What’s new in Dominions 4: Thrones of Ascension

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Dominions 4
A game of Dominions begins with creating your pretender god. In my case, I've chosen the Celestial General, a powerful air, earth, and astral mage whose land is thriving and prosperous.
A game of Dominions begins with creating your pretender god. In my case, I’ve chosen the Celestial General, a powerful mage whose land is thriving and prosperous.

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:

 

New content:

* 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).

 

Rule/balance tweaks:

*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.

 

If you played previous Dominions games, you'll immediately spot what's better about this screen.
If you played previous Dominions games, you’ll immediately spot what’s better about this screen.

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.

 

Dominions 4, like its predecessors, is a vast and intricate strategy game. The enhancements might seem subtle, but they're there (and visible in this screenshot).
Dominions 4, like its predecessors, is vast and intricate. The enhancements might seem subtle, but they’re there: the mage paths are visible, Mamoru the commander is wearing a new magic item, and I’m actually using national generals!

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.

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5 Responses to What’s new in Dominions 4: Thrones of Ascension

  1. Rigaudon says:

    Hi !

    Dominions is one of my favorite games ! It’s cool to see a new version in preparation !
    What are the new nations ?

    • Peter Sahui says:

      Thanks for commenting! Here’s the list, going from memory:

      EA:
      1. New nation of Pelagia, an underwater nation that the devs are still working on. I understand the devs are also reworking Oceania.
      2. An EA version of Machaka.
      3. A new nation called Berytos (which seems to be inspired by the Phoenicians) – lots of commanders who can sail over oceans.

      MA:
      1. New nation of Vanarus – an earlier version of Bogarus, ruled by (rare) vanir.
      2. Carrion Groves Pangaea has now moved to MA as a new nation, Asphodel.
      3. Ashen Empire Ermor has now moved to MA, while Broken Empire Ermor has been renamed to a new nation, Sceleria.

      LA:
      1. Soul Gate Ermor is back, with a new name (Lemuria).
      2. New Era Pangaea has been reworked – no more carrion groves.

  2. Pingback: Dominions 4 Q&A, with Johan Karlsson and Kristoffer Osterman » Matchsticks for my Eyes

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