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Review: Age of Wonders—Planetfall

Developer: Triumph Studios
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Genre: 4x, Strategy
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating
: T for Teen
Price: $49.99

Age of Wonders fans may cringe when they see this, but its very name makes me think fondly of Heroes of Might and Magic. We may be twenty years removed from its release, but I remember AoW as very good HoMM clone. On the other hand, those who started with AoW would be right to accuse HoMM of concept-theft, particularly with how Heroes of Might and Magic 4 implemented “open” isometric battlefield. Then again, AoW2’s dungeons draw comparisons to Might & Magic, and so on. 

Admittedly, I skipped Age of Wonders 3, even when it was free. Between The Elder Scrolls, Pillars of Eternity (2), Divinity: Original Sin (2), Baldur’s Gate (2), Dragon Age (3?), Kingdom Come: Deliverance, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Dragon’s Dogma, and yes, even The Witcher (3), I fatigue of high fantasy and its Occidental approach to all things fiction (okay, I am ABSOLUTELY playing BG3). However, I was totally sold when I discovered that AoW would take to outer-space. One problem remained: though I am well-versed in strategy and tactics games, my experience with 4x games is minimal. 

Content Guide

The T for Teen rating for Age of Wonders: Planetfall is analogous to the “online interactions not rated by the ESRB” message that appears when firing up a game. I think Planetfall could pass for an E for Everyone if it were not for the fact that it is a war game, and in war people die. I do not recall eruptions of blood and gore, but units do fall over dead after receiving lethal damage. Equally grotesque and awesome are the Assembly, a faction whose bodies bear the toll of their obsession with scientific ascension. 

It’s a considered a faux-pas these days to “kink shame,” but I’m totally giving a side-eye to dudes digging chicks with missing torsos.

Soldiers who have spent 200 years in cryosleep discuss the possibility of enjoying the vices of a pleasure bot establishment. Patronizing this location spirals into an entire side-quest concerning an investigation of misused Succubots. 

I know why this is in the game, yet I still ask why.

 

Review

Shepard has ascended since the last time I have used that last name.

Though we received our review copy of Age of Wonders: Planetfall courtesy of TriplePoint PR around the same time as most other outlets—long enough to be under embargo—I delayed this review for an extra week beyond the big launch date. My first impression of Planetfall was not positive. Despite playing the tutorial, reading as much non-spoilery information in the fabulous dev diary as possible, and spending ten hours in the first mission, I did not like the game. Perhaps it was my mistake for going in expecting HoMM/AoW at best, and Total War at worst. Instead, Planetfall presented to me a game that moves at a snail’s pace and perplexes me with its economy system; I never knew if from if I had banked enough production points to initiate a construction spree, nor could I discern how to trigger a zero-turn build time for an offensive unit.

I have no idea what I am doing. All these icons!

I am glad that I spent an extra week with Planetfall, for this investment in the game has yielded no little pleasure. Though I still think the game’s economy is obtuse, its AI soft, and its pacing sluggish, I believe there is enough here to warrant the hype. Beginning a campaign prompts a tutorial that simulates an AI interface explaining concepts in block paragraphs when a game of this scope could have utilized step-by-step instructions. For example, if I wanted to build a doomsday army, then Planetfall should show me the fastest rout to accumulate energy, the game’s primary source for all things martial. Energy is also used to execute Operations protocols, ranging from tactical (“spells” during battles) to (counter) espionage against other factions, such as spying or siphoning energy. Oh, and do not forget diplomacy! Make war, or better, allies, and so on. 

Miss??? Indeed, find better positioning before attacking or get used to seeing reduced offensive effectiveness.

I am not going to list the economic possibilities here, because numbering them all would require scientific notation. What I did understand is that after establishing a base, its population grows by 1 per x-many turns. Typically, the more food grown, the faster the colony grows, and the unhappier it becomes due to population. One can mollify happiness by building specific structures and allocating people there who cannot be also assigned to food or energy or production or research. Annexing additional sectors (think provinces or commanderies in Total War: Three Kingdoms) will increase resources based upon landmarks within that sector as well as the terrain on which it sits. My strategy, then, is thus: prioritize sectors with landmarks and go heavy on food in early-game so that the population will be there to distribute elsewhere when necessary. I am still trying to figure out what sectors with multiple icons for the four main resources mean. And do not forget the rarest resource, cosmite, the resource that exists to the detriment of rush strategies!

The primary contributor to Planetfall’s tempo is the agonizing rate of accumulating resources to do…well…anything. The other culprits are the double research branches of military and society (econ). Let me put it this way: on average, a campaign map takes me ten hours to achieve victory, and by then, I might have only barely unlocked tier IV units when tier VII exist. Whew!

That giant tractor on this battlefield is actually on loan from an allied faction. I would have had to play for at least an hour more in playtime just to unlock the tech for it.

Bewildering economies aside—and I do consider research an extension of economy—there is much to look forward to in Planetfall. First of all, when I express exasperation in regards to high fantasy, it is as if Triumph Studios had heard my lament in the Great Beyond. The art direction here is delectable; though I probably should expect this from a strategy game with its history, I am nevertheless relieved that it delivers in the sci-fi department. I made fun of the Assembly faction in the Content Guide, but that faction has some sick units, and I mean that in both senses of the word. Mass Effect fans will struggle stifling a chuckle when they see the Hanar Psi-Fish and Volus and Dvar, yet be amazed at seeing the concept of of space jellyfish and dwarves as fully-imagined concepts. I have seen dino-riders before, but here, the Amazons shoot laser guns instead of bows and arrows. 

These assembly units are wicked! Both nightmare fuel and an inspiration in racial design.

While the basis of all six of the playable races are anthropomorphic, where even the basic ranged tier I unit may appear identical to that of any other race, there are too many subtle differences to name, such as a teleport function, or AOE damage grenade, or the ability to entrench anywhere on the map. These variations exist for every faction at every tier, and after accounting for every unit in the game being eligible for modification, the permutations for army possibilities are mind-boggling yet meaningful, right down to the implementation of heroes, and giving them vehicles (some games would call these mounts) that effectively doubles their battlefield impact. Combat taking place on a grid full of hexagonal paths will be familiar to most with even minimal experience in strategy games. The combat phase is by far the most fun part of the game, since there is much to learn about combat effectiveness.

Again, the art direction is on point, no question. There are inconsistencies, though, with graphical fidelity and animation quality. All of the scenery is fantastic, and fights are rife with destructible and obstacles that can be exploited for tactical advantages. Likewise, the units themselves reflect the kind of quality that I have been blessing thus far. However, the rigid animations on display while while units move, attack, or take damage betray the game’s otherwise high-quality rendering. While these animations are tolerable, they protrude distractingly among the awesome everything else. 

Playing as the Kir’ko, I began to understand the benefits and vulnerabilities of aerial units. Here, I melt whatever is on the screen here into a blob of plasma and enzymes.

Admittedly, I have not finished the entire campaign (check the pulse of anyone who claims that they have; they are probably a bot), but what I have played thus far is promising. The standard human race, the Vanguard, are part of a federation that oversees its own intergalactic dominance. Yet the player’s division goes into cryosleep for 200 years, and awakens to its empire in ruins. The mission is to find out what happened. Meanwhile, the Zerg and Protoss hybrid Kir’ko were once subjugated to human dominance and seek the telepathic call of their ancestors. Of the races I have played, the Dvar are the least-exciting on the outside, seemingly a race of Russians trying to make good with a clan conclave. How these three along with the Assembly, Amazons, and Syndicate interlock, I look forward to discovering. 

Okay…Dvar not so bad, lol.

Though I plan to play Planetfall all the way through, it has also reminded me why I shy away from 4x games. I can handle “grand strategy,” but coming fresh from a Three Kingdoms campaign to this, I prefer a better “action-to-wait ratio. Setting aside my personal preferences, the merits of Planetfall are evident. I look forward to unveiling how the collection of factions learn to play nice…or not. Overall, I am pleased.

Categories
Gaming PC Reviews

Review: Overlord—Raising Hell (PC)

OverlordboxartDeveloper: Triumph Studios
Publisher: Codemasters
Genre: RPG
Rating: T 
Price: $9.99

 

In preparation for Suicide Squad we are taking a look at villainy from multiple angles as well as some infamous bad guys that have appeared over the years. Overlord is an interesting case because you are playing as the villain. Of course there are multiple games that have bad guys as the lead role, though in Overlord, Triumph Studios twists things in such a way that makes your actions more lawful evil than if you choose to play that way. This game is satire; the main focus is not to cause chaos and do evil because you can. It pokes fun at the high fantasy theme along with the races you will find in the genre and is technically a Sauron simulator.

Content Guide

Overlord was only given a T rating, so much of the content comes lighter than one would expect. One example is the bloodthirsty unicorns. While not shown in detail, a unicorn can be seen picking up is head from eating a body while having blood on his chest. The crude humor in this game is mostly showcased in the silly antics of your minions, but it remains to be mostly light hearted except for a few occasions. When sweeping your goblins through tables they stop for a drink, and the alcoholic content of these beverages is implied by their sighs of relief and urinating sound seconds after they stop. As the Overlord, you will be commanding your minions to fight enemies and ransack buildings. Chances are that you will be taking part in the combat on multiple occasions.
Though the game’s expansion is called “Raising Hell” you are actually not doing the raising yourself. you are fighting against it. Portals appear that are leading villagers to believe they are gateways to heaven, when they get there that is not the case. There is nothing bad such as torture being shown, sometimes you will see villagers being forced to do things like farming and in another example. you will see a minion chained up. The idea is that as Overlord is that you want to keep control of your land, so you are trying to stop these gates from cropping up. Lastly the game references magic many times and has the player using some magic abilities to defend themselves.

When you first take up the mantle
When you first take up the mantle

Review

When beginning the game you will find that this is not your typical RPG compared to something like the Fable series, it actually bears many similarities to the Pikmin series found on Nintendo’s consoles. As the Overlord, you start with only ten minions but can eventually command hundreds of them. There are four types of minions that can benefit your conquest in different ways, and they come in four colors. The first type you start with are the Browns. They are your basic fighters and the guys you will want to keep on the front lines in case of a battle. The second are the Reds. They are a bit on the weaker side because they are archers though their greatest feature is that they can walk through areas that are hot or on fire. The third are the Blues, and they are the only minions that do not attack. They serve you by resurrecting their fallen brothers as long as they remain in one piece. They  also have the ability to swim and gain access to areas that are blocked by bodies of water. The last group are the Greens. They are your assassins and are better suited for a stealth approaching along while having the ability to extinguish poison gases and clouds.

"For the Overlord!"
“For the Overlord!”

 There are a few ways you can put these guys to work: charging them into battle or having them sweep the area. Charging works best when locking on specific targets such as strong enemies and bosses, while sweeping is meant for groups of enemies and ransacking areas for treasure and more. I had originally played on Xbox 360 when the game first came out, and the keyboard controls felt weird to me so I primarily used my controller which makes the sweeping fun to use. Sweeping is mapped to the right stick so that your minions will move in whatever direction you move it. This little technique is also very useful for accessing areas that the big Overlord himself cannot get to.

Looks like Frodo was not home...
Looks like Frodo was not home…

The presentation of the game is where this game shines the most. The art style resembles Fable in many ways. Much like the Despicable Me movies, your little minions steal the show. When you sweep through buildings, they will pick up whatever they can find to use for armor and weapons (if you run through a small pumpkin patch they will make those into jack o’ lanterns and use them as helmets). When it comes to the armor and weapons that you will acquire, there aren’t very many options. Three different forges will determine the stats of your weapons. The steel forge is basic while the Durium and Arcanium forges affect things like damage and life-force or sacrifice of your minions. The only options you have for weapons are an axe, mace, and sword, but not much changes other than speed. Armor only changes depending on what kind of forge you use. The Durium forge makes everything look more Paladin-like as the Arcanium forge makes everything look evil along with some spikes on it similar to the look of Sauron from Lord of the Rings. The one thing I feel is definitely needed here is a map. There were a couple times where I went in circles because I got lost. There are some light Metroidvania-style things in here too that would be useful to see on a map. To get to some places you need the right color of minions to access that area.

Every great Overlord needs a great lair.
Every great Overlord needs a great lair.

Even so, I think the developers did an outstanding job and put us in the shoes of a villain without it being too cruel and violent. This is a good thing considering the fact that villains and anti-heroes are pretty much idolized and Grand Theft Auto is one of the most popular games of all time. Playing this game once again reminded me of the days when my brother put hours in the Xbox 360 before the PS3 was even a factor. It also makes me want a proper sequel even more since we got that strange looking Diablo clone about a year or two ago.

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