One more turn syndrome is a dangerous condition that affects many of us when we play good strategy games. Whether it be making the epic choices that will chart the course of an empire, or the tactical decisions one must make in the heat of battle, the desire to keep seeing what comes next is often what separates the good from the great. Thanks to a wonderful shift in genre and some great customization options, Age of Wonders: Planetfall is firmly in the latter category.
Developed by Triumph Studios, Age of Wonders: Planetfall is a turn-based strategy game in the vein of classic 4X titles, mixed with a tactical battle system that’s just as complex and interesting, that has a dollop of RPG elements in the form of heroes and levels for good measure. I had not played any previous Age of Wonders title before Planetfall, but that knowledge wasn’t needed. Instead of focusing on is fantasy roots, what with elves, dwarves, and magic, Planetfall takes to the stars to explore science fiction.
The Star Union, the intergalactic human empire, has collapsed after some unknown cataclysm. To survive you must pick a faction, create a personalized commander, and land on a decimated planet to establish yourself as the future of humanity in whatever form that takes. This is not a grand strategy game in the style of fellow Paradox Interactive title Stellaris, where the action takes place across a galaxy. There is only one planet, but it’s teeming with monsters, resources, and other factions fighting for dominance.
Which means you’ll be engaging in diplomacy, sending out armies to clear ruins, and trying to make sure you don’t go bankrupt in the process. What’s notable about Planetfall is how well-paced it feels, as everything moves swiftly with little time spent waiting for things to build. Structures and units can often be completed in a handful of turns, and there’s always just enough choices to make that a turn isn’t too long or too short.
The progression is familiar — you start with one colony, explore the nearby area, and build more colonies to expand – but how you do so isn’t. The map is divided into colourful and vibrant sectors, each with their own properties, that can be used to build new colonies or can be annexed by existing ones. One sector may be under the effects of random gravitational fluxes, but its abandoned research station makes it worth fighting for. Each sector has hard boundaries, effectively making it so that conflict arises not from control of cities, but from control of territories. If there’s anything disappointing about this method, is that it lacks variety that is present elsewhere. Colony management feels too simple, in contrast to the rest of Planetfall, and I found myself going through the motions with each colony no matter the faction or sector.
The same cannot be said for the factions themselves. Never let it be said Planetfall isn’t lacking for character. In fact, it’s one of its greatest strengths. There are six primary factions to choose from, ranging from the dinosaur-riding Amazons, the Russian oligarch-like Dvar, and the former insectoid hive mind that is the Kir’Ko. Each is pretty weird by design, even if only one of the factions is not human. Take The Syndicate, which is what you get when you cross a prim and proper nobility with a ruthlessness that would put the Mafia to shame. While the number of factions is small, they are very customizable thanks to the smart addition of secret tech.
Along with choosing a faction, you must choose a research theme that established much of what your faction’s research can be focused on. In my case, that meant combining the Amazons with xenoplague tech that could be used to create biological weapons that infected both allies and enemies. Even the Vanguard, who are the most bog-standard space military you could imagine, are imminently more interesting and customizable when you make them capable of summoning AI-daemons.
The customization extends even further down into the units you create yourself. Each unit type, of which there are many, can be outfitted with modifications that can change their abilities and basic structure. For example, I attached parasites to many of my basic Amazon units so that they would have a chance of infecting enemies and creating more units once the battle was done. Or, you could add shielding to a pterodactyl to ensure that it won’t get blown to bits the moment it enters range. These options can be independently built from others, meaning that you’re incentivised to field specialized units to make your army as diverse as possible.
When it comes time to use those units, Age of Wonders: Planetfall is a treat. Battles take place in hex based locations based off of the terrain you fight in, with each unit having three actions per turn that can be used on movement, attacks, and abilities. Taking into account enemy resistances and compositions, along with an emphasis on line of sight and proper cover, Planetfall’s combat is surprisingly deep. It’s a good system, one made better by destructible environments and tactical operations that can be called in to change the course of play. However, early game fights are disappointing affairs, primarily because you can only field six units in a single army. Since adjacent armies can take part in battles however, that problem goes away by the time the mid-game rolls around.
When it comes to bugs, apart from the Kir’Ko, they appear more frequently I’d like, but not enough to pose a major concern. Most of the time, these took the form of visual bugs that didn’t load textures or projectiles. Rarely, I experienced a bug that prevented me from ending my turn, which could be simply fixed with a quicksave and load. Taken together, Age of Wonders: Planetfall is a crisp and deep strategy game that excels thanks to its focused effort to create an interesting and colourful universe that is built on customization. Its fast pace ensures that there is always something to do, and the deep tactical layer keeps it all from becoming too simple. Hats off to Triumph Studios; this is a damn good game.