After pivoting to sci-fi in the excellent Age of Wonders: Planetfall (opens in new tab), Triumph Studios is returning to its fantasy roots with its strategy sequel Age of Wonders 4. The team's been working away in secret for a few years now, which means it's nearly ready. Age of Wonders 4 will be arriving on PC and consoles on May 2, 2023.
The series first kicked off in '99, offering an alternative to the Heroes of Might & Magic series, featuring turn-based campaigns where rulers must divide their attention between exploring a fantasy realm, building up their coffers, enhancing their cities and duking it out in tactical battles with diverse armies.
Age of Wonders 3 (opens in new tab) made plenty of improvements to the already compelling formula, upping the ante when it came to the tactical battles and letting players customise their leaders with RPG-like character creation and progression systems. With Age of Wonders 4, this level of customisation has been expanded to your empire, letting you create things as strange as "a clan of cannibal halflings".
As you can see from the gameplay showcase (opens in new tab), there are quite a few steps before you start a new game. First, you define certain parameters for the realm, from its climate to the traits of its inhabitants, letting you create a desert that's full of megafauna, or a chilly realm that's been claimed by dragons.
Then you start customising your people—though you can skip this by selecting a premade faction. There's a lot to pick from, including elves, rats, toads, orcs etc. I didn't see it in the list, but I'm very much hoping I'll be able to create a society of evil dire penguins—my favourite critters in the last game. After you've chosen your peoples' form, you can pick their culture, making them feudal, barbarians, industrious and so on. But you're still not done; you've then got to select society traits—of which there are many—which lets you turn them into cannibals or make them gifted spellcasters.
Your ruler is once again fully customisable, too, and if you pick the Wizard King origin, it doesn't need to be the same species as your faction. You can have an elven wizard ruling over a society of barbarian orcs, if that tickles your fancy.
Tomes of Magic let you enhance your empire further, one of which you'll be able to select straight away. These are wide-ranging, giving you a set of spells that can enhance your troops, summon creatures or buff your empire. Tomes also stop your faction from being static. By unlocking new ones, you'll get access to new spells, buildings and can even physically transform your people, creating angelic beings or something more nefarious.
Age of Wonders 4 also touts a new event system, buffing up the story portion of this 4X romp and letting you further define your empire. If you encounter someone selling captives, for instance, agreeing to take these prisoners off their hands or fighting the slavers opens up a bunch of options. Maybe you'll send them back home, improving your relationship with another faction, making it easier to vassalise them later on.
Speaking of fighting, we get to see a scrap between orcs and a fire giant in a quarry. It's an interesting map, full of bottlenecks and terrain obstacles, which the developers take full advantage of to swiftly demolish their hot, lumbering foe. Sieges are also returning, but Triumph didn't share any details on what's changed in that type of fight.
At the end of the presentation, the developers jump ahead to turn 69, where we get to see the ways we can influence the world. Neutral cities have been integrated into the empire, and the land around the capital is now covered in snow—the result of a specific cryomancy spell. The orcs have also been transformed and now have icicles sprouting out of their bodies, which gives them immunity to being frozen and lets them move faster through the snow.
Closing out the reveal, Triumph also teases the Pantheon system, which means that actions you take in one game can feed into future ones, giving you new unlocks for your characters and new realms to play in. You'll also encounter your custom leaders in future games, much like how Stellaris uses your custom empires to fill up its galaxies.
It all sounds pretty fantastic. And thank goodness we won't have to wait a year or more to get our hands on it. May isn't very far off, and hopefully we'll have even more details to share before then.