Age of Wonders: Planetfall by Triumph Studios

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.

So with all the AoW4 talk, I thought I’d revisit this. I bounced off it pretty hard last time, but I’ve persevered enough to feel like I can appreciate the good this has to offer.

The maps are really pretty, but are a hard to read compared to AoW 3.

And in fact, that really summarises the whole game for me - it’s richer, full of additional complexity and details, and it makes everything about the game harder to follow and figure out. It is good fun to figure out the little synergies and systems, but it’s also a slog.

Also, the performance of this game is really pretty terrible. I’ve had to turn the graphics way down and it’s still got a laggy interface feel to it. Sometimes the framerate tanks until I restart it. This might be one to revisit after I’ve updated my computer, but when I can run Total Warhammer 2 at decent settings with a good framerate, I’m left wondering what is going on here that means I’m at all struggling with this.

I’ve also been revisiting Planetfall after getting fed up with Age of Wonders 4. And by “fed up”, I mean resigned to waiting for the year plus it’ll probably take to come into its own. At which point, I bet it’s gonna be pretty good! So why not revisit Triumph’s previous game, which has had plenty of time not only to come into its own, and hopefully to get the quality control it deserves?

And right off the bat I’m confronted with what’s missing from Age of Wonders 4: a reason to do things I wouldn’t otherwise do. A game started with a specific goal in mind, and specific tools brought to bear!

In my current game – Galactic Empire mode, of course – I’m on the planet New Haven with two Dvar factions swirled in among five other factions, myself included. The two Dvar hate each other and will naturally be at war. My job is to ally with both of them, at which point I will have met my victory condition and I can call it a win and collect my imperial favor. Basically, the Council or Overlord or Emperor or the Ruling Party or whomever is sending me to the planet New Haven to wrangle two unruly dwarfs. Who wouldn’t want to wrangle dwarfs?

Of course, the empire offers me a secondary objective as well, which is to cultivate six food provinces. So, take to task a couple of cantankerous dwarfs and get some farms going! I can do that. In fact, those are two of my favorite things to do in videogames! Let’s see who to bring along…

I’ve got a ton of Vanguard and Promethian xp, so those are my strongest facets. I guess I could bring a Dvar faction, because to befriend a Dvar, it takes a Dvar, right? However, to cultivate food on an icy planet, maybe someone with green-ish terraforming options? How about the Amazons? I’ve only got a little Amazon xp in my empire, and if I’ve got to relearn Planetfall, might as well learn a new faction while I’m at it. I bring along some extra units, some operations, and some mods from my collection. You know, stuff from my collection of unlocks, stuff to buy with the imperial favor I’m going to earn.

Unfortunately, two problems from the get-go. The first is that I’ve landed in an icy mountainous area of New Haven, which means there aren’t a lot of options for good food provinces. It also means I can’t spread my Amazonian forests until I expand into temperate and non-mountainous areas.

The more pressing problem is that it takes me forever to scout out the stupid dwarfs. By the time I find them, they’re hopelessly tangled up with the other factions. The honorable dwarf is making friends left and right, which bodes well. But the dishonorable one got his ass kicked in the early dwarf-on-dwarf violence, and now the dumbass is fighting wars against a nearby assembly cyborg faction as well as a syndicate faction. By turn 30, the dumbass dishonorable dwarf become a cyborg vassal, who is then defeated in another ten turns by the syndicate.

And because you can’t ally with a dead faction, that means I’ve lost the opportunity to meet my imperial objective; now if I want to win, I have to do it one of the regular ways. Which means it’s time for Oblivio Mundi. Did I mention my Amazons were Psynumbra? Well, my Amazons are Psynumbra because I sort of randomly grabbed that one because I didn’t really remember how the secret techs worked or why I would want any one over any other. So my Amazons, who are Psynumbra Amazons, are now chasing the Doomsday victory condition called Oblivio Mundi. If we can’t make these dwarfs friends, well, the empire has no need for them and we’re gonna wipe the planet. It’s the only way to be sure.

And on the gameplay front, I’m finding so many things I had missed in Age of Wonders 4. For instance, I’ve been autoresolving all the battles as a way of watching and appreciating the AI, which does a fantastic job using all the tools I give it in battle! But one of the things that bothered me in Age of Wonders 4 is that I didn’t quite trust the AI when it came to spellcasting.

Well, check this out in Planetfall:

You can tell the AI certain spells are off-limits during combat! Since my goal is to equalize the AI during tactical combat, this feels a bit like “cheating”, since I know the enemy AI has no such filters being applied. But using this makes it that much more like Dominions.

I’m glad you wrote this post.

There are quite a few things “missing” in AoW4.

I’m curious how you’re finding city management in PF.

I’d been reading the AoW4 thread and thinking I need a DLC drop before giving it a shot. But, the thread gets the juices running for some 4X. I think you’re onto something with returning to Planetfall. Especially without my having experienced any of the possible UX or system improvements in AoW4, AoW: Planetfall will still feel S class.

Other than I never quite learned it, so “still” is the wrong modifier personally. I anticipate that between now and the heat death of the universe I’ll figure out how to win a game of Planetfall. Three out of four X’s ain’t bad.

Oh, I quite like the city management in Planetfall!

Two things come to mind: 1) I prefer how Planetfall is very much in the tradition of “cities as spawners” instead of “city management as gameplay”. Especially since I worry Age of Wonders 4 has veered too far towards “city management as gameplay”. 2) I especially like how Planetfall uses province development in place of buildings. I’d rather develop and manage provinces on the map instead of a list of buildings on a city screen.

So this is the game I was hoping to play back when I started a game diary on Planetfall! Basically, a 4X sandbox where I level up my empire by playing through different challenges, each of which unlocks tools to help me beat harder challenges to accelerate my empire’s progression. A gameplay loop built around playing Planetfall maps with distinctive set-ups and goals, using a stable of upgrades, unlockables, and leveling up heroes. Basically, this is a party-based RPG, but instead of dungeon crawling, I’m 4Xing.

I can play and win games normally, but I’ve been opting for “surgical strikes” to level up specific factions so I can start later games with their tools. For instance, the last two games I played were specifically to accomplish “secondary objectives” and then pull up stakes with a win on behalf of a specific faction.

The first game was a Vanguard request to defeat the two Spacer dwellings on a planet crawling with Spacers, who are the Mad Max NPC faction (they have “Witness Me” suicide troops, a Mad Preacher (aka doof warrior) truck, suicide buggies, and even a toxic avenger. But first we have to find them. My Vanguard hero landed, deployed a wave of OWLs to search the planet, and started building up an army. By the time we’d found the Spacer dwellings, I had three stacks, each with one of my faithful heroes leading: my Vanguard leader, my Dvar sniper, and my Assembly shock gunner, all leading troopers, gunships, and even a couple of tanks. Although the Spacer dwellings were pretty remote, I saved up the influence to simply “buy out” nearby settlements as forward bases. And by steering clear of any entanglements with the other factions – “I’m just here for the Spacers and then I’ll be leaving the planet to you!” I told them – I had no trouble taking out the dwellings and adding a planet called Tholian’s Folly to my empire. It even came with an artifact that unlocks all the Spacer units. Now I can field my own Mad Max army!

The game I just played was more difficult, and I confess to cheating to play it like a chess puzzle. The “secondary objective”, which lets you call an early win, was to defeat another faction within 20 turns. The twist is that the map is completely revealed, so you know everyone’s starting position.

The trick was to 1) accumulate enough of an army to take out a capital city, and 2) make sure it can reach that capital city within 20 turns. I screwed up a few times by trying to level up my starting army, taking risks, and then taking losses. But any losses screwed my chances of taking a capital city by turn 20! Hmm, okay, time to reload from turn 1. Like I said, it was a bit like a chess puzzle.

Normally, I guess you’d beat this kind of objective by sending in a faction that had leveled up and unlocked techs, so they could immediately start building higher tier units. That’s how the balancing works in Galactic Empire mode: leveled up factions get a leg up, but you need a leg-up for the worlds with the difficulty dials turned up.

I also had to figure out my tech choices, colony builds, and army composition in advance, since the timing was so tight. But I was using the Syndicate, pretty much on a whim, and they weren’t at all leveled up. It seemed like my only option was a bunch of cheap Syndicate troops with their pulse rifles, whatever meager boost they’d get from their starting mods, and the even more meager boost from having a Syndicate overseer in the stack. Not a ton of synergies available when you have to win by turn 20!

My army set out for the most accessible enemy capital and they brought along a colonizer, which was one of the first things I built. I deployed the colonizer around the halfway point so I had a city to provide closer reinforcements (this was also figured into my “opening moves” calculation). I managed two full stacks with heroes and was moving in for the kill – the actual war declaration would come at the last minute – when suddenly it looked like all was lost because of something I should have foreseen because I had just done it myself: my chosen target had just built a second city! Now I had five turns to take out two cities. And if I failed, I would be playing on a map where everyone hates me because I’m the guy who bum rushes a starting city without going through the normal diplomatic due process.

I didn’t have a single turn to spare. As you’d expect, his capital was mostly empty because he was out with his army doing other things. But I took some losses in the battle, and then scurried to his expansion city, where he had managed to retreat with an army big enough to make it a toss-up. On turn 19, I got lucky with the battle – these are all autoresolved – and seized the second city.

But nothing happened.

For a brief moment of panic I was sure I had run into one of Triumph’s long neglected game-killing bugs. Oh, wait, I probably have to cycle the turn. But, wait, then I’m at turn 20. I will get credit for the win, right? Sure enough, I just had to find the notification from the list and click it for a win and, voila!, now this planet is part of my empire along with a hefty dose of Syndicate XP. Man, I cannot get enough of these screens after a match:

For instance, that breaks down from the Spacer map the parameters, the goals, the xp I earned, for whom I earned it, how I earned it, and what I unlocked. Among the unlocks was this artifact, which will let me call in Spacers on later maps:

I ended up getting a stupid amount of mileage out of the Empire mode in Planetfall. Once you know the few bugs/gaps in the Empire system, they can be avoided, and it is really a VERY strong strategic engine.

I’m still delayed in AoW4 by work/etc. but I’m confident that AoW4 will be well worth whatever wait I end up taking. I already bought it, and Triumph’s track record on making their games better via DLC and patches is very well established.

I’m a bit tempted to try some more Planetfall Empire mode. I have this idea for an Empire of the Amazons… I’m thinking if you combine the organic boosts of the Amazons with the synthetic boosts of the Synthesis secret tech you might end up with a combo strong enough to turn goat piss into gasoline.