You see the enemy trying to retreat. You think to yourself, do I position my archers in a position where they could kill the stragglers? But if you do, the enemy’s next wave of attacks will surely slaughter your archers.
Do you move them out of harm’s way and wait for a better chance to attack, or do you go all out and accept a few deaths as the cost of war? This and many other such decisions decide the tide of battle in the enjoyable Age of Wonders III.
Each turn is filled with questions and counter questions, all of which derive from the organic nature in which a battle develops. When you have so many different variables on a battlefield, each turn feels like a mini battle in itself. Do you maneuver yourself slightly ahead with the decisions you make this turn, or will your choices come back to haunt you later? This is what makes combat in Age of Wonders III interesting. It’s a complex, intricate game that rewards foresight and nerves of steel. Age of Wonders is surprisingly easy to understand, even for new players, and the fast combat and minimal management aspects keep it accessible to players of all skill levels.
The Game Play:
You begin the game by choosing to play as one of several heroes, each of which have their strengths and weaknesses. But before you can conquer the world, you will need an army, and your army will need a city to house itself. You will have to go about building both of these. Luckily, you don’t have to perform too much micromanagement to run a city. Once you’ve chosen which buildings you want to build, it pretty much runs on its own. Once in a while, the people in your city might be disillusioned by their living conditions, but these can be remedied by adding a few buildings or using a charm. After all, this is a game about battle, not about city building.
Once your army is on the field, you have to go about exploring your surroundings to find strategic locations such as mines and temples. Most of these locations will require you to defeat a few enemies before you stake your control on them. Once you have control of them, they will start generating resources for you to use.
Your troops gain experience in combat. All of your units gain experience and levels, and upgrade to stronger versions of themselves. When heroes level up, they gain additional abilities. You will have to choose your abilities wisely to reflect your particular play style. You have to choose between offensive, defensive and crowd control abilities. Once you feel your army is robust enough, you can begin your conquest.
When you start waging wars against your opponents, Age of Wonders III really shines. Beating another army in battle requires a lot of thinking and tactical decision making. Battles take place on a grid that reflects the terrain of the battlefield. You will have to use the type of area you are fighting in to your advantage if you want to win.
You will need to know your army well if you want to succeed in combat. There are units that work well against certain other kinds of units, for example troops which carry shields that can deflect arrows. Your enemies will use these tactics too, so expect to be flanked, have spells cast upon your units, and run into an ambush every now and again. When you truly understand all of these different variables at a subconscious level, you will be able to lead your armies to the ultimate glory. Don’t be intimidated though. Even though there is a lot of information to take in, Age of Wonders III eases you into it by providing helpful tips and information wherever necessary.
In addition to leveling up your army, you will also have the option of upgrading the way your empire functions. You can research new technologies, spells and abilities that are unique to the class you are playing as. Some of these abilities are randomly assigned at the start of a game, and you will have to capitalize on whatever abilities you have already got to progress in a logical fashion through the game. You might start out with a few aggressive spells and research other spells that complement that aggression, for example. Like any good leader, you must adapt and make the best use of your available resources and capabilities.
There is a single player as well as a multiplayer mode available. The single player mode allows you to play through the story as well as choose custom game types and random maps. When you want to pit yourself against actual human opponents, you can choose the multiplayer option and find somebody to battle against. The multiplayer options are a bit finicky as of now, but hopefully the developers will fix this soon.
Even though the online multiplayer struggles a bit, Age of Wonders III is an enjoyable game. With its deep and complex combat and empire building system, it puts you straight into the heart of the action. The graphics are competent and units look detailed enough even when you zoom all the way in. Like most good strategy games, it is easily accessible to most players but hard to master. You will find different ways to use your units and the terrain the more you keep playing, and outsmarting a particularly difficult opponent is always satisfying. Age of Wonders III is a worthy successor to the wonderful strategy series, and is a must-play if you are a fan of turn-based games.