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Age of Wonders 3 preview: fights of fantasy

by John Keefer, shacknews.com, Apr 2, 2013 12:00PM PDT

The Age of Wonders series has been dormant for almost a decade. Developer Triumph Studios is bringing the franchise back with Age of Wonders 3, and we got a look at some of its updated gameplay.

The game's look is unmistakably Age of Wonders. As Triumph co-owner and lead designer Lennart Sas booted up a demo of the game for us, it was clear the studio was sticking to many of the basic principles that made the games popular years ago. While the game is wrapped in a new 3D engine with improved graphics and art, at its heart the game still thrives on it turn-based nature of exploration and conquest.

All of the traditional races are back: Humans, Dwarves, High Elves, Orcs, Draconians and Goblins, with others races possible through post-release content. These races are divided into two factions--the Court of the High Elves and the Commonwealth Empire--with each having its own single-player campaign.

Once players choose a race, they then get down to what sets the game apart form its predecessors, a class-based RPG system that defines the leaders of each empire.

"We took tradition classes in RPGs, such as the warrior, priest and rogue, and extrapolated them to be leaders in this game," Sas said. "These classes will give you skills that you use, but also determine how your empire is upgraded."

To demonstrate, Sas created a High Eleven Theocrat, one of the six classes in the game. Your leader can sit in your capital city and direct the campaign form there with his skills and bonuses, or he can actually go out and adventure. After Sas created the character, he chose to send out a hero to do exploration. He found some old ruins that he wanted to capture for his kingdom, which immediately put the game into a turn-based strategy mode where the hero and his supporting squads squared off against the denizens of the ruins.

"We went with a Total War-influenced style for this combat to make them feel less like chessboards and more like epic battles," Sas said.

Facing is an issue in the turn-based combat now, he said, and you can flank enemy units to do more damage. Of course, as he was talking, two of his squads were flanked by the enemy AI and wiped out. "We've improved the AI a bit, as you can see," he said, noting that certain gameplay elements have been modified to make the AI more challenging. It was so challenging that Sas lost that encounter and his hero. Many of the traditional Age of Wonders mechanics were still in place, such as special armor and gear for heroes that can buff them accordingly, and if a hero dies, the gear will remain until another hero or leader arrives to pick it up and use it.

We were able to see some spells in action for the Theocrat, including an earthquake spell that can knock down walls, making it a bit easier when laying siege to cities. We also saw a few buff and healing spells that can be used on friendly units. Sas would not elaborate much on the spheres of magic, promising those details would come later.

But in addition to basic combat spells, the leader will also have specializations, as well as race and class-based abilities that will upgrade and benefit your empire as a whole. There is also a system where players can build alliances, or negotiate with other leaders in Civilization-style diplomacy. How you approach these interactions will form a basis for the evolution of your kingdom, for better or worse.

Sas said Triumph took its time coming back to the series because they had been focused on the Overlord games for the last few years. During that time, the rights to Age of Wonders was still held by publisher Take Two Interactive, Sas said. But once those rights reverted to Triumph, the developer started development of the new game in 2010.

It was important for Triumph to maintain the digital rights to the game, Sas said, so they did not want to go the traditional publisher route. This was before the success of Kickstarter, so the company was looking for a way to finance the game. It was only after he saw a mention of Age of Wonders in Minecraft that Sas contacted Mojang's Markus Persson. After some negotiations, Persson became a major investor in the game.

Triumph plans to sell the game through Steam and other digital distribution sites some time this fall.