Version tested: PC
System Requirements - P166 or equivalent 300Mb Hard Drive space 32Mb RAM 4x CD-Rom drive DirectX 6.0 compatible graphics and sound cards
Humans. Can't take them anywhere. Spreading disease, war, starvation and environmental degredation wherever they go...
The world of Age Of Wonders is just one victim of this plague, thrown into chaos by the arrival of humanity in a haven where elves, halflings, faeries, dwarves, and other pointy-eared types used to live in harmony.
The Elven Court which once ruled the land has been destroyed by the humans, and the Lord Inioch killed. His people have split into two main factions, each led by one of his children.
The Keepers are a bunch of tree-huggers, willing to forgive the humans and build a new land in peace. Fight for them and you will lead an army of dwarves, halflings, and elves.
The Cult Of Storms on the other hand want revenge, and are determined to wipe out both the humans and the Keepers. Their armies are made up of dark elves, goblins and orcs.
Here ends the history lesson.
Turn It Up
Age Of Wonders is a turn-based strategy game, something of a rariety these days. It might not have the fast action of its real time brethren, but the more sedate pace allows it to be far deeper and more involving.
Cities can be occupied and put to work building more units for your army. You can fortify them, upgrade them, or even replace their inhabitants with members of another race if you are having problems keeping them in line.
Mines and farms are scattered across the map, and capturing them can increase your flow of income. There are also watch towers to give you a better view of your surroundings, monster-plagued ruins to loot, and dungeons which you can rescue prisoners from.
When two hostile armies meet you can choose to let the computer work out the result, or control your army in person. Battles are fairly small scale, as each army can only contain up to eight units, and each battle can only have up to four armies in it.
But with a wide range of units there is still plenty of room for cunning tactics. Archers are good at long range, but are useless in close combat. Spell casters can be very powerful, but leave them out in the open and enemy cavalry can rip them to shreds.
Unfortunately the AI tends to just send its entire force streaming towards you at full speed, meaning that units often arrive in a steady dribble according to how fast they can move, rather than appearing in a nice formation.
Still, as the game goes on the scenarios get much more challenging, and although the AI never seems to master basic tactics it does become a more proficient strategist, raiding undefended mines and cities, robbing you of much needed resources.
And there's more...
Spells can be researched during a scenario, giving you access to more powerful magic. But you generate a limited amount of mana (boosted by capturing power nodes), and you have to balance that between researching new spells and ensuring that your spellcasters have enough mana to use their existing spells in battle.
Some of your units can be kept from one scenario to the next, but you only have a limited number of points to spend on this. You have to pick which units you really want, and balance them against the possibility of carrying more gold or mana into the next scenario instead.
When doing this you have to remember that you are often short on money, and you will need it to pay your units. If you start a scenario with too many units and run out of money, you will start to see your men deserting you as their wages go unpaid for days on end. A bit like the Russian army, really...
Each side can recruit a small cast of heroes, which you develop as you would a character in a role playing game. Every time one goes up a level you are given points to spend on buying the hero new skills, or adding extra points to their stats.
You can also find magical items, armour and weapons to equip your heroes with, making them even more powerful. Again, these can be carried from one scenario to the next, but it will cost you.
By the end of the game your own character can be a one man (or woman) slaughterhouse, capable of scything through entire armies single handedly. You still have to be careful though, because if you lose your leader the game is over.
In fact the whole game is intricately balanced, and no single unit or strategy can triumph in every situation. It is a real tribute to the developers that it works so well.
Turn based strategy games aren't exactly known for their visuals, but Age Of Wonders looks absolutely gorgeous... The graphics are colourful and detailed, and if you have the hardware to handle it you can play the game at ridiculously high resolutions.
My own lowly P2-300 (armed with an ageing RivaTNT graphics card) could run the game smoothly at 800x600, and even at that resolution the game looks great. If I put up with five second delays waiting for units to move and a mouse cursor that moved slower than a glacier, I could even reach 1600x1200.
Each race has its own unique graphics and units, and despite being represented by tiny little animated sprites they still manage to be full of character and easy to identify. Spell effects are also spectacular, with huge clouds of brightly coloured particles spraying across the battlefield as units unleash magic on each other.
The game also has a strong sense of humour. For example, there is a "Geyser" spell which creates a fountain of water under an enemy unit, lifting it high into the air. The water flow then stops, and for a moment the unit hangs in mid air, Wily Coyote style, before plummeting earthwards.
This game is not for children though. Take the Goblin bombers, which carry huge black bombs around on their backs and hop from foot to foot as they move. They might look cute, but let one get too close to your units and it will blow itself up, causing a vast amount of damage as it disintegrates into a little pool of blood.
Battlefields often end up soaked with blood and covered in corpses, as the little sprites run around hacking each other up with axes and swords, lobbing boulders at their enemies, and firing off spectacular spells.
Age Of Wonders proves that there is still life in turn based strategy games. The graphics are beautiful, the gameplay is addictive, and everything is balanced almost to perfection.
And with the ability to go back and play through scenarios in control of any of the main races, as well as multiplayer over Heat.net, LANs, and internet, and even a play by e-mail option, the game certainly has plenty of replay potential.
Well worth a look for all but the most hardened adrenaline junkies.
Download The Demo
Try before you buy! Download the Age Of Wonders demo (44Mb) now!
9 / 10