Age Of Wonders: Planetfall is a 4x strategy game developed by Triumph studios. It is available on Steam, GoG, Paradox, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Humble Bundle. The humble bundle link is a referral. I get a small commission if you purchase the game through it. Joseph Pugh reviewed this game on a standard PlayStation 4 system.

Overview

Age Of Wonders: Planetfall shocked me with its depth. It is pretty easy to learn but its strategical roots run deep. It is a rabbit hole you can easily get lost in as hours vanish when they felt like mere minutes. You play as one of six factions attempting to conquer the planet through war, diplomacy, and supremacy. The game takes place on two distinct layers, a strategy layer, and the combat layer.

On the strategy layer, you manage the big picture, your colonies, research, and diplomatic relations. You explore the map, take sectors and plan your rise to power. When your units engage an enemy in battle, the game swaps to the combat layer. Here you use your units in grid-based tactical battles. Both layers are equally important and it seems that Triumph studios managed to make both engaging and deep without compromising one for the other. No small feat.

Planetfall is very customizable, you can create your commander and modify your units to tailor them to your playstyle, or to adapt to the changing circumstances of war.

Age of Wonders Planetfall map
You manage your empires bigger picture on the strategy layer.

Each faction has unique units, tech, mods, and operations. Operations being the science fiction equivalent of magic spells. You can call in a laser strike from an orbiting satellite for example. This variety is further enhanced by the ability to choose a secret tech, which adds its tech tree and units to your arsenal.

Five mini NPC factions exist for you to ally with or war against. Allying with them grants you the ability to employ their mods and units. If you happen to capture a colony of another faction, you can absorb it, gaining access to that faction’s units and techs further enhancing your tactical options.

Planetfall has a lengthy campaign, customizable scenarios, online, hot-seat and asynchronous multiplayer.

Planetfall Factions

You have the choice of six factions to choose from. Some crossover exists between tech trees but they are largely unique. They each have their own units, mods, operations, and play-styles.

The Vanguard consists of a regiment of humans freshly awoken from cryo-sleep. They are effective at range and utilize drones. The Dvar are space dwarves with defensive options and explosive weaponry. The Amazons are an all-female faction who tame and ride beasts into battle. They also have freaking alien T-Rexes with lasers on their heads, how cool is that?

Age of Wonders Planetfall Dvar
Your commander has a physical presence on the field as a hero unit.

Kir’ko are an insectoid race of freed slaves. They overwhelm foes with swarming tactics. The Syndicate is a clan of merchants and criminal networks who excel at subterfuge. The Assembly are cyborg zombies, recycling parts of the dead into themselves.

Every faction has access to an extensive modification system and their entire playstyle and tech tree is further affected by your choice of secret tech. You can play as a premade commander, but you have the option of making your own. When you do, you choose the secret tech your faction employs.

Planetfall Secret Tech

Planetfall features six secret techs in addition to its factions. Each one has a unique tech tree and alters aspects of the chosen factions tree. The secret techs come with mods, operations, and even units. You might choose to play as the Dvar with void tech. Using the extra mobility provided by the void to better position your tough as nails Dvar.

You might opt for the syndicate and choose the Xenoplauge. Backing up your covert operations with an army of genetically enhanced soldiers and xeno bred beasts.

Age of Wonders Planetfall secret tech
Your choice of secret tech is as impactful as your choice of faction.

You could bring down the hammer with fiery Promethean weaponry alongside the natural wrath of the Amazons. Or go full Skynet as the Assembly using the hacking abilities of synthesis. The choice is yours.

With six factions and six secret techs. You have a lot of possible combinations and versatility before you ever take your first step on a planet. It’s extensive and wonderfully deep. Players will be discovering interesting combinations for a long time to come.

Planetfall Controls and Interface

I reviewed Age of Wonders: Planetfall from the comfort of my couch on the PlayStation 4. I’m happy to report that using a controller was pretty smooth and intuitive. Your possible actions are cleanly laid out on the interface. Once you learn what button opens what menu, it’s pretty easy going.

At any time you can tap the touchpad to open an informational mode where you can select parts of the UI and it will tell you what the icons mean. You can scroll between units, tasks, and colonies with the triggers and open a handy radial menu for diplomacy and operations with one button press.

Age of Wonders Planetfall operations
Operations replace spells from older Age of Wonder titles. Some can be used on the strategy layer, others on the combat layer.

The game features a small tutorial for you to learn the basics and has an archived database where you can explore the game’s concepts and information at your leisure. In combat, the user interface takes a couple of cues from X-COM’s action bar and works very well.

The only hiccup I encountered was when splitting units. You have to select your platoon, push up on the d-pad. Select what units you want to split, push another button and then move them from the stack. It’s a lot of button prompts for such a mundane action and it is easy to screw up while you’re still learning. However, it is a minor complaint. I found myself playing the game as comfortably with a controller as I would with a keyboard and mouse.

Economy

If you have played other 4X games such as civilization, you might be familiar with the concept. You start with a capital and expand outward, creating new colonies and increasing your population and thus your income. In Planetfall, every portion of the map is divided into named sectors. As a colonies population expands it can annex more and more sectors.

Once annexed a sector can be exploited. Every sector has a climate and terrain which effects what they output, whether it be food, production, energy or research. Managing these factors is key to your economic success. Sectors can also have special structures that effect their output. The most valuable structures are called landmarks. These are often guarded by powerful neutral armies but are well worth the effort.

Age of Wonders Planetfall mods
You have military and society tech trees and research both at the same time. This means you don’t have to sacrifice military progress for economical purposes and vice versa.

Energy is your currency in the game, you use it to speed up production, purchase mods, deploy operations and pay unit upkeep. You need research to discover new techs faster, production to build structures, and units and food to grow and maintain your population.

Another rare resource exists called cosmite. Your capital colony produces a small amount, and your options for creating more are slim. Cosmite is used for advanced units and mods. You can find cosmite shards in sectors which passively produce more. Obtaining these can be a high priority for factions. You have to plan several steps ahead to sculpt your economy in a way to accomplish your goals. Explore, exploit, expand and exterminate has never been more true.

Planetfall Diplomacy

Planetfall’s diplomatic depth matches the rest of the game. Each AI commander reacts not only to you and your actions but how you interact with others. One of many ways to win the game is through diplomacy, but even if your a warmonger it can help to have allies. You can compliment and insult other leaders. You can publicly denounce their actions to the world and they will do the same to you.

If you get caught using too many covert operations, you might be exposed to the world lowering your reputation and making others trust you less. This can alienate allies or force you into wars on multiple fronts. Furthermore hostile actions outside of war can grant other factions Casus Belli against you. You can also obtain it against other factions.

Diplomacy is important, as is going to war with justification.

Casus Belli is justification for war. This is important because going to war without proper justification can upset your people, causing unhappiness in your colonies which lowers production. It also can cause low morale in your troops. Units with low morale can fumble attacks or even desert you. While units with high morale score critical hits more often.

If another faction gets caught using covert opts, takes land that you have a claim on or otherwise does less than friendly things. You can go to war with popular support, as your people then understand and approve of why. The world stage is a delicate one, and it deserves as much care as the rest of your empire.

Five mini NPC factions also exist that you and other factions can interact with. These factions are seperate from the big six and you aren’t directly competing with them.

NPC Factions

Five nonplayable factions exist in Planetfall and can appear on the map. These factions never get along with each other, being friends with one can tick off the others. They are worth the effort however, they give you quests to complete and reward you for doing so. You have a secondary currency called influence, it’s commonly used in operations and establishing forward bases. However, you can also spend it on friendly factions.

These factions are unique and have their own arsenal of units, mods, and operations you can purchase to supplement your own forces and further adding to the degree of flexibility you possess.

Age of Wonders Planetfall Psi-fish
The NPC factions are as diverse as the rest of the game with a much weirder flavor.

Become close with a faction and you can ask them to aid you in war or even become a part of your empire, cutting them off from other leaders. The NPC factions are an interestingly oddball bunch. There is the Psi-Fish, floating fish with telekinetic powers. The Spacers, mad max style psychos who take on pro gamer personas. Paragon, the remnants of the star union. The Growth, which are sentient plants and a group of robots called the Autonom.

Using the assets these factions provide can fill gaps in your strategy’s and you never know which ones will spawn on the planet adding even more uncertainty to the world.

Planetfall Combat

The combat in planetfall is turn-based and takes place on a hexagonal grid. The terrain varies greatly depending on where the fight is taking place. Units can take cover behind various pieces of the terrain in order to reduce the chance of being hit. While larger units can function as cover themselves

Units have action points and they use them to move and attack. Some actions only use a single point, others use them all and some can use as many as they have left. A Vanguard soldier, for example, can fire a burst of their gun for each action point they have left. If it doesn’t move, it can fire three times in one attack

Units can take cover behind objects. Melee units can stagger foes, forcing them to lose action points for the next round.

All units in the game have abilities, even the lowest tier ones. Heroes including your commander also take to the field. Operations can be cast once per round, assuming you have enough energy and operation points left. Flanking a unit deals extra damage, while range, facing, line of sight and damage types all matter. The combat reminds me a lot of table top wargames, and I mean that in the best possible way.

The game features a wide variety of effects, conditions, and abilities. You can immobilize or blind foes, lower their armor, mind control them and more. Battles are very tactical and have a ton of variety due to faction differences, secret techs, and modifications. Many effects intertwine in interesting ways. For the most part Age of Wonders Planetfall seems pretty balanced. I’m sure players will uncover some broken combos however because of the modification system. The potential for such combos is astounding.

Modification

While you can customize the traits and appearance of your commander. It doesn’t stop there. You can research and purchase mods in-game. Every unit has three slots for mods. You can add mods to these units to change their stats, add new abilities or alter their attacks. Is the Dvar pummeling you with tanks? Hook your infantry up with some electromagnetic clips.

Did the enemy field units with a ton of armor? Use something psionic to bypass it. When modifying units you can build templates so you can produce future units with those mods directly from your colonies. The ability to customize extends even further with your commander and heroes. They level up as they gain experience and gain access to new skills based on their faction and secret tech.

Late game units are powerful, but they wont carry you to victory alone. Even first tier units remain relevant to the late game.

In addition to mods, you can swap out your heroes weapons with ones you have developed or obtained from quests, fundamentally changing them. They can even pilot vehicle’s.

Usually, low tier units get phased out in favor of higher tier ones in 4X games. This is not at the case in Planetfall. Even your basic unit has its uses it the late game thanks to the modification system, every unit in the game has a role and a place on the battlefield. Furthermore cosmite upkeep makes it difficult to simply spam high tier units in the first place.

Campaign

The campaign features missions following the story-line of commanders from each of the factions. They follow the same pattern as a normal game, using a randomly generated planet to play on. However, they have specific factions in place and story-line quests you can follow. As with much of Planetfall, you have a lot of choices to make, even in the campaign.

The ability to customize your units adds an additional layer of depth and strategy to the game.

Each mission can be completed in several ways and your choices affect how the story plays out. The writing is okay, nothing phenomenal but I enjoyed being given choices in a 4X campaign. Oftentimes campaigns are very lackluster and on rails in strategy games.

The campaign has difficulty settings as does the AI in scenario mode. The campaign itself is lengthy. Around 13 missions and each one can take several hours depending on your skill and the chosen difficulty.

Multiplayer

Age of Wonders Planetfall can be played online, in hot seat or asynchronously, allowing you to pop in when it’s your turn, then leave. The multiplayer retains everything that makes the game great with a single hang up.

Battles can have up to 42 units. Larger battles can be lengthy which is an issue in multiplayer.

When another player engages in battle, the game pauses for everyone else, even if you have simultaneous turns enabled. You can not engage in your own battles or even manage aspects of your empire, you’re frozen. Obviously, this doesn’t matter in asynchronous play. However, if you wish to play live, you are pretty much forced to auto-battle against the AI. That’s a shame because the combat is every bit as important and fun as the rest of the game.

Losing units can slow you down, so it can be a bummer to lose them in auto-battle. Even if you only play battles against other people, it can slow the game to a halt if several real players are playing. That said if you can work out the logistics where everyone’s happy, it’s still a lot of fun.

Technical Stuff

I reviewed the game on the base PlayStation 4. The graphics are clean and the presentation is fluid. Combat can be a bit cluttered with the various effect elements but rarely impacts the game negatively. The frame rate does dip on the strategy layer at times when scrolling around larger maps and I encountered a couple of minor bugs. Such as my turn refusing to end, I had to reload to fix it. However, I lost no progress when I did. An annoyance but not game breaking.

Some of the actual combat animations are poor, particularly the death animations. It isn’t a deal-breaker by any means but it is noticeable.

Verdict

Age Of Wonders Planetfall is a stellar strategy title. It’s easy to learn but is deliciously complex enough for strategy fans to sink their teeth into. It’s deep, well balanced and loaded with content. The number of well-thought-out systems it contains is jaw-dropping and they intertwine incredibly well. From its common sense economics, intricate diplomacy and tactically deep combat.

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The sheer variety alone is astounding. Between the six main factions, six secret techs, five NPCs mini factions and extensive modification system, you have an immense amount of flexibility and variety to mold into your playstyle.

It is deep, fun and has extremely high replay value. It’s disappointing that the multiplayer has a couple of hiccups but the AI is solid and provides a good challenge with plenty of entertainment. Whether you’re playing a custom scenario or the campaign, you are in for a good time. Planetfall may end up being my personal game of the year and I can’t recommend it enough. Especially for console players who rarely get these type of games. If you like strategy or grid-based tactics, buy it immediately, you won’t regret it.

A review copy of Age of Wonders Planetfall was provided for Gideon’s Gaming by Paradox Interactive. You can read about my review process here

Pros

  • Easy to learn fluid controls.
  • Extremely deep gameplay on both the strategic and combat layer.
  • Large variety of tech, units and operations split between six factions, secret techs and five mini NPC factions.
  • Lengthy campaign with multiple ways to win each mission.
  • Online, hot-seat and asynchronous multiplayer.
  • Extensive unit modifications and the ability to customize your commander.
  • Several difficulty settings and customization options for both campaign and scenarios.
  • Detailed diplomacy and war justification system.
  • Low tier units stay relevant all game, nothing gets phased out.
  • Solid AI is fun and challenging.

Cons

  • Some animations are lack luster
  • Splitting units is a bit wonky on console
  • There can be an overwhelming number of visual effects in combat at times.
  • In multiplayer you are completely paused and unable to act while another player is in combat.

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