Age of Wonders: Planetfall by Triumph Studios

Empire mode is quite good for just playing quick(ish) scenarios and comes with objectives for that scenario that give you benefits as you progress. It’s quite good and you can come back and not skip a beat. Losing doesn’t come with a penalty, you simply don’t get the benefit of the win.

I’ve played Planetfall for about 45 hours and it finally clicked after winning two games on relaxed.

The first was as a Synthesis Syndicated. I spent the early game aggressively settling. Initial build order was scout, farm, settler, then units for the second stack. With three scouts I was able to grab a lot of pickups and supplement production.

I was trying to find the second syndicate settlement so I could get to three by turn 10 or so. And I lucked out! There were two neutral syndicate settlements near by. I was able to grab both and made treaties with the AI syndicate neighbor to buy myself time to start grabbing land on his border.

When he finally ended the treaty due to our close borders, I declared war and was able to steamroll him pretty fast. Between the three cities I grabbed from him and the couple I settled in the meantime, I was up to 10 cities by midgame. I left half of them producing energy/research and focused on the secret tech victory. I was able to end the game before any AI could push far enough into my empire.

The second game was even quicker. The map had special objectives to eliminate the spacers, and the the satellite modifier that made the whole map visible. I played as Xenomorph Assembly. The game was pretty casual, testing out the faction and secret units against the independents as I moved towards the target bases.

Now I’m pursuing the revenge on the syndicate mission as psynumbria Kirko. This will be my first game trying to take on multiple AI. After that, I’m going to up the difficulty and try out Heritor Oathbound and Voidtech Amazons.

A few thoughts:

  • I agree with others that the doomsday victory would be more interesting if it played more like the seals, with limited world map locations that could accept the doomsday buildings. Otherwise I like the doomsday victory as the medium-length alternative to the relatively quick scenario objectives in empire mode. It seems a lot quicker than trying to paint the map.

  • Both games I focused on half the units and about 1/3rd the tech, and that seemed to present an acceptable balance of complexity and effectiveness.

  • I like customizing the game and picking the AI opponents. That helps control the variables and cuts down on all the mod-faction possibilities that some people find confusing. I like the idea of putting the AI on teams as a way of increasing the difficulty. I also like playing against multiple similar AI factions rather than a random mix, for similar reasons.

  • I made a bunch of heroes before starting empire mode, and I like that those heroes can be recruited mid-game and gain experience between games just like the leader. It’s been fun to promote heroes from the previous mission to the commanders in the next one. Generally speaking, empire mode provides just enough continuity for me to build backstories into the game.

  • Planetfall avoids one of my biggest gripes with most 4xs: the time the AI spends moving between turns. It’s short enough that I hardly notice for most of the game, which really helps me stick with it.

  • I find the game is generally very straightforward with its information. It takes some time to parse out all the details, but the maps, unit cards, etc. are all pretty helpful. And I really enjoy the map. I know I’m in the minority here.

  • I tried AoW3 many times but it never clicked with me. The game’s mix of classes and races tripped me up: why would there be goblin and dwarf dreadnaughts? Did they train together in dreadnaught academy? How’d that happen? Weird or not, that hang-up kept me from really digging the game. By comparison, I find the Star Union backstory and tech/mods in Planetfall much easier to comprehend and interact with.

  • My one wishlist item for AoW4: make the game more about playing against the map. I’d rather race the AI factions to a goal than have a straight-up war of conquest. Triumph already does a great job of this with their maps and victory conditions, so really this is a request to double-down on that.

  • Actually, here’s a bonus wishlist item: I’d like to see a quick battle mode, as in the Total War series, that allowed the player to select the map, units, and spells/operations for a one-off tactical match. I think that’d go a long way towards helping people absorb the unit and mod variety.

Erm, yes!

I finished the first campaign for this game last night ending what was stubborn desire to overcome the tedious nature of the various maps. There’s a couple of nice things about that campaign. I really like how the heroes carry over from the first map to the second map for each faction, including their gear. And a chance to respec :-) I also like the way the final mission is delivered with the opportunity to play as all the earlier commanders and seeing the effects of the choices (or some of). I ended up playing the map as Assembly anyway because the Commander and the second hero I had developed were wickedly strong giving me a major advantage above everyone else from the start.

But… the maps can be such a nuisance. The second Amazonian map with the constantly changing biome. The second Syndicate map with teleporters everywhere and tiny land masses of 3-4 sectors (thank goodness for their stealthy floating tanks). And the Assembly map which like the Syndicate replacing water with lava, a relative lack of floating units to traverse said lava and no teleporters to get around. And then the final map with the constantly spawning autonoms and paragon units, not to mention allies (and enemies) being defeated due to other means.

It short, that campaign felt more like an exercise by Triumph to test just how soon a player would get the shits with it and stop. I perservered, but at what cost to sanity? Well, I suppose the Revelations campaign awaits now with new toys to try out again, so this will be a bit more fun, I think… I hope.

Personally I never play campaigns in strategy games like this - I will always beeline straight for the sandbox/board game mode and never leave. But some campaigns can be fun when done well and when they act as a tutorial of sorts, I suppose. I can’t think of any specific examples honestly, but I’m sure I’ve thought that before.

I don’t know if I ever even clicked the Campaign button in the Planetfall menu now that I think about it.

I’d actually forgotten this game even had campaigns outside of Galactic Empire mode. I don’t have much use for pre-scripted missions in strategy games, personally.

In a sense, I agree. I remember with Age of Wonders 3, I grew bored with the campaign in that game after the second map and never revisited. I probably will one day, before game 4 comes out, maybe. Campaigns are not a strong part of the game. I played the Planetfall campaign though to see if it builds on some context behind the various factions, secret tech, commanders, that sort of thing. There’s always a bit of a roleplay angle I like to bring into both AoW and Planetfall.

The vanilla game campaign isn’t particularly pre-scripted. There are some events that fire which leads to some dialogue. And occasionally there’s a decision which might have ramifications later on, either within the particular world, or later within the campaign. The map does have some constraints, but it is randomly generated each time. So for instance, the second syndicate mission will always have small islands plus lots of teleporters and the same AI factions, but the landscape itself will vary which can make a map harder or easier, depending on the seed.

You don’t have too many days left to make that happen.

The strangest thing is that the original campaign, i.e. AoW1, is genuinely interesting.

As is the Shadow Magic one.

And I’d say Golden Realms and Eternal Lords had decent campaigns.

HoMM 2 also had really fun campaigns, both on the good and evil side. Now, granted, I’d already played a lot of the game with just scenarios before I ever tried the campaign, but still, when I eventually tried it, it was great. The expansion campaign was good too.

I’ll be the heretic here and say that I actually liked Planetfall’s campaign. I think they did well to tie the choices you make together between missions. Alas, now I don’t remember any details. I do have a memory of building up heroes for different factions and then they’d come back in the later missions depending on the choices you made re: the overarching plot. But it’s a fuzzy memory.

The tension I feel is that I really want to keep building heroes across missions, and you need some kind of outside structure for that. But locking yourself into one faction is no bueno because by the time you’ve gone through three maps you’re really tired of using the same ability at the beginning of every battle.

For HoMM 2 (and 3, IMHO) the campaigns work really well because each map is very distinct and puzzley, so it’s a different beast.

I’ve had to step away from the Revelation campaign out of pure frustration.

The first issue is that I don’t like the Syndicate faction.

But the second, larger issue is the blatant AI cheating that leads to a disheartening outcome. I get it, the AI has to cheat to be competitive. I don’t deny that.

On a prior playthrough of the first scenario, I fought a number of high pressure battles, outnumbered, against the Kir’ko and their growth friends. Bees everywhere. 3 stacks gone, lots of damage. I had to recover a few units, so spent two turns bringing up some reinforcements to push. In that time, the AI had managed to produce? another wave of growth units, Kir’ko units, all fully modded. That was enough for me to abort. If the AI didn’t produce them from nowhere, then how can they sustain them. Absolute madness.

Second game, I had a hard fight against the neighbouring Syndicate player who brought a fully modded Wraith against my units. I lost that fight in the end, despite managing to wipe out his tank, his flying unit and then working through a second full stack of Indentured. I’m looking at the gamestate and wondering just how it is possible to even have close to that amount of tech so early in the game. That one resulted in a gameover screen, and the stats are a sobering view of just how understrength I was.

And it isn’t like I can hold off on wars. The factions are all set to hate the player, with the exception of one, from the outset. It’s a case of when they decide to attack, and they do so with a significant military advantage.

This is what bothers me the most about some 4X campaigns. Sure, there’s going to be scripting and cheating, just don’t make it so damn obvious that it breaks all immersion. It can really be infuriating.

Curiosity got the better of me, so I loaded the game before my defeat state and plugged in a cheat to reveal the world map. Thanks for the help there Google. There’s no possible way the AI could have supported the units it had (5 stacks) with only a level II energy exploitation.

Then I decided to take my game back 10 more turns and try again - so far things have improved. Think the AI just decided not to attack for a bit.

4x campaigns continue to ruin 4x gaming experiences. Stop playing them. Or if one must insist, stop complaining about them. :)

Strangely enough, I really enjoyed the HoMM5 campaigns. Especially the necromancer one. So much fun. And the HoMM4 campaigns were really good, too. The AoW game campaigns I have never much enjoyed. In general they’re more frustrating work than they are fun. So far, the Songs of Conquest campaigns also fall into that frustrating work category. I think there’s an art to making good campaigns in this genre and it’s pretty rare these days.

I agree, but with the caveat that it’s always been rare, not just these days.

My biggest frustration with campaigns tends to be the work and effort that goes into them could instead have gone into making more content for the sandbox/board game mode that most folks play stuff like this for. It’s an opportunity cost.

Same for me. I’ve tried playing through the AoW:Planetfall campaign several times (separated by a year or two between attempts) and I always give out after a few games. I’d prefer more resources be spent on sandbox.

Clearly this is an area where it’s all about personal preference, but for me personally, it’s just not as interesting as the sandbox mode. The storytelling isn’t rich enough for the amount of time spent chasing foozles around the map. I feel the same way about Warcraft campaigns, and I know a lot of people just loved those to bits, so clearly opinions differ. Presumably Triumph has statistics on how their games are played and allocates development resources as appropriate.

I think the only AoW campaign I got quite a way through was the first one, where IIRC you got to bring some units from one campaign scenario to the next.

I think there’s probably a point where either you commit enough resources for a good campaign or set of scenarios, or don’t do it at all.

But there’s a host of strategy games where the campaigns made up the bulk of my playtime. Having fine-tuned interesting scenarios can be a ton of fun even in games where that’s not obviously so - Offworld Trading, for instance.

I just play the campaigns as an extended tutorial, although I never finish them. About the time they start running out of ideas and start throwing bullshit stacks at you is when I stop and start the random / skirmish maps.