I found these combat mechanics and its upgrading system particularly engaging because it allows you to truly tailor different armies: one army can consist of up to six units and, depending on your play style, you can create armies with specialised strengths like healing, or breaking through an enemy’s ranks. While you do have the option to auto-resolve conflicts, I particularly enjoyed these tactical battles because they felt like they sped up the pace of the game, making it a more varied and surprising experience: unlike other 4X strategy games, you can’t just mindlessly dive into battle using brute force. Instead, the game’s mechanics feel like they are built to inspire players to think big and strategise on a grander, more ambitious scale.
Not that there isn’t anything to do off the battlefield: Age of Wonders: Planetfall is as much about empire building and diplomacy than it is about warfare. Like with many strategy games, you start a scenario or campaign with a single city and a handful of resources. Similarly to other strategy games, you’ll find yourself keeping track of research, food, money, diplomacy, and happiness and expanding your knowledge through a research tree. As you expand your cities, you can build different structures, harvest resources as you conquer new sectors on the map, and extend your influence.
But when it came to relationships and diplomacy with opposing players, I found the mechanics thin in places. In several playthroughs, opposing commanders declared war on me within the first ten turns, despite being on neutral terms with me. After a while, I found myself disregarding the diplomacy dynamics to focus more on my military instead. This is just as well, because its combat dynamics is where Age of Wonders: Planetfall truly shines, delivering arresting combat mechanics with a meaningful story to boot.