Greetings travellers, Art Director Rich here, join me by the campfire as I share a brief glimpse into what the artisans of Triumph have been crafting as I touch upon 3 main topics;
- Your Creations (Creativity & Evolution)
- Your Realms (The setting, World & Combat Maps)
- Your Inhabitants (Wildlife)
Everything you see in this Dev Diary has been created by a small core group of around 9 artists; 1 animator, 2 environment artists, 2 character artists, 3 2D artists, 1 tech artist, and 1 PFX Artist with over 3.5 years of development. We hope you enjoy the toolbox we have made for you, and as a treat we’ve attached some downloadable Wallpapers at the end!
Let your creativity looseYou are the core of Age of Wonders 4 as we give you the tools to create your own original fantasy races. This is key, and a truly unique feature; Stellaris does it to an extent with their 2D portraits, however we challenged ourselves to have a fully 3D customizable unit lineup, not just your leader but your race, and on top of that to enhance and transform them through the game. When this was first pitched it was considered high risk and a bit crazy, we weren't even sure it was possible! With lots of prototyping and tech I’m happy to say we are proud of what we achieved, and we can’t wait for you to get your hands on it! You are handed different visual ingredients to mix and match to arrive at something fresh, or recreate your favourite characters from popular media with friends by making your own multiplayer fellowship.
We spent a lot of time on making interesting character components; pieces that would fit together well to tell a story, as well as pushing the visual distinction and fidelity - we didn’t want Dwarves to be just scaled down humans, but really push their proportions with bigger noses and exaggerated features and slight expressions.The texturing is painterly, colourful and gritty without being too cartoony. This stylized realism creates an almost caricature-like effect that helps them come to life. You can play as a standard fantasy race like High Elves with golden armour and unicorns, or try your hand at some really fun combinations, and more importantly, evolutions! Your starting race can be very different from your ending race as you unlock Enchantments, Transformations and gain access to new racial and monstrous units…
With 10 starting Forms, 6 Cultures and Wizard Kings, there are an incredible number of customization options; hair and beard styles, helmets, tattoos, scars, mount types and colours to pick from. These are a few screenshots from in-game showing off the huge variety of leaders you can create.. We can’t wait for you to unleash your creativity and see what you make!
Leader helmet customization concept art -
Form is the first ingredient that can combine with Culture to create something visually new. Here we can see how the Culture outfit proportions change to match your Form, we utilise bone and rig scaling tech to achieve this along with giving customization options to adjust their sizes like leg and arm length or physique.
Mixing up cultures can create some really fun combinations, below we have a typical Industrious Dwarf, but why not mix it up with a Mystic Dwarf, or perhaps something completely different? Create Industrious Rats or High Orcs, Culture is the ingredient that when combined with form can bring fresh originality to old tropes. Let your imagination run wild, what’s the fantasy you want to create?
Barbarian Unit Concept Art -
But Form and Culture are just the beginning of your journey, things really start to become interesting when we evolve our factions using magical Tomes. Throughout the game applying enchantments and transformations can change how our units and leaders look and play. You can twist and morph them into something… more. Enchantments and Evolutions stack and combine visually with PFX, skin decorations, colours, and additional meshes like ice shards.
Each Tome is fully illustrated to communicate the associate Affinity and contents -
Below we can see if we follow the Tome path of Chaos we gain access to magics that give us fire weapons, and demonic visuals. Granting our units black armour, goat legs and demonic horns with glowing eyes and wings -
Or here we can take 2 affinity paths mixing visuals from both to get frost weapons, steel skin and golden armour, and ultimately create a goldtouched undead wightborn race. These enchantments and Transformations apply to all Forms and all Cultures as well as leaders. You can apply different transformations to the different races you have conquered. You can also come into contact with thematic Free Cities that have these visuals already applied allowing for rich and interesting stories to emerge. What stories do you want to tell, how will you evolve your race?
Further customization continues in-game by looting mythical weapons and equipment like magical rings, armours and mounts. Below we see a level 15 leader leaning into the undead Shadow Affinity direction, not only through Transformations but also through Hero Skills unlocking powerful combat abilities. We also added an Adjust Appearance button to the Panels so you can always change your looks to fit the thematics of your loot, or adjust a Heroes appearance to suit a particular story you want to live.
Weapon Concept Art -
The SettingFollowing the cataclysm of AoW3, Age of Wonders 4 gave us the opportunity for a fresh start, we wanted to present a vibrant welcoming fantasy world that you want to spend time in. A new age of realms and characters of your own design. Because of this we shifted the main colour palettes to spring hues, playing up the greens and blue mists as we leaned into the magic and creation aspect of the game.
The Romanticism paintings of the 1800’s inspired the world map look, a gritty but vibrant surface littered with Ancient Wonders, the scale of mountains enhanced by moving pools of light. We pushed greater heights with rolling hills, a new cliff system and epic mountain peaks peeking through distant mists. Motion would come to play a big part of making it all come to life, whether it be leaves falling from trees, or bats flying above an Underground entrance, those small details make the world feel alive creating an inviting and intimate atmosphere, drawing you in for a closer look. Our in-house Creator Engine got some new tech upgrades, this meant we could explore the Fog of War look with volumetric lighting, creating a beautiful mist that invites you to explore.
A living world -
Expand and grow your cities, build Wizard Towers and choose your cities path via Special Province Improvements, each Province Improvement has bespoke 3D Art like the Research Post and Resonance Field. Below is an example of an early game Tier I vs. late game Tier IV Feudal city, growing in scale and power -
Create your own realms with Realm Traits, pick a world visual or mod-in your own, or enter your customised ruler into the Story Realms as you become part of the world's unfolding legend. Below we peer through the realm void as the artworks complement the voiced story intro and outros -
ReadabilityGameplay is king, so gameart must enhance gameplay. We learned a lot from Planetfall and took those learning into Age of Wonders 4, not just the world map, but across the board with units and user interface. We want the game to be easy to read, have units stand out, have clear iconography and user interface, all whilst delivering visuals that immerse and keep you engaged. Readability is paramount, so we addressed that at its foundation. Here we can see the differences between Planetfall, which has washed out muddy visuals, even the interface falls away, it’s hard to see the differences between forests and roads. Compare that to Age of Wonders 4 where each element has a clear black and white grouping, it’s calmer on the eye and the interface really pops -
Combat MapsEvery hex tile and location on the World Map has its own Tactical Map. Some like the Ancient Wonders are more dungeon-like with bespoke lighting, others such as forests and gold nodes take on the mood of that biome, whether it be in the Arctic or Tropics.
Below are screenshots of the same Gold Node Tactical Map but as they appear within the different biomes. The system adds thematic pfx to each biome, snow in the arctic, butterflies in the mediterranean and sands blowing in the wind in deserts. The tactical maps also swaps out vegetation, what might be a dead tree in the desolate biome, is a giant mushroom in the underground. Additionally map hazards also change, a Clover hex giving a boon of luck in the Temperate biome, might be a patch of poisonous plants in the Tropics. This ensures that each time you play, even if it’s the same location that we can have very different moods and experiences -
A closer look at map dressing and moods -
Here is some environment Concept Art, each culture has its own building set style, in certain biomes the houses will even show signs of that biome, such as snow on the roof -
WildlifeThe realms are populated by all sorts of creatures, from the smallest Fairy and Worm to the largest Giant and Dragon. Using Realm traits you can set the type of wildlife you will encounter, whether it be a realm of Rampant Undeath inhabited with Bone Golems and Skeletons, or with Astral Invaders, magical creatures from the Astral Sea. You can come across heroes with special traits that allow you to recruit monsters like the Ogres. Alternatively complete an Ancient Wonder map location to gain the ability to recruit special monsters from that site via the Rally of the Lieges mechanic.
Here’s some concept art of beautiful monsters. Internally we called these Ogres ‘Gordon and Ramsey’ -
Concept art of some friendly Trolls -
Here’s a sneak peek at some unit .gifs showing the animations and posing from out in-game Encyclopaedia, here you can view all units in the game and even apply Enchantments and Transformations to any Culture and Form combination to see their effects, as well as read up on lore and gameplay concepts -
I’ve put together this fantastic overview showing off a few community creations that we’ve seen come by. Beautiful and clever Tome books and Illustrations of the Dev Stream stories that unfolded like the Drowned Toads. As well as ideas for Units and DLC cultures! Really cool stuff guys, we can’t wait to see what the Modding community will add as well!
Thank you for your time, we really hope you enjoy the fantasy toolbox we’ve made for you and can’t wait to see your creations! This is just the beginning of the Journey…to make a time go a little bit faster here’s some Wallpaper - https://paradoxinteractive.files.com/f/55041ae37bd422e2
Tide over the wait with more AOW4 news!