Age of Wonders III: Golden Realms Review: Luck of the Halfling
Platform: Windows PC
Developer: Triumph Studios
Publisher: Triumph Studios
Release Date: September 18, 2014
If you ever caught yourself in the middle of playing Triumph Studios’ Age of Wonders III wondering where all the poo-flinging Dread Monkeys are – fear not. As the first expansion pack released for the turn-based tactical strategy game, Golden Realms introduces an entirely new faction, new skill specializations, new units, two new scenarios, a new mini-campaign and several new gameplay features that tweak and expand an already fantastic game.
But also adds those filthy, filthy monkeys.
I was a big fan of Age of Wonders III when it released last April, and in the months since Triumph Studios have done an admiral job listening to fan feedback and incorporating lots of tweaks and balance changes. Golden Realms is the first full-fledged expansion pack, which is what we called DLC back in the day. A few more popular strategy game developers continue on the tradition of larger expansion packs, and I’m pleased to see that Triumph Studios is one of them – not only does it speak to the developer’s support of their game but expansion packs typically offer far more content as well as tweaks and additional features that have ramifications throughout the entire game.
The biggest addition was also the biggest missing piece from Age of Wonders III – the Halflings as a playable race. Although Age of Wonders III’s faction system is still a bit too homogenous across all the races for my liking, Halflings instantly became one of my favorite races because of their innate Lucky attribute. Lucky gives them a chance to completely avoid an attack on the battlefield, and it’s based on their morale. Keep the friendly little people happy and all your units can benefit from a 25% chance to dodge each attack – an enormous advantage that I found incredibly useful.
Design-wise the halflings are clearly inspired by their Lord of the Rings roots. The archers shoot explosive fireworks like bazookas (with a super useful AOE Dazzle effect – my new favorite archers). Their cavalry rides shaggy ponies and their support unit is the Brew-Brother who wields casks, hurls cleavers at foes and can heal allies by feeding them turkey. Their pikemen are farmers who are armed with pitchforks and throw angry chickens. Chickens. The theming is so beautifully on point you can’t help but fall in love with them.
The Golden Realms campaign features the new halfling race in their exodus into a new land of jungles and ancient seals, reminding me of Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider. While it’s relatively short compared to the dual campaigns of the main game at only three maps, each map is gigantic and does a great job showing off all the new features of the expansion pack. The difficulty level is also quite high (the first mission pits two bloodthirsty AI allied against you) and the menu warns it’s for experienced players only.
The first mission stars some humorous but deadly Halfling in-fighting centered around a river delta and features the challenging new aquatic units – most notably the terrifying Naga. These snake-men can travel on water just as easily as land, and your first city precariously placed by the shore across from an opponent is no coincidence. The tier IV Naga unit is the awesome Glutton, which looks like a cross between a mutant fish and Jabba the Hut, and can swallow entire units to heal himself.
The second map delves deep into the jungles of the new land and presents new map locations and most importantly, the mystical city upgrades they can provide. Once certain map locations are explored (such as the ones that you ‘enter’ and clear out – tombs, dungeons, etc) they provide a specific unique building that can be built in the nearest city – provided the explored dungeon or ancient ruin or whatever is located in your empire’s borders – nicely affecting city placement and border expansion. Most of these unique buildings provide significant upgrades to a certain unit type – giving archers additional damage and abilities for example, while others let you build cool new units.
The third mission tasks you with the interesting new victory condition called Seals of Power. These locations act as a King of the Hill style game mode as you must hold them and accumulate charges each turn while your opponents attempt to do the same. Oh and it also spawns powerful units that frequently attack the army that’s on the seal. It wasn’t particularly revolutionary, and sometimes it is just easier to kill your opponents the old-fashioned way, but I definitely appreciate more avenues of winning. The two new scenarios (which offer single and multiplayer) also feature the Seals of Power – and there are always less seals than players.
Golden Realms also adds lots of little things that fit in nicely to every game of Age of Wonders III. The Wild Magic spell school (which you being with in the second campaign map) provides a bit of fun gambling, from summoning random elementals to swapping units around the battlefield. Never before I have cast a spell and held my breath with anticipation. New units, mostly neutral animals, are a welcome though not crazy exciting addition. Elephants are great and all, but this is a world of dragons and Ethereal Horrors! The powerful new hero items were generally all awesome, however. I found a helmet (okay, it was a tiara) that gave me a few stat boosts as well as a crazy powerful new cone attack called the Siren’s Call, giving my low level hero a huge boost in killing power.