Age of Wonders III
|Age of Wonders III|
|Producer(s)||Djurre van Dijk|
Arno van Wingerden
|Composer(s)||Michiel van den Bos|
Age of Wonders III is a 4X turn-based strategy video game developed and published by Dutch developer Triumph Studios. It is the fourth game in the Age of Wonders series, following Age of Wonders, Age of Wonders II: The Wizard's Throne and Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic released in 1999, 2002, and 2003 respectively. It was released on March 31, 2014 through digital distribution, as well as through retail in select territories for Microsoft Windows.
The game is set in a high fantasy fictional setting, where players take the role of a leader to explore the world, interacting with other races and kingdoms, both diplomatically and through warfare while progressively expanding and managing their empire. It features a new graphics engine for the series, in addition to an updated soundtrack. The gameplay has also been updated, featuring a new role-playing style leader class based system and interchangeable choices of strategy and appearances for each playable race. It also supports online and local multiple player modes and a level editor along with a new story driven single player campaign mode.
Age of Wonders III, like the previous games in the series is a turn-based strategy game set within a high fantasy universe where the player assumes the role of a political-military leader. Gameplay is 4X-based (explore, expand, exploit and exterminate) where players explore the world map, slowly building an empire through colonization, warfare and diplomacy with rival powers. However new to III is the greater addition of role-playing game features, where players must first choose and customize their leader, all options are dependent on the player's chosen style of play. There are six available races in the initial release: humans, draconians, high elves, dwarves, orcs, and goblins, all that will determine the race of their empire with each having unique perks and abilities. The leader and empire is further shaped by the choice from skill sets based on traditional RPG classes along with further specializations and skills to select. Each leader class also has access to their own unique units with a distinct visual look based on their corresponding race, each to accommodate their own unique approach to strategy, both in combat and when managing their empire. On release there are six different classes a leader can be. The "Sorcerer" class emphasizes the use of magic for enchantments and summoning powerful units. The "Theocrat" derives from an organized religion based society including zealots followers and the use of holy spells and warriors. The "Rogue" favors less direct approaches to situations, employing stealth, thievery and manipulation as well as dark magic in diplomacy and warfare. The "Archdruid" channels the power of nature, using it to their advantage by being very self-sufficient and being able to call upon wild creatures. The "Dreadnaught" leads a steampunk styled society, using large industry, machinery and gunpowder-based units like cannons and tanks. Finally the "Warlord" specializes in direct conflict and combat tactics, utilizing effective non-magic based units and abilities.
Leaders themselves and separate recruitable hero units will be able to gain experience and level up, while also being able to gain new equipment and powers. Players can also develop their alignment between good and evil based on their player's actions and the cultures the player absorbs into their empire, rather than race like the previous games in the series.
Cities themselves provide much of the resources, infrastructure and host to unit recruitment, spell casting and research to unlock more of both, requiring gold, mana and or research points respectively gained through said city prosperity while also exploration. Independent cities and units not immediately aligned to any player/leader are also present in the world map. Units that come from an unaffiliated city will fight to protect a city's domain, nor forget that they're tied to it. Many of these independent settlements aren't cities in the traditional sense, but can be alternative settlements for other races and creatures, like a giant's keep or an undead dwelling for example. The player can conquer these holdings, which will provide units like a city, or they can absorb them through diplomatic means by paying tribute with diplomatic and/or alignment standing affecting their own stance on the player. If the city retains its native population, the player can recruit units of other races besides their own while the player can at any time after absorbing a city into their empire migrate a different population to that city while also being an act of "evil" for their alignment. Different city races are affected by the type of terrain, determining how well they thrive, for example dwarves prefer mountainous landscapes over tropics. Migrating the population or the non-evil act of terraforming the landscape through spells can alleviate this. Quests can also be given to players by independent forces and cities, including but not limited to clearing out wild units and protecting their stronghold. Quests can grant the support of independent forces for player in addition to a reward such as gold or equipment, sometimes with the choice of either given to the player upon completion of the quest.
As in the case of the first game in the series, Age of Wonders III offers a story-driven campaign that is playable from two sides, the human-centric Commonwealth Empire and the Court of the High Elves. In addition to the campaign; single-player scenarios, online multiplayer, random map generation and a map editor are also available. The graphics of Age of Wonders III have also changed to a fully 3D perspective with camera control instead of the isometric view the series has utilized prior.
When two rival players forces engage, either in open battle or during a siege of a city, combat takes place in a separate phase of gameplay within a hexagon grid-based 3D battlefield where units are designated movement and space. Each side can lead multiple armies into battle with up to six units per army, many represented by multiple soldiers forming ranks as a single combatant that reflect their overall health while others are shown as single yet stronger characters. Both sides take turns to move and utilize their units while also being able to grant abilities that can enhance their effectiveness in combat, including magical spells that can also be used to boost unit capabilities, summon in new units and call down potentially very devastating area of effect attacks. Spells that leaders has learnt are usable in every battle regardless of his or her presence while others require hero units to be present, spell usage being limited by their mana pool. Units can also make use of the battlefield environment, such as defensive walls during city sieges, foliage and being able to make use of a flanking manoeuvre where attacks from a units rear can be more effective.
Units are allocated "action points" used for attacking, defending/retaliating and using special abilities, separate from yet dependent on their choice of movement shown by colour coding their choice of hexes they can act within. For example if a unit does not move during their turn, they can perform up to three actions with the surrounding hexes displayed as green to the player, whereas if they move, they would appear orange and could now only perform two actions and finally one with red hexes. Any remaining action points a unit has or does have carries over into the opposition's turn, always having at least one left regardless of how far the unit moved prior. These remaining action points can be used to retaliate against any attacks they received from enemy units during the opposing player's own turn. It is also possible to expend action points entirely, potentially leaving units unable to move and/or retaliate themselves. Other options include the ability to just sprint or guard, greatly raising movement and defense respectively and evoking various different status effects such as stuns and poisons and damage enemy units that move into adjacent hexes.
Before the events of the first game, the elven court was decimated by humans, an invasive race new to the Blessed Continent at the time. The elves split into two factions. The son of the slain king Inioch, Meandor, led the dark elves and the Cult of Storms, a group that intended to wipe out the humans. Inioch's daughter, Julia, led the wood elves and the Keepers, a group that had no genocidal intentions. These factions and others clashed in the Valley of Wonders, around the ruins of the razed elven court. The High Elf race was founded many years later when Julia married a dark elf and reunited their two races. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Empire began as a joining of races for mutual protection and the sharing of knowledge. Though it set out with benign intentions, once the Empire was through expanding, humans seized power and pushed forward with technology and commerce.
The Commonwealth Empire means to sweep aside the old ways and assimilate the world. The Elven Court takes exception to this, and wants to rally the ancient races to stand in defense against imperial ambitions, hence the central conflict of Age of Wonders III.
Following a digital re-release of the original series of games, Age of Wonders III was later announced on February 6, 2013. Development first began in 2010, with many of the original developers of the previous games having returned, with development being led by studio founders Lennart Sas and Arno van Wingerden, while technical producer Djurre van Dijk and game designer Arnout Sas also return. Ray Bingham is the story writer. Jimmy van der Have has been the chief liaison between the development team and the fan community on the official website, with further development also involving the use of regular journals and solicits feedback on the developer game site's official forum, allowing the community to be involved in the testing of the game.
In February 2013, Markus "Notch" Persson, owner of Mojang and founding lead designer of the popular game Minecraft, was revealed as an investment partner in the development of Age of Wonders III. Triumph Studios got into contact with Mojang following the mention of their series with the random blurb for the title screen of Minecraft, leading them to show a demo of the current development stage at the time, including with other potential publishers. Lennart Sas at Triumph stated that "His biggest concern was that it would cost him a lot of time, so it helped that we made this sort of game before and were at an advanced stage of development." This eventually allowed the studio to opt to self-publish following further funding, being an unconventional approach to funding and publishing, without the use of Kickstarter like many sequels to other classic PC titles in development during that period. Persson himself is a fan of the previous Age of Wonders games and instead went on the help simply fund the development of III rather than having any publishing rights or ownership.
While a random map generator has been promised, additional tools for extensive, user-created content are also planned.
Though originally intended for release in late 2013, it was pushed back to early 2014 to allow for a greater investment of time and resources. The game was released worldwide on 31 March 2014, predominantly through digital distribution including online store platforms Steam and GOG.com, published by the developer themselves. Limited retail physical copies are planned to be published in Europe by third party publishers including EuroVideo who are publishing a "Limited Collector's Edition" with a figurine, soundtrack and digital content codes in central Europe while Techland are publishing a "Special Edition" with a guide and stickers, with Namco Bandai and Buka published standard retail copies in other European countries. The digital versions also have pre-purchase bonus missions as well as the option of a "Deluxe Edition" that comes with a digital copy of the soundtrack and a further additional mission.
The soundtrack of the game was composed by Michiel van den Bos, a Dutch musician and disc jockey who had previously worked on Triumph Studios' past developed titles including Overlord and Overlord II and the previous Age of Wonders games, in addition to other studios' games including Unreal Tournament and Deus Ex. Many of the tracks from the original games were remade; Van den Bos noted that the newer technology available has allowed him to create these tracks as they "sounded in his head" when he was working on original Age of Wonders.
Adam Smith reviewing for Rock, Paper, Shotgun called Age of Wonders III "solidly constructed", praising the customization options and map generator for being able to "create interesting and attractive worlds", along with the battle system, calling it "cleverly... integrated". Sean Engemann of Cheat Code Central noted the choice and variety of play, stating that "it bears the hallmark only a few empire building games have--the addiction to take 'just one more turn'". Maxwell McGee of GameSpot also enjoyed the combat, feeling it was "where Age of Wonders III really shines", calling them "tactically rewarding" in addition to "streamlined empire management". Colin Campell reviewing for Polygon noted the degree of strategy within the gameplay, stating that "this is truly a grand strategy game; brains are a non-optional component to victory", positively commenting on the level of shifting difficultly and events throughout the average game before concluding that it is "tough to wield so much power, but control is hard-earned. As it should be". Rowan Kaiser at IGN however was less favorable towards the story campaign mode due to what he considered "too-huge maps and insta-fail conditions", instead preferring the "small, crowded maps that forced more tactical battles".
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