Welcome to Age of Wonders 4’s first Development Diary! Here we’ll talk about the game’s inception, big new features, and what you can expect in the coming months leading up to release on May 2nd! You can wishlist the game on Steam today!
First, a bit of history:
The premise and focus of Age of Wonders 4 has been two decades in the making. At the conclusion of 2003’s Age of Wonders Shadow Magic, the warring Wizard Kings were banished from Athla along with the Shadow Demons. We knew that if the stars of game business aligned we’d bring them back, bigger and scarier than before.
After Triumph’s Overlord period came 2014’s Age of Wonders 3. This long-awaited sequel was developed and published independently and was set in a lower-magic era. It saw the rise of the Human Commonwealth’s renaissance empire in the void left by the aforementioned archmages. The scheming Shadowborn plotted to bring back the Wizard Kings and the magical times of old, and in the canon ending, they succeeded!
After joining Paradox, we released Age of Wonders: Planetfall (though development actually started prior to the acquisition). This sci-fi sister game allowed us to experiment with new angles, allowed us to bring the game to a new audience on consoles, and taught us a lot about IP building, ranged combat, meta empire systems and unit mods.
Now, after three and a half years of development, we are ready to announce the newest sequel to the fantasy saga. The biggest Age of Wonders game to date: Age of Wonders 4.
The Return of the Wizard Kings
Age of Wonders 4 starts with the banished Wizard Kings breaking free from their otherworldly prisons. Corrupted by centuries of torment in eldritch domains, they have returned to the world of Athla and now seek other realms that lie within their grasp. Not merely satisfied to reclaim their thrones, they seek to establish themselves as gods over mortals.
The mortal leaders scramble to rally their populations against the invaders. Choosing to be a mortal champion or one of the returning Wizard Kings, you must master the forbidden arts and prepare for a confrontation the likes of which the universe has never seen; taking the conflict to Athla and other worlds within the Astral Sea.
The central theme that emanates through Age of Wonders 4 is Creation; which ties closely to the returning wizard kings with their god-like powers. If AoW3 was autumnal, then AoW4 represents a fresh spring, heralding an age of new beginnings where the magical forces of creation flow freely. This spring theme is actually part of the art style guide, leading to fresher, green and blue tinted color palettes.
The series has always featured a strong in-world player avatar whose empire embodies their traits. With Age of Wonders 4 we take this further with unprecedented faction creation and evolution systems, as well as new ways for players to create realms to conquer. Next to enhanced avatar character creation, you can build your own starting race. Your choice of physical form, culture, traits and magical tome defines your unique race at the start of the game. You can go for an existing trope or create your own unique vision. Mystic Toads, Cannibal Halflings, or Isolated Deep Dwarves are all examples of what is possible. The modular nature of this fantasy race construction set will also make it easier for modders to add content compared to previous games.
But this is only the beginning; our goal is to instill a great sense of progress and agency during the many hours an AoW game takes. No longer stuck in a predefined research/building path determined at the start of the game, you can now evolve your faction in the direction that suits you during play. You rule an empire of your own design, crafting a personal journey.
With each iteration of the Age of Wonders series we have added more gameplay depth: systems that allow players to develop their own strategies and stories through the game; adding agency and replayability. Age of Wonders 4 continues on this path of evolution. Here are some of the new features:
The Tomes of Magic and Other Progression Systems
Players will need to harness the newly unleashed magic to best their rivals. This is done by researching arcane knowledge contained within ancient tomes. We have broken up the game’s “tech tree” into 54 Tomes of Magic, spread over 6 Affinities to the cosmic powers (Order, Chaos, Astral, Materium, Nature and Shadow). Each Tome is centered around a strong theme (Pyromancy, Necromancy, Faith, Teleportation, etc) and includes a number of spells and upgrades for your empire you can then research. You can start with goblin barbarians, and follow the path of Shadow with tomes of necromancy and cryomancy that create a frozen empire of death, or use Nature’s tomes to create an empire that lives in harmony with the creatures of the forests. As well as tomes, you can use the Empire Tree to unlock skills that improve your empire. Each affinity has its own branch that follows a particular playstyle. Chaos focuses on leading armies in wars of conquest, while Order looks to conquer the world through vassalage and diplomacy.
As you play the game, picking new tomes and skills from the empire tree, your empire will change to reflect your choices. Your unique path and developing Cosmic Affinities affect the spells you use, the cities you build, and the units you field. You control how your people evolve both physically and socially. This all instills a strong sense of progress and roleplaying, while respecting the medieval high fantasy setting.
New Narrative Engine
New to the game is a narrative engine that laces encounters, diplomacy and many other aspects of the game with narrative flair. How you respond to these events tests your judgment as a leader. The events react to who you are, while immersing you deeper in the living world. Of course, many of the events shine new lights on the universe’s rich lore, while the game’s story missions drive a new epic plot forward.
Intricate Diplomacy and Relations
Diplomacy, both with rival rulers and free cities you encounter on the map, has received a great deal of attention with new types of pacts, grievances and AI personalities to deal with. AIs have better awareness of who you are and their own place in the world.
Cities and Economy
Cities can develop in multiple new ways: we’ve introduced a new province system where population growth directly results in new territory that can be added to your city’s domain, allowing you to shape your domains and expand towards high value locations. Other features include separate production queues for structures and units to ensure that new units can be drafted faster without stalling city development. There are special province improvements for you to build around your cities and a new empire management resource called Imperium. The game’s economy alone will likely be the subject of multiple dev diaries!
Combat and new Siege System
Combat has always been at the heart of the game and is better than ever. There’s a new morale system which can cause units to rout; adding a new dimension to combat. We have added clearly defined unit roles, which make it easier to identify the many units in the game. And, of course, there are a ton of new units and clever abilities that look and animate better than ever.
There are more links between the world map and combat, like narrative event options that impact battles and most importantly a new siege system that takes the preparations to the world map and gives defenders a window to break the siege. More on these things later!
This is just a short overview of things we’re doing with AoW4. Of course many loved features make a return: multiplayer, underground, heroes and their arsenals; all have seen evolutions big and small. This is a fully loaded sequel!
From the time of this announcement to our release on May 2nd, there will be an intense barrage of development journals and other community activities, where we’ll take a deeper look at the many facets of this game: gameplay features, art, etc. We hope you like what we have to show and we’re looking forward to your feedback.
Check back next week where principal designer Tom Bird is going to take a closer look at the building and evolving factions using the Cosmic Affinities and Tomes of Magic !
If you like what you’ve seen - please Wishlist the game! Thank you!