Long-game TBS games like Age of Wonders 3 take a long time to fully judge, especially if you are interested in how well the game holds up after a dozen or so multiplayer games, when the players know what they are doing and the ‘new shine’ has worn off.
I’m happy to report AoW3 is holding up very well, and the most recent expansion has only been a major bonus.
For starters, its important to note that AoW3 is overall a very good game. It looks good, sounds good, has lots of content/variety, and is technically solid (no crashing and the multiplayer doesn’t disconnect or throw weird errors). Bonus points for loading quickly, having a UI that doesn’t get in the way, and having units/races that are both traditional (dwarfs with axes/shields, elves with bows) and different (tiger-like race with pounce, lucky halflings).
Beyond that very solid foundation, perhaps the most important improvement AoW3 has going for it over similar games like Heroes of Might and Magic 6 or even Civilization V is that rarely does a multiplayer game ultimately come down to ‘one big fight’. If you have played similar games before, you know that the general pattern of each game is: buildup, fight neutrals, position for major fight, major fight happens, someone wins the fight and basically the game.
In AoW3, because stacks are limited and moving all your units near each other is discouraged (you will fall behind in exploration and clearing neutral camps/treasures), its very common that you will have multiple major battles during a game, and winning any one battle won’t instantly decide the game. This may sounds simple or minor, but it makes a world of difference and the whole experience is far more entertaining because of it.
In many of the games I’ve played, who is winning has shifted multiple times, and even as a game looked to be winding down, a late turnaround is possible if things line up. That is huge, and really keeps the game from feeling like an inevitable slog towards victory after a certain point. I would say this is even more true in play-by-email games, as in those you must use auto-battle when fighting another player, which prevents cheese builds/strategies from being effective and also adds a final bit of randomness to everything.
Highly recommended title for any TBS fan, and both expansions are worth picking up as well, since they just add ‘more’ of everything without the game feeling like it has TOO much going on.
I’ve been looking at AoW3, but just don’t have the time. Grrr.
I haven’t played a ton of it (and no multiplayer yet) but I have the feeling Heroes V is a bit better in solo play/campaign against the computer. That said, I was pretty surprised how much fun I had with AoW 3 compared to Shadow Magic – which I didn’t particularly like. And still undecided which is the best one – Heroes 3, Heroes 5 or AoW3, although I won’t ever play them in multiplayer competitively :)