Upplagd: 24 december
As an old fan of Master of Magic, Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic and the Fall From Heaven Civ4-mod, my hope when purchasing this was that it would replace the current game, my small group of hardcore "slow" strategy gamers played against eachother. Especially the promise that a Play by Email function would be included, made all of us pre-buy it before it came out.
So what did we get?
We got an absolutely stunning turn-based game, that takes a lot of the best that all games before it had. It has this feeling of immersion that makes you want to play again and again.
Notice that I say "a lot of the best", because it is not perfect... Yet. I'll tell you a bit about why it will be.
The online multiplayer is easy and very solid, compared to most other games. Of course, since it takes a lot of time to play a Age of Wonders III game, having several people being connected for days will eventually experience drop-outs. Getting back up unfortunately requires a full re-load and reconnect, but nothing is lost when it happens.
Triumph has been promising us a Play be Email function since before the game came out, and it should be very close to release. When it does, multi-player games will explode in number. And to top it off, Triumph has already described some details that might make this the easiest to use PBEM function ever. You always have problems with who has the turn, but Triumph might be able to fix that problem, which I believe would be first and best in gaming history. It would be... Perfect.
Not much to say. It has never been done better. Every tactical battle can be approached differently, and the troops you bring to the combat changes everything. Oh, and sound and video is beautiful and interesting. AOWIII tactical is just... Perfect.
Depth and content
When the game released, although it was beautiful and the engine worked very well, felt like a dumbed-down version of AOW: Shadow Magic. Fewer races, the items on the map felt the same, and every game played more or less the same with an off-balanced strategy, that could win all games, so everyone did just that.
But it's Triumph, guys!: For every patch, DLC, upgrade and whatever they decide to call it, the game has become richer and funnier to play. The new game function of having treasure sites making specific troops types better (like a mithril source in Master of Magic) makes every city a possible specialist city to be nurtured and defended. With new races, classes, treasure huts, and stuff springing up continually, this game seems like a friendship that grows for every expansion. With the ideas already on Triumphs existing idea list, when it comes to depth and content, all these guys have to do is show up for work, and this game will be... Perfect.
Let's face it. Every game gets old at some point. Only a few games stand out and goes into history as "the game we played for ages". What was it that made Shadow Magic better than AOW vanilla, Fall from Heaven better than Civ 4 vanilla? Every game played out differently. Why is it that most people only plays CIV5 and CIV:Beyond Earth for a few weeks and then move on? Because every game basically plays out the same.
AOWIII is at risk here.
The classes of AOWIII is the distinguishing part that does not make every game bland, but will it be enough? Fall from Heaven changed CIV4 with the interesting notion of going from "research everything" to "You can only afford one way through the research tree, so choose the path that plays well with what you have found in this particular game". And it changed everything. The research tree of AOWIII has few differences based on magical affinity, but a Tier II summon basically does the same, cost the same, and appear at the same time. There's not that much strategy, and you will typically choose the same spell strategy every time.
Cities are almost entirely the same, races don't alter things much. A bit has already been done there, giving the races racial traits. For instance, the bard is equipped with a bow. But a High Elf Bard now has a Longbow, which makes all the difference. But the other races? It's much the same. All cities function, all cities gives basically the same amount of resources. In Shadow Magic, I found myself changing populations several times a game: Only two races could grow the essential crops in shadow world, so better make it one of those. Some races had alignments that made them impossible to hold unless you did something, Cities could be physically moved away from a lost area, if you repopulated it with nomads. Elf cities hid themselves behind trees. You had choices. In AOWIII every race will join you without too much trouble and the cities are basically the same. Alignment doesn't really play a role, although the mechanic is there.
The general feeling is a well-known one: The new school game developers are scared about alienating the impatient youths that nothing in the game must be frustrating. Only problem is, turnbased games are too slow to hold impatient players anyways, so trying to cater for everyone just makes the game bland, instead of making possibilities soar. If you have ever played 100+ multiplayer rounds of the same game, you know that when you stop being able to surprise your opponents, you are ready to move on.
If, however, the developers should go all in on making things feel... different... then this game already has everything needed in place. In fact, with increased replayability, some of it already in the pipeline, this game has the potential to go from great to... absolutely perfect.
I absolutely recommend this game to every turn-based strategy gamer out there.