A toad wizard in Age of Wonders 4

Age of Wonders 4 Review

Age of Wonders 4 Review

need to know

what is it? Fantastic 4X with Fantastic Magic System.

release date May 2, 2023

expect to pay £42/$50

developer Triumph Studio

publisher Paradox Interactive

Reviewed on GeForce RTX 1080Ti, Intel i7-8086K, 16GB RAM

steam deck not support

associate Official Website(opens in a new tab)

Magic is rarely surprising in its frequent video games. It hurts, it heals, and if you’re lucky, it might turn an enemy into a sheep or a frog. Not so in Age of Wonders 4, however, which drives every component of this mysterious 4X, dramatically changing the world, the city, and the creatures that inhabit it. With your vast collection of spellbooks, you can wield your godlike powers at will.

The Sorcerer King – the gods of the future – has awakened in the stars and is ready to exert influence on the many worlds that exist in this magical realm. As one of these wizard kings, or champion of mortals, you must rise to power to dominate these worlds, using magic and war in place of competition.

(Image credit: Paradox)

The structure of Age of Wonders 4 should be familiar: you start with a city, build new buildings, develop surrounding provinces, recruit troops and explore the map for treasure and new enemies. Resources like food, gold, and mana have to be managed, rival rulers can engage through diplomacy or aggression, and eventually you’ll start working towards one of the victory conditions, maybe focusing on magic, or maybe just conquering everyone.

But the latest game in the long-running series is still different from its two predecessors. It will become clear right away when you choose the foundation of your magical empire. First, there are maps. There are tons of pre-made maps, including part of the story-driven campaign, but you can also generate your own, choosing its characteristics. Maybe you want to conquer a frozen wasteland filled with monsters, or a fiery hell divided by molten oceans where the only safe passage is underground. There’s no shortage of intriguing options here, allowing you to create all kinds of bizarre battlefields.

It’s during the creation of your future empire, though, that things really get interesting. By choosing the body shape, traits, cultural leanings and social quirks of your people, you can create empires of all kinds, from the sinister Mole Man with a penchant for cannibalism to the one who just wants to build epic cities and make new friends. Through these choices, you will determine your empire’s initial bonuses, alignments, and magic affinities, determining how you will affect the world.

wizard generator

(Image credit: Paradox)

Almost as important is the creation of your ruler. If you choose a mortal champion, it will be from the same species you just created, whereas a wizard king can be from any species. At first you just choose their appearance and starting weapon, but over the course of the game you’ll discover tons of new gear and XP to enhance their power. Rulers and the heroes you recruit later represent some of the most powerful units in the game, and while they can do your empire good by running cities, it’s in tactical combat where they really shine.

Your long-term goal may be to turn the citizens of your empire into undead monsters.

The downside of this style of empire-building is that while some of the choices you make can have major consequences, many of them are highly situational or hidden, or more interesting than they really are. Especially in the early game, you won’t notice much of a difference between a hardworking goblin or a sinister mole man. You don’t get the kind of wild variety you’ll see in Amplitude’s Endless series, where each faction has a distinctly custom playstyle and unique systems at their disposal. At least not at first. However, once you start building on top of these foundations, your experience starts to feel more unique, resulting in a stronger mid-late game.

While those early rounds can be a bit repetitive, the creation process still ensures that you start with a well-defined empire, thereby having some clear goals in mind. For example, if you’ve built an empire of villains that use soul magic, you’ll want to jump into battle and steal the souls of your enemies to fuel your legions of the undead. Your long-term goal may be to turn the citizens of your empire into undead monsters. This is what Age of Wonders 4 calls a “major transformation”—one of several ways you can enhance the inhabitants of your empire.

(Image credit: Paradox)

Unlike the traditional research system, Age of Wonders 4 distributes spellbooks, each containing various spells. Much of the tome has to do with the game’s cosmic affinities, like order, chaos, nature, and more. There are five tiers of tomes, and for each affinity, you get two possible tomes for each tier. In keeping with the game’s penchant for experimentation, there are no limits here. If you have an empire that loves order, you can still choose any tome you want, although those choices will start to change your affinity and thus the perception of other empires and free cities (unaligned city-states that can be vassalized or conquered) You, and how your empire evolves as new affinity skills are unlocked in a separate empire development tree.

By researching these tomes of spells and unlocking new ones, you’ll soon find yourself at your disposal with a wealth of city enhancements, conjurations, transformations, and spells, as well as a variety of defensive and offensive spells. These spells can have a huge impact, especially when working together. For example, if you’ve modified your species to be faster when traveling through forests, you’ll definitely want to choose spells that let you create new forests, modifying the land itself so you can travel through it better. Granted, series veterans will recognize many of the pop-up spells, but the way magic allows your empire to evolve, and the synergies those transformations create, is profoundly new.

It’s really exciting to have the opportunity to acquire a new spell while you’re trying to figure out how it fits into your skill set and what role it plays in your world conquest. These tomes also let you unlock new buildings and recruitable units, so they’re not just a source of spells. Some units must be recruited in cities to earn gold, but others appear as magical summons to help you in a pinch. I can’t count the number of times I’ve faced an enemy destined to crush me far from my city, and Summoning saved me.

(Image credit: Paradox)

Magic still has its limits. Spells require mana, and any enchanted or polymorphed units will drain your inventory. While you can use as many minor transitions as you want, powerful major transitions are limited to just one. But this limit is specific to each species. Add members of another species to your empire through conquest or diplomacy, and you’ll be able to evolve them in a completely different way. This gives you great flexibility and many ways to deal with obstacles.

The tome isn’t just a fantastic interpretation of the tech tree, but I’ve never had so much fun developing an empire before. Even though in Stellaris there are tons of ways to evolve your species, I always felt like I was making a lot of less appealing choices before I got the good stuff. In Age of Wonders 4, I got new toys, new abilities, and new ways to progress.

One thing that micromanagement fans might balk at is how streamlined it is compared to Age of Wonders: Planetfall, where each unit has a bunch of mod slots that allow you to enhance it on an individual level they. The transformations and improvements in Age of Wonders 4 are wider, so you’re making more dramatic changes every moment. Both systems have their strengths and weaknesses, but with so much going on in Age of Wonders 4, I’ve found that I appreciate the ability to make sweeping changes to my entire empire with the click of a button.


(Image credit: Paradox)

The result is a more approachable Age of Wonder, but it should be noted that downsizing isn’t the only way Triumph has achieved this. There are helpful nested tooltips, codexes, and hint systems to make your life easier, but there are also mechanical improvements. Take your city as an example. In Age of Wonders III, you had to choose between recruiting units and constructing buildings, but here you can do both thanks to separate queues. You can run out of things to build and recruit pretty quickly if you don’t need to prioritize, but the frequency with which you unlock new units and the wide range of construction items, which in turn unlocks more items, means that even in a You’ll also have plenty of time to keep you busy during long games.

There is still a lot of complexity. City boundaries can be pushed away by annexing provinces and improving on them. It starts off simple: if you need more food to increase your population, you’ll want to build some farms. If you have a gold mine nearby and need to top up your bank account, build a gold mine. But to take advantage of these provinces, you need to make sure they are not occupied by monsters. You also have your competitors and their claims to worry about. Annex a province they claim and they will be unhappy with you, which can be used as an incentive for war.

Adding more wrinkles, but also a chance, are unlockable special improvements that can be built in your cities and then placed in your border provinces, eliminating the rewards you’re currently receiving for more esoteric stuff like spell jammers or Teleporter. The latter is a real godsend, especially in larger maps, as getting around can take a long time, especially if you need to traverse areas with rough terrain. There’s a city cap (which can be increased), but outposts don’t contribute to that, so I often find myself using them to create teleportation networks that allow my armies to flash across the map and react instantly to any crisis.

(Image credit: Paradox)

Not that there’s no value in exploring the map on foot. The world of Age of Wonders 4 is astonishing, and the incredibly detailed fantasy realm is definitely full of fun. Ancient wonders full of treasure, monsters that need to be driven out of the province, infestation that could trigger an invasion, and events that can pop up for any number of reasons – the only thing the ruler doesn’t have to worry about is a peaceful and peaceful life.

The world of Age of Wonders 4 is astonishing, and the incredibly detailed fantasy realm is definitely full of fun.

You’ll never have to hunt around for a fight, as most maps are filled with monsters, even if you’re playing well with your opponents champions and wizard kings. The all-around great UI is especially useful when you’re preparing for a fight, as hovering over an enemy shows exactly who will be involved (up to three armies, each with six units that can coordinate in battle) and what to expect the result of. You can automatically resolve each battle, but if it doesn’t go your way, you can retry via manual control without reloading – a very welcome convenience.

When you’re ready to dig into the situation yourself, you’ll be transported to a tactical map that reflects the area you’re fighting. Sometimes that means an ancient ruin or some rocky terrain filled with bunkers and chokepoints, but more often than not I found myself dueling in a mostly open area. Planetfall’s maps are decidedly more tactically nuanced. However, even the more open maps have environmental hazards and other points of interest, and the combat…

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Bart Thompson
Bart is's List Writer . He is from Houston, Texas, and is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in creative writing, majoring in non-fiction writing. He likes to play The Elder Scrolls Online and learn everything about The Elder Scrolls series.