasn’t compatible, and my cups of tea bought me a ticket off-world before Ascension day hit. The Vanguard didn’t know what hit them.
While I departed the world, I was impressed by the beauty of it all. The advisors of Sister Change chattering over the comms, the sound of Sniper rifles keeping the remaining resistance at bay, and the music. I’ll miss the music.
I blasted off to other worlds, maybe to see how the remains of the Star Union fared there. I had heard of a Dvar Psynumbra sect waging war against some Syndicates cells of unknown capabilities on a nearby world. One of them probably needed a janitor or someone handy with a tea kettle.
I have a few things to say about the audio and graphics of this game. From the opening title cards, leader customization, and to the end game units and world map – this game is beautiful. So many interactive structures litter the world map, each of them adding a bit of practical flavour to the game.
Each map I randomly generated almost painted its own story. I started imagining what kind of planet this had been, why these ruins existed, how these creatures came to live in them. This game allows the imagination to run wild in both directions, a sensation that is aided in no small part by the excellent audio of this game. I remember my pal and fellow content creator Lambert being over the moon about the voice acting, and he was right to feel that way. Perhaps it is a smooth voice informing you of one of your new technologies. Maybe just it is the satisfying sound of a sniper rifle going off. No matter what you are hearing, the audio in Planetfall is one of the best I’ve listened to in any modern game. And give me that soundtrack – fantastic, evocative of the genre, and fun.
There is one more thing I want to mention, and that is multiplayer. I knew when I read the developer diary about the adaptive multiplayer system; I was very interested. Now that I was able to get hands-on with it, I am very impressed. Like many aspects of the game, the multiplayer is customizable. The significant advantage I am seeing is that it allows you to sit with your pals, do a 5-hour stint of the game, then change things around. Maybe it will be weeks – or more – before you can all be online at the same time. Easy solution, change a few settings, take your turn, and send a notification that your buddy can play theirs after. I know that play by email isn’t anything new. However, they managed to implement this in a very modern and easy to use way.
I look forward to playing several mp games with friends, fellow streamers, and maybe some strangers.
I am going to be straight up honest folks. I had a chance to play this beast of a game back in the spring when several other content creators and I were invited to give it a shot. While some features were a bit different or incomplete, I knew that Triumph had a winner here.
I had said candidly to my editor that it was going to become one of my new favourite strategy games. This just for scratching that desperate itch I had for a planetary conquest sci-fi game. There is always a risk when a company makes a genre switch for a popular franchise. I am no newcomer to the Age of Wonders series and was a bit concerned until I got my hands on it. I urge any old school fan, who remains hesitant, to give it a shot also.
I feel very confident that this game deserves a 9.5 out of 10. While I wish diplomatic victories seemed more viable for multiplayer, without AI,
Planetfall is going to be a pleaser to fans of strategy 4X, tactical combat, and zany sci-fi tropes.
Review by Joshua Smith (Old Man Mordaith)
Edited by Jesse Roberts
Code provided for review by the publisher.