Age of Wonders 4 is a turn based fantasy 4x strategy game from Dutch studio Triumph Studios and published by Paradox interactive.
In Age of Wonders 4 you take the role of ruler of your chosen race of people, whether they be one of the pre-made armies with their own hero, or one you create (which i will get to later). You begin with a single city and one army, which is a block of 6 individual units including your ruler and must expand and conquer the lands around you. The goal is for your ruler to ascend to Godirhood and form the beginnings of your own pantheon. Unlike many other games of its type, in Age of Wonders 4, once you finish a campaign and become a Godir the adventure isn’t over for them, your characters will continue to appear in new campaigns as part of the pantheon of Godir.
You have the option to play on one of several pre-made maps which range from green fields to arid deserts, arctic climates to volcanic lands, mountainous terrain to arcane infused lands and overgrown tropical areas. The maps are separated into three tiers, tier 1 being the easiest maps and tier 3 being the most difficult due to harder to acquire resources and tougher monsters roaming the land. In tier 1 you will only have a few pre-made races to choose from, with all options being available in tier 3. Personally though one of my favourite things about Age of Wonders 4 is the freedom to create your own, your own lands and your own ruler. With creating a land you have many choices, the type of terrain being the main thing, but other options being whether it is made up of several smaller islands, two big landmasses separated by an ocean, coastal or a single continent and more. You choose how many players there will be, between 2 and 9, which affects how large the maps are. If you choose 2 then the map will be rather small, but the higher you go the larger the map becomes and the more spread out your rivals are. You can then add options for the world itself, e.g. if free cities (NPC cities) are rare or non-existent, whether they are particularly distrusting of others or despise armies that are evil aligned. You can choose the type of monsters that inhabit the land and how common they are, my personal favourite is the undead, but you can have things like dragons, plant people, magical beings and all sorts of unfriendly creatures.
Each section of the map creation gives you a sizable amount of options to choose from, so you can make maps that are completely different from each other for every character you play.
Race creation is much the same in that it has varied options to choose from. While you can choose to stick to the standard that a particular race is known for (such as Goblins being sneaky and evil, Dwarves being tough, industrious and good), you can change it up as you like. The pre-made races you can choose from are humans, orcs, toad people, rat people, dwarves, cat people, moon dwarves, undead humans and both light and shadow elves. Each race has two attributes, an alignment to good, neutral or evil and an affinity to either Order, Chaos, Nature, Materium, Astral or Shadow. When creating your own race these options are fluid, do you want evil seafaring dwarves? go for it, do you want tough, magical, evil toad people? thats fine, nature wielding industrious cat people? hell yeah. You can mix and match all of the options as you want. When creating your ruler you must choose whether they will be a melee champion or a wizard king and choose their starting weapon. As with the rest of the game you are not stuck with fantasy class stereotypes, choosing to be a champion doesn’t prevent you from casting spells, nor a wizard king from getting into a fight with a two handed sword, though you will be a better spell caster as a wizard king and better fighter as a champion. You have many options to play with when picking how your ruler looks, both physically and their outfit. You can change how your chosen race will look too, but that is limited to skin and hair colour as well as the type of mount your race uses. When you are done with the appearance of your ruler you can pick a name and title, and the name of your race. You can choose your own names or cycle through some options for these if you are poor at naming things. Once this is complete you are ready to jump into your chosen world and walk the path to Godirhood.
Having mentioned affinity it’s time I told you a little more. Affinity affects your magic tomes and the technology, research and spells available to you from those tomes. Each affinity is accompanied by two magic tomes that share its type for each of the 4 tiers of tomes, the fifth and final tier only has 1 tome per affinity. While nothing is stopping you from picking the shadow affinity for your army and then the tome of evocation which belongs to the astral affinity, you will benefit more, at least in the beginning, by picking the tomes that align with your affinity, in the case of shadow which I chose they are the tome of cryomancy and the tome of souls. In order to ascend the tiers and gain more powerful tomes you have to have researched at least 3 items, be they units or spells from both tomes belonging to the same affinity as each other (though not necessarily you). In the next tier you can choose to remain with tomes from the same affinity or choose different ones and repeat. Spells can range from summoning spells, ones that are cast on the world map that affect armies, or combat spells that affect individual units. Units, once researched, can be hired just like your other units.
As mentioned earlier you start the game with a single city, the name of which you can change if you don’t like the one its given. In the city menu you can assign buildings to be built and units to be hired, these will tell you how many turns it will take until they are complete and what effects they give. Unlike some other army builders you do not place new buildings around you, it is all contained within your city, though you are able to annex (take control of) new provinces next to any you already own and build a resource gathering building on it, depending on what type(s) of resources are available in that province. Resources are very important as not only do you need them for building and hiring units, but your army will have an upkeep to it which will need to be paid if you want your units to stay. Some spells require certain resources to use, like some necromancy spells require souls to cast, which you gather from destroying your enemies in battle. Resources can also be used in diplomacy and trade with free cities, you can gift gold or food supplies to boost relations, or demand them in return for you not declaring war or attacking people/creatures you find on the world map. Such actions may sway or change your alignment, depending on whether the actions taken are perceived as good or evil, which in turn will affect your relations with current and future allies and enemies.
Movement and combat are turn based, and you can choose whether the turns are taken where you move all of your units and then your opponent(s) move theirs, or you take turns moving a single unit each at a time. When you attack an enemy you can choose for the battle to be automatically fought for you or fight it manually, manually is much more fun. Your units have strengths and weaknesses, ranged units for instance cannot fire if an enemy is in contact with them and they will not be able to take as much punishment. Positioning is key to keeping your vulnerable units alive and supporting your more powerful fighters, and causing more damage with flank attacks while preventing your own army being flanked. You can use spells to harm your enemy or boost your own units for a singular combat, the tome of necromancy allows you to turn a dead unit into a unit of zombies for the remainder of the battle or revive/reanimate a hero after the battle. Before initiating combat the game will tell you the likelihood of victory, so you don’t have to worry about walking into a fight you can’t win. On the world map you will discover monster infestations that need to be taken care of quickly, passages to the underground to be explored and ancient wonders that can be added to your growing empire. You can set up an outpost using your ruler, which you can grow into a city of its own, but you will need to be careful early on as it will not have the same defences as your city. There is a cap on how many cities you can have, you are allowed 3, you can have more cities if you choose but it will start to affect your empire negatively if you do. There is also a cap on how many heroes that you can hire, one per city you control.