Age Of Wonders: Planetfall Review

  • First Released Aug 6, 2019
  • PC

Homeworld bound.

The fifth and latest in the long-running Age of Wonders series is the first to trade in the staple high fantasy setting for a sleek and shiny sci-fi theme. Despite the change of scenery, it remains true to its roots, delivering a very good hybrid between turn-based tactics and 4X strategy game that is at its best when it focuses on people--both the people you meet and the people you send to war.

4X strategy games tend to present the lands they ask their players to explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate as uninhabited. It's common to begin a new game with a settler unit and the implicit promise that this is a world yet to be settled. It's there for the taking. The colonialist fantasy extends to indigenous populations, if they exist at all, being treated as incidental. At best they are neutral props without any ambition of their own; at worst they are nothing more than vermin to be eradicated.

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Age of Wonders: Planetfall offers a different perspective. Instead of conquering a new world, you are returning home ages after a calamity drove your ancestors away. There is still war to be had, there are still peoples to displace--this remains a 4X game in the Sid Meier tradition. But in the light narrative touch of a quest system that gives voice and purpose to everyone you meet, there are moments of reconnection and rediscovery. In a sense it becomes a 5X game, allowing you to exhume and reclaim traces of your civilization's history.

This emphasis on archaeology is more prevalent in the surprisingly substantial campaign mode than in the randomly-rolled maps of the scenario mode. The 13 campaign missions, which let you play as all six of the game's half-dozen factions, are peppered with scripted story beats that succeed in fleshing out the history of and relations between the various civilizations. Visit a foreign colony and you might trigger a conversation between your commander and another faction leader in which you're asked to perform a quest to gain their favor. Later you might encounter a third faction who promises you some vital insight into your own objectives in return for betraying the friendship you recently forged.

Such choices are fraught. Each faction, even the minor indigenous ones, is busy cultivating relationships with the others, and it soon becomes clear that every new decision you make will ripple out and meaningfully affect your standing in the world.

The random scenario mode can't rely on the scripted story of the campaign, but each procedurally generated map still supports the same dynamic quest system. One faction might task you with helping them complete some important research, while another urges you to hunt down a pack of troublesome enemies pillaging their lands. Such quests not only keep you engaged with interfactional diplomacy but also serve to provide clear motivation for exploring new areas and expanding your borders in specific directions.

Regardless of whether you opt for the campaign or a scenario, you begin with a single settlement and gradually take over adjacent sectors to secure access to their resources. You build military units to go to war or to protect your newly acquired holdings. You colonize unclaimed sectors and upgrade them to specialize in supplying your colony with food, energy, research, or production. You have to get your head around the unintuitive sci-fi names of many technologies, structures, and units, but hover the mouse over Kinetic Force Manipulation to bring up the tooltip and you quickly realize it simply means "Better Guns."

Indeed, it's all fairly straightforward for anyone who has played Civilization or dabbled in the strategic layer of a Total War, though sometimes it does feel like expansion decisions are not really choices at all. When faced with the prospect of expanding into one of two possible sectors, you're always going to pick the one that receives bonus production from its quarry over the one that offers no bonuses of any kind. Occasionally you'll have to weigh the benefits of one resource over another, but they aren't genuine either/or choices--they're more akin to whether you need that food-rich river sector now or whether you want it a little bit later.

Among the structures you can build with a colony, there's also a disappointing lack of variety. Most of what you can construct are incremental upgrades that boost resource production while unique buildings, like the world wonders in Civilization, or anything that truly changes your style of play (rather than merely accelerating it) are felt only in their absence.

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More interesting decisions arrive in combat. Armies can contain up to six units and are lead by a hero unit commander. When two or more hostile armies meet on the world map, combat is resolved via a remarkably full-feature XCOM-style tactical battle. Every unit can move individually, take partial or full cover, attack in melee or at range, and call upon a number of specialized abilities. The range of options at your disposal here is dizzying.

Each unit can be outfitted with primary and secondary weapons and up to three ability mods earned through quest rewards or unlocked on the tech tree. You can apply a template to all units of the same class, so that newly recruited infantry, for example, will all have increased accuracy and healing. But if you're like me, you'll enjoy rolling up your sleeves to customize every single unit in your army. Adding to the complexity, hero units can learn skills that not only enhance their own abilities but confer buffs to the units they lead.

I loved having the authority to develop specialized armies. In my current game, I have one army composed of snipers led by a commander who uses mind control debuffs and a second army focused around a melee tank supported by defensive grunts who can throw down portable cover anywhere on the battlefield. The degree of customization allowed is both flexible and powerful.

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This sort of specialization matters because you can bring multiple armies into the same fight--and indeed, it becomes essential as you encounter tougher armies into the mid- and late-game. Any army on the world map that is situated adjacent to the hex where combat is initiated will be drawn into the conflict. Thus, a huge part of the tactical considerations at work here comes from maneuvering your troops to outnumber the enemy. Combat can be auto-resolved, allowing you to either watch the AI simulate the tactical battle or skip straight to the outcome, but doing so results in unnecessary losses in all but the most lopsided contests.

Overall, Age of Wonders: Planetfall is a robust package for 4X players who want to test themselves against a more in-depth combat system than is typically found in the genre. It suffers a little from its sci-fi setting making things just that little bit harder to relate to than, say, actual human history, but it compensates by creating a cast of fictional alien civilizations that are worth getting to know. It might not quite feel like home at first, but you'll quickly settle in.

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The Good
The tactical combat is satisfyingly complex
Loads of unit customization means you can train the right army for the right situation
The campaign's story beats see each faction come to life as so much more than a collection of attributes
The dynamic quest system has a real impact on the ebb and flow of interfactional diplomacy
The Bad
Colony building could do with some more meaningful choices
Lacks the variety of structures that some other 4X games support
Sci-fi names can be confusing
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

David Wildgoose was very disappointed with Firaxis' Civ: Beyond Earth from a few years back and thinks Planetfall does a much better job emulating the spirit of Alpha Centauri. He played through the campaign and a handful of scenarios across around 30 hours.
27 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Avatar image for yayayu

Mutat got9?? this got7? what a joke but I do ageed with all the nagatives.

Avatar image for amfenar

game has 87 on metacritics. This review is biased. Meantime they give 8 to Wolfenstein Youngblood and it has 67 in metacritics (users) and also criticized almost everywhere. Any thoughts?

Avatar image for xantufrog

@amfenar: my thought? different genres, reviewers, opinions. The scores have nothing to do with each other

Avatar image for ukgamer51

Ive been playing this since Tuesday and end up going to bed late every night, Cant seem to put the game down once I start playing it, Id give it an 8 overall, Its a little bit confusing at first understanding the perks and upgrades, But loving the game at the mo.

Avatar image for registeredpunk

Seriously, if one more game has the "Fall" in their title.....

Avatar image for bobbo888

@registeredpunk: besides Titanfall, I can't think of another that has a similar name...

Avatar image for MashedBuddha

@bobbo888: Shadowrun: Dragonfall

Avatar image for xantufrog

@MashedBuddha: and Killzone: Shadow Fall!

But either way - I can't bring myself to care... Planetfall is a perfectly logical name for this game

Avatar image for deviltaz35

Xbox one X has two modes where you can play 4k or higher frame rate where it seems to be a locked 60 fps or close to just in case anyone was interested. It's good to see devs offering these sorts of options in any case.

Avatar image for siarhei


Avatar image for Mogan

@siarhei: It's not though.

Avatar image for blueinheaven

I watched IGN's video review of this game and it sounded like a 6 the guy complained about everything but the combat but it got an 8.4.

I read Gamespot's review of this game and it sounded like a 9 he liked everything but had some very minor complaints but it got a 7.

I don't understand the world anymore.

Avatar image for eLite0101

@blueinheaven: Let me explain it to you.

In today's world, reviewer cannot simply say (his/her) true reasons because those may often be regarded as "personal opinions" and his whole site/company may even get as far as law suited, but usually higher staff may discredit or fire him. That's why today, you almost never see game being down-scored by the attributes such as "boring" for example.

Instead you may see completely ridiculous excuses like "performance", "bugs" and so on, yet 2 different games with same "attributes" will get significantly different score. How come? Simple. One was less boring than other.

This game is a good example. You can have a pretty much well-around game with no significant flaws like this one, but if it is na uninspired rehash of all you have seen already 1000 times since HOMM1 and there just isn't anything original or something that make's you not to let go till morning, that's the score game get. 7, sometimes even 8(depending on estimated public expectations). Reviewer cannot simply write "game is a freaking boring garbage *to me*, 5/10 - bye" because he would get eaten alive and fired. He knows game have no significant flaws and may appeal to many people(without experience and/or substance) who haven't seen it all before. They won't know there is no new art and everything is reused ideas from other games(like research tree looking straight from civ. copy). So the game get 7(to play safe and keep the job and name), after all it's overall well rounded who care about originality or "hookness". That's personal after all.

Also forget reading pros and cons they are fabricated garbage. Score is closest you get to real reviewer impressions of the game but even then you need to look beyond, so like in this case since we know game is "just unoriginal and /or boring" but AAA otherwise, score cannot be less that 7 from professional view, real score is thus 5-6. That is, completely mediocre game or slightly above if you dig this type.

Now after you "re-calculate" game's score to be more real, next you need to ask yourself who you are and what you like to play. How much of this have you played before, is it your favorite style, do you care about originality/ideas or are you ok with just next game existing etc. Based on that you will know whether this is for you.

Long story short, don't expect real reasons spelled out to you on a professional website and forget about completely made up "good and bad". 7 in this case mean: game is uninspired and boring, otherwise pragmatically without significant flaws. That's the score between the lines. And reason it is scored differently elsewhere is again for same reasons, IGN(and most of player base) either have even less substance to them, or they couldn't care less.

Avatar image for blueinheaven

@eLite0101: I've seen a lot of reviews on this game and the general consensus does not tally with your opinion. I'm guessing you've played too many games of this type and you're a bit burned out, otherwise you wouldn't think 7 is a bad score and not a single review has suggested the game is uninspired and boring.

Lots of reviews are really positive but like I said in another post it really doesn't matter too much what the scores are. What I need is information on the game and how it plays so I can make my own buying decision.

I agree the score gives the best overall impression of how much the reviewer likes or dislikes the game but if the reviewer does his or her job properly and conveys how the game plays and what it feels like to play without personal bias I will be able to tell that for example their 6 would easily be a 9 for me based on my own preferences.

TLDR: the score tells you how much the reviewer likes it. Read the text to find out how much you will like it.

Avatar image for davidwildgoose

@blueinheaven: 7 is a "Good" score! I really liked the combat but felt the strategic layer fell a bit flat. It's definitely a good game overall.

Avatar image for blueinheaven

@davidwildgoose: Yeah I consider 7 a good score but this game for some reason review scores don't match the text/video. Doesn't matter really, I got enough info from the reviews (including yours) to see it's a game I definitely want to buy and that's the main thing.

Avatar image for deviltaz35

@davidwildgoose: Apparently the AI is a bit iffy too isn't it? . This was mentioned on online reviews? One reviewed it as a 9 despite this and said it was a very fun game but AI would annoy me if it's all over the place.

Avatar image for bobbo888

@deviltaz35: What do you mean 'if the AI is all over the place?' There's nothing wrong with the AI in this game lol.

Avatar image for buzznugget

I could play Three Houses and Planetfall at the same time? I've always wanted to do something like that.

Avatar image for deviltaz35

@buzznugget: Yeah do something wild. I once played Spider Solitaire whilst solving a Rubix Cube :)

Avatar image for xantufrog

Very excited for this

Avatar image for gargungulunk

This game "looks" great. I'm watching the play-video to get more of the pacing. 4X games are hard for me to get into, the focus always seems to be build the bigger army.

I enjoyed Civ:BE quite a bit, it was a bit flat in narrative, but I enjoyed the resource gathering and feel of exploring the sci-fi map. Glad to hear this game isn't bad.

Avatar image for Mogan

@gargungulunk: I can't speak for the rest of the game, but I'm playing the first campaign mission, which involves dealing with three different factions, and for each of them there's been a quest chain I can do to avoid going to war.

I don't want a pacifist run, but I'm hoping there are more alternatives to fighting everything throughout the rest of the campaign.

Avatar image for MigGui

Well, Wildgoose was “very disappointed with Civ:BE” and thinks this is a better game. Civ:Be is a solid 7 for me, then I suspect I will enjoy this one even more.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat

The moment that Triumph Studios announced that it wants to make an Age of Wonders game in sci-fi space, I knew that it is going to have a hard time. It will be compared to Alpha Centauri instead of being compared to the earlier Age of Wonders titles.

Also, that bit about the sci-fi gobbledygook descriptions of techs that actually do straightforward thing is not a surprise to me. A lot sci-fi 4X games are guilty of this shitty tradition of giving too much text to techs that are just 'Mark II' or 'Mark III' of existing techs. (At least Paradox's Stellaris mentions what stuff that the player is getting.)

Age of Wonders: Planetfall More Info

  • First Released Aug 6, 2019
    • Linux
    • Macintosh
    • + 3 more
    • PC
    • PlayStation 4
    • Xbox One
    Average Rating2 Rating(s)
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    Developed by:
    Triumph Studios
    Published by:
    Paradox Interactive
    Strategy, Turn-Based
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Blood, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes