Age of Wonders 4 first impressions: Living the dragon dream

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Age of Wonders 4
  • Age of Wonders 4 first impressions: Living the dragon dream

Two games in, I really like Age of Wonders 4. It sells the illusion of being a wizard (or in my case, a dragon lord), discovering and taming a beautiful, intriguing, and dangerous world.

So far, I’ve focused on exploration and PvE gameplay — roaming the map; discovering interesting locations; fighting guardians, wandering monsters, and the odd hostile free city; and only clashing with enemy empires as an afterthought. I think this was possible because of the maps I played:

  • The first time, I played the suggested introductory map. I took my time, played slowly as I learned the game, and won a score victory when the turn limit ran out. The computer-controlled empires weren’t particularly tough. Instead, high-level site guardians were probably the most powerful enemy I faced.
  • I played my second game on a story map added by the new DLC, “Empires and Ashes”. This time, I won by following the story quests. The quests also let me mollify the computer players. There was still plenty to do, such as fighting off a marauding monster that reappeared as part of the story, or tackling a quest battle that required me to go in solo.
Chappos the Dragon, fighting a powerful recurring enemy on the new story map.

Both times I played as a dragon, another feature enabled by DLC1. This lent itself well to my play style — a dragon is very good at clearing out monster lairs or defeating quest enemies.

But more importantly, playing as a dragon is cool. With a few upgrades, the dragon can drop meteors on the battlefield, send enemies flying with a swipe of its tail, or rip them to shreds in melee. It can bide its time and then charge in, like ultra-heavy cavalry, or trade blow for blow in the front line. Defensive spells and healers can keep it in the fray. And it’s unique — other than the dragon pretenders in the Dominions series, I can think of very few fantasy strategy games that allow this.

The aesthetics and production values help sell the experience. I think this is the first time an Age of Wonders game has really looked and sounded impressive — the world is attractive and the monsters sound ferocious in battle.

A final bonus is that the game plays very well on a Steam Deck:

  • On a technical level, performance is good, the visuals and interface are clear and legible, and the default control scheme lends itself well to the Deck.
  • I also suspect that as a turn-based 4X, it’s inherently well-suited to portable gaming. I can play a few turns at a time, explore the map or build up my cities, save the game, and feel I’ve made progress.

At least for now, I plan to keep playing in the current vein — I think I prefer my current PvE play style to the more traditional, symmetrical, empires-versus-empires fantasy 4X experience in previous Age of Wonders games. While writing this post, I just fired up another story map (this time, the first map from the original launch campaign), and I’m already interested in the quests on offer.

Now after I hit “publish”, I wonder if I can squeeze in just one more turn…

Further reading

I wrote quite a bit about Age of Wonders 3, both at launch and after release.

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  1. In this case, the game’s first DLC, “Dragon Dawn”.

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