- What’s new in Dominions 4: Thrones of Ascension
- Dominions 4 Q&A, with Johan Karlsson and Kristoffer Osterman
- Pandora’s Toy Box: Observations on Dominions 4
I’m several hours into a preview copy of Dominions 4, the follow-up to one of my favourite strategy games. Dominions 3 was user-unfriendly, a beast to learn, and a devil to master; it was also deep, rich, and rewarding, both in its gameplay and also in its mythically-inspired lore. For newcomers to the series, Gamespot’s review is very fair and, I think, very good at identifying who will like and who will not like Dominions; meanwhile, for those interested in what made Dominions’ atmosphere and worldbuilding so remarkable, check out a guest piece I wrote at Flash of Steel several years ago. For series veterans, Dominions 4 is recognisably an evolution, not a revolution; going from 3 to 4, the differences are much less visible than going from 2 to 3, or 1 to 2. However, the changes are real and, from what I have seen, positive. Here’s what I’ve noticed:
* While most of the nations in Dom4 are returnees from the previous game, each of the three Dominions eras (early, middle, late) has received a new nation or two.
*I also spotted a number of new pretender chassis, new magic items, and some new spells (e.g. some painful-looking high-level direct damage Water spells; new Nature buffs/debuffs).
*Other spells have been reworked; for instance, Acashic Record now promises to unearth the target nation’s history. (Maybe this means that it makes the target nation appear on the score graph in a graphs-off game?)
* Ritual spells now have a maximum range, which appears dependent on the caster’s magic power.
* Research costs at high levels have been nudged up.
* In provinces without a fort, the province defence will now comprise the local recruitable independent units.
* Pretender chassis have been adjusted; for instance, the Virtue now has fire magic and a massive protection bonus against mundane weapons; while the Celestial General now has astral magic as well.
* Some commanders (such as mages) now have a minimum recruitment time of 2 turns.
* Commanders’ leadership stat now affects troop morale, providing an incentive to use national generals with leadership of 80+ instead of purely relying on generic 40-leadership commanders.
*Some province boundaries can only be crossed at certain times of the year (rivers in winter).
* A new checkbox can be used to order mages to only use magic gems for scripted spells.
* Troops can now be set into formations such as “line” or the traditional blob. Undisciplined troops, such as barbarians, can’t be given formations – or any kind of orders!
* And more…
Thrones of Ascension:
* The titular thrones represent a more in-depth, thematically integrated version of the traditional victory points. When the thrones victory condition is enabled (which they are, by default), players win the game by capturing throne provinces worth a total of X points, where X and the number (and point value) of thrones are set at startup.
* Where thrones differ from victory points is that (a) owning the province is not enough – thrones must be “claimed” by a prophet in order to count; (b) they have an in-game effect (such as propagating dominion, granting extra resources or abilities such as animal awe, or, in one case, adding a laziness debuff to the owner’s scales!) and (c) they are more heavily defended than regular provinces.
*So far, I really like these, for the same reason I like victory point systems in strategy games: they provide a much, much better default win condition than ‘slog through the whole map’; they produce a tense and exciting race; and trying to seize thrones in the first place is a nice exercise in risk and reward. In my first game, I lost my starting army trying to rush a throne province held by crossbowmen and heavy cavalry. Ow.
* That said, I suspect the thrones algorithm is still a work in progress – thrones don’t seem to be evenly placed, so some players will be luckier than others.
Usability improvements: They aren’t glamorous, but they are significant. Series fans have clamoured for these for years, and in Dominions 4, they’ve finally come through:
* The recruitment menu has benefited hugely from two simple changes: commanders can now be queued, and there is now an option to loop recruitment! (Specifically, there are two loop checkboxes – one for commanders, one for regular troops.)
* More informative battle result screens – losses are now broken down by troop type.
* Commanders’ magic paths are now visible from the main map, so no more need to rename them E2N2!
* A toggleable option allows newly recruited mages to receive “research” as their default order, so that they won’t stand uselessly around in the lab.
* Unfortunately, it’s not a clean sweep. Other issues remain, such as the need to re-hire mercenaries every 3 turns, the inability to give multi-turn move orders, and the hassle of site searching; and the general interface improvement has made the exceptions even more noticeable.
One might wonder how this changes the game’s balance. For me, it’s too soon to tell – this is a big, complex game, and I haven’t tried multiplayer, which is where so much of the intricacy becomes evident. That said, I suspect that mundane armies will receive a boost – this is partly due to more expensive high-level research, but also due to the better recruitment interface, which makes it more practical to recruit armies over time (especially armies of independent troops in low-production provinces; now I can just loop recruitment and move them out once I’ve recruited a critical mass).
At a more basic level, though, the essential “feel” of Dominions 3 remains intact. The familiar sprite-based graphics are still there, and so is the music. So is the core of the gameplay, and the basic flow: setting research priorities, expanding into independent provinces, scripting armies and mages. And so, crucially, is the Dominions “just one more turn” magic, as potent as anything lobbed in-game. I had to pry myself away from the game when last I played; how could I leave my Fog Warrior’ed, Wind Guided, Flaming Arrow longbowmen in the lurch? That bodes well for the final game, and I look forward to writing more in a couple months’ time.
The above comments are based on a preview build of Dominions 4 supplied by developer Illwinter Game Design. Dominions 4 is due out on 31 August 2013.