Where does one even begin with this turn based strategy monolith? If you were to combine XCOM and Civilization, you might get something that moderately resembles Planetfall. While it is effectively a re-skin of other Age of Wonder titles, I have the benefit of it being my first entry played – therefore the positives and shortcomings are all fresh for me and I don’t have to be biased one way or another to other titles.
That said, from an outsider’s perspective, this could be one of the most densely filled strategy games on the Xbox to date. Normally I recommend starting with a tutorial, but unfortunately the tutorial here hurts the overall flow of gameplay. As a space aged turn-based strategy game, you do the usual. Explore the map, fight the baddies, and build your ecosystem. Sounds simple, but could do with a touch more depth, right? Well this is the point where the developer hears your request and dials the complexity up to fifty.
I have never experienced a strategy game with more mechanics. Upgrades within upgrades within upgrades. And in the tutorial, make sure you go in with an open mind, because you’ll be told how everything works… once. Unless I failed horrifically in navigating my way through the numerous menus and technology trees, I soon realised that this sort of game takes a level of dedication that many people simply will not commit to. I could write a small thesis on how many different things you need to keep track of. Just when you think you’ve got a hold of your Empire; civil unrest breaks out in your colonies!
What do the people want? The best I can tell is that you need to redistribute your resources from food and harvesting, to perhaps recreation. Were it so easy, you’d have the knack of that in no time. However, there is great depth in everything, including balance. Take away this, to increase this, and lower this. And then you can annex sites for more resources and more strategic placement of your forces, be they exploratory scouts or entire armies. Okay, you’re getting the hang of it now! It only took you until turn thirty-five after a couple hours, but you’re getting it now!
Oh wait, spoke too soon. The actual combat, of course! You can auto resolve it like a standard turn-based strategy, or…. You can start playing an entirely different game! Yeah, manual combat adds an entirely different dynamic to combat. Rather than playing numbers, you play tactics! Prepare your army by merging your forces, then prepare for well thought-out, but buggy strategy combat. Oh yes, first you will need to upgrade your hero with yet another billion different customisation’s and weapon preferences. From special abilities to weapons and tactics.
If you’ve played XCOM, you’ll be familiar with the gameplay. You can even use an over-watch line of sight mechanic, where your units will protect others when enemies advance. You can choose to put units behind cover, into the open to bait enemies, or even group them all together to gang up on individual enemies. This is when the game shines brightest, and its impressive to have such a deeply thought out and strategic combat system almost playing the role of after-thought in an already rich game.
Sound design is decent with regards to combat, but in the over-world view it just becomes repetitive and inaudible after a while. I even had a glitch where there was no sound at all, and it took me ages to notice because I had tuned everything out unintentionally. The score itself is fine, and there is some decent voice acting, though the ham is well and truly present the majority of the time. The graphics, while a bit muddy and squashed, are colourful – I do love a colourful game. There are a wide range of colours for all the menus and skill and tech trees that remind me of ‘Sins of a Solar Empire’ which is never a bad thing. The graphics overall are about average for this time of game, and honestly, that’s okay.
But the biggest question on everyone’s lips will be- “Is it fun”? The answer is yes, and no. Numerous times during my upgrading I got very bored reading through the extensive list of descriptions. I never felt compelled to explore the map itself, outside of seeking out my next fight. Undiscovered map locations are uninteresting to look at, and I never felt thrilled by the prospect of venturing towards them. I often felt a bit lethargic playing the game in the over-world map, waiting for turns to complete so my units could move or my technologies could develop.
There was nothing particularly gripping about the story either. Sometimes you rush out to save a friend, or aid your allies, but most of it is pretty average. However, the combat is very good, and quite addictive. I only wish I could have spent more time doing that overall, and since that is an under-utilised portion of the game, that’s a bit disappointing.
What we have is a strategy hybrid that boasts some of the deepest upgrade mechanics I’ve ever seen, while being decidedly kind of bland. This is by no means a deal breaker though. For the players who get the most out of their game time by carefully taking their time planning their turns and developing their forces, this will be a massive hit. If you’re new to the genre, I can’t say this will convert you into an avid fan, but it is worth a go. I myself couldn’t find a way to fully appreciate the game as a whole and while I enjoy it overall, I can’t see myself returning to the game after completion, which is a shame. However, the long lasting fun factor will be completely based on your tastes as a gamer.
Despite having a vertical drop for a learning curve and looking and feeling kind of average as far as modern gaming goes, Age of Wonders: Planetfall succeeds in being a richly deep and complex space strategy hybrid that will no doubt appeal to long time turn-based strategy fans, and newcomers alike.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.