Disclosure: I purchased Age of Wonders III on release and was later invited by Triumph Studios to join the closed testing group to help beta test the Golden Realms expansion. I’ve continued to be a part of the closed testing group for the second expansion and have received one copy each of Golden Realms and Eternal Lords.
Age of Wonders III (AoW3) from Triumph Studios was released March 31st, 2014. Prior reviews (Age of Wonders III and AoW3: Golden Realms) have covered the basics of AoW3; that it is a high-fantasy, turn-based 4X strategy game. It includes a hearty dose of RPG elements, a clever magic system, empire building, detailed tactical combat, campaigns, scenarios, a random map generator, and multi-player modes. AoW3 has received continuous developer support through a series of extensive patches, the Golden Realms expansion last fall, and now the Eternal Lords expansion.
One major criticism of AoW3 is that it didn’t live up to the diversity of races seen in previous AoW games. While this is true, the addition of the class system in AoW3 increases the number of possible configurations dramatically over previous entries in the series. The Eternal Lords expansion adds a three mission campaign, additional special sites, a racial upgrade system, and brings the total number of races to nine and classes to seven. For those lamenting the lack of race options in the base game, there are now 63 different combinations possible, which adds significantly to the replayability of the game.
Eternal Lords was released alongside the massive 1.5 patch to the base game, which adds a number of transformative gameplay systems that Eternal Lords builds on, such as the new Race Governance system. The ability to lead an empire of the dead as a class, instead of as a dedicated race, is a stroke of genius and makes for a far more believable depiction of the living dead in a fantasy world. The two new races, Frostlings and Tigrans, are both long-time fan favorites, and have been incorporated into the game with the same attention to detail and character as prior races. The question at hand is whether these additions, along with other features and improvements, will be enough to satiate our appetites for more content. A forthcoming article will dive into the 1.5 patch changes in more detail.
eXplore: Critical aspects of the strategy in AoW3 are how your heroes and armies bounce from treasure site to treasure site, level up, find magical clubby things, liberate resource nodes, and scout opposing empires. The base game already had a diversity of things to discover, and this remains a strong point of the game with Eternal Lords adding even more content to the game world.
Wondrous Special Sites and Pickups
The Eternal Lords expansion adds a number of new special sites and pickups to the game world. In AoW3, special sites include places that you can “enter” with a single stack of units as well as landmark sites that confer various benefits to a visiting army. One of the new pickups, the Sage Hut, is notable for giving racial XP points used in the new Racial Governance system as a reward. Similarly, the Box of Cataclysms gives you a large pool of casting points but requires you to trigger a cosmic happening event.
The new locations are mostly tied to the new races or to the Necromancer class, such as the Hall of the Forefathers, the Sphinx Temple, and the Castle of the Lich Kings. These locations add production or resource bonuses when located within your domain, and they build on the Mythical City Upgrades introduced with Golden Realms by allowing you to build a unique city development as well. For example, the Castle of the Lich King allows you to erect a Library of the Dark Arts, granting all of your Monster and Infantry units from your city the Inflict Fear ability. The special locations also provide some of the more stunning tactical combat maps, which makes fighting there a special occurrence all of its own.
Reef Colony Dwelling
Eternal Lords adds a new Reef Colony (i.e. Merfolk) dwelling, inhabited by new recruitable forces like the Lord of the Deep, Lost Mariners, Sirens, and Mermaids. Oh, and of course Baby Krakens. Like all dwellings, they can provide a Tier 4 unit, which in this case is the mighty Lord of the Deep, but require a substantial investment in structures to get to that point. The nicest perk of the Reef Colony dwelling is that it adds the capability for projecting domain in the water. Previously, there was no means for building forts or cities in the water to get domain, but with Reef Colony that is now a possibility. Granted, you can’t move the Reef Colony, but it does create more reasons for naval combat to occur, which was a weak point in the base game. These Reef Colony units are at their best fighting in the water, which can make playing island maps a more tempting and interesting prospect.
A new cosmic event system is introduced with the Eternal Lords expansion. Players can specify the frequency of events, or disable them entirely. When an event starts, players get a notification but more obviously there is some wild visual overlay on the screen, applying strange lighting and shader effects to the landscape to signal that a special event is in effect. The cosmic events all last for around 5 turns and have a range of possible effects on gameplay. For example, one cosmic event makes the world dark and reduces the vision range of armies to just one hex. In one multiplayer game, I used this opportunistically to sneak a large force of units behind enemy lines since my opponent’s scouts were rendered near useless.
It is impossible to determine exactly when a Cosmic Happening will occur or what it will be, so it’s completely random whether an event will be beneficial or detrimental to your plans. Random events do seem to be a feature that many 4X gamers request and enjoy, so this will be a welcomed addition for many. The events themselves are quite diverse, and overall add additional spice and uncertainty to the game. It’s a nice touch, although can be a little distracting at times too.
eXpand: Eternal Lords’ biggest addition to the game expands (see what I did there?!) the race and class options. This comes hand in hand with all new leader customization options, including a number of new background scenes and newfangled accessories.
Rise from your Graves!
The Necromancer class is a great addition to the game, being an excellent “dual-channel” class that relies equally on summoning units (like Lost Souls, Banshees, and tier 4 Dread Reaper) and producing units (like Reanimators and Deathbringers). The Necromancer is also unique in that the class modifies racial units by ghoulifying them into partially-undead versions, where typically it is the class units that are modified by race. Of course the latter still happens with the Necromancer Class units too.
In terms of empire building, the most significant mechanical difference between the Necromancer and all the other classes are the changes to Necromancer cities. Your starting city begins the game as a “ghouled” city with an undead population. When founding or absorbing new cities into your empire, the population is ghoulified in the process as well. This means that all of your cities, regardless of race or acquisition, become ghoul cities. The Necromancer also has a powerful Animate Ruins spell that lets you bring a razed city back to life. You can conquer an enemy city, plunder it for gold and mana and subsequently bring it back to life. The city will lose a chunk of its population, but can be a great tool to have on hand.
The effect of ghouled cities is a very slow population growth, until you start building the obligatory special Necromancer buildings, which provide ghoul growth. In a thematically apt way, you can also grow cities by winning battles, which gives nearby cities a population bump. In addition to slower growth, your ghouled citizens are immune to most happiness effects, good or bad, and instead get a flat bonus of +15% to resource and production output. This is great in the early game when you might not have high happiness anyway, but late game you will miss out on the potential +50% bonuses for having Cheerful cities. This also means that your ghouled citizens aren’t bothered by normally disliked or hated climates, allowing to you expand equally well across any type of terrain, giving them a lot of flexibility.
The Armies of Darkness
The first thing to say about the Necromancer’s military prowess is that no undead or ghoul units heal on their own. You need dedicated support units, like the Reanimators, to provide healing on the strategic map. There are spells that add undead healing abilities to other support units, but the point remains: you need adequate healing to keep your undead legions from being worn down.
In tactical combat, plenty of options exist for resurrecting all manner of dead units, which is thematically right on the money. Reanimators can bring tier 1 or tier 2 units directly back to life, or can turn corpses into Cadavers. The Cadavers are crawling gibbering skeletons created from the remains of defeated units and lose life on the strategic map, requiring support units just to keep them alive. Necromancer heroes can learn more powerful abilities as they level up, allowing them to bring higher tier units back to life.
The new units themselves are quite fun and challenging to use effectively and fight against, which is a nice balance. Lost Souls are summonable scout units with an undying trait and automatically come back to life. Banshees are another summoned unit with a strong melee attack as well as a powerful scream ability that inflicts despair in large area of effect. This can trash your opponent’s morale and help turn the tide of a battle. The Bone Collector can devour corpses to replenish its life and increase its damage output; and you can even suicide your own cadavers into the Bone Collector to buff it more! If you position your forces well in combat, you can grow a gigantic Bone Collector that is a true terror on the battlefield.
My one worry with the Necromancer is that it may be too strong when handled by an experienced player, since Undead and Ghoul immunity to happiness and morale is a huge benefit. Many of the inherent weaknesses, like fire and spirit weakness or lower resistance, can be more than mitigated by certain ghoul city buildings (e.g. Embalmer’s Guild) and hero abilities like the Lich Aura. Immunity to morale effectively takes a major aspect of the gameplay and empire management out of play for the Necromancer class, which can simplify gameplay a little. It will remain to be seen how the class will fare when the competitive environment opens up .
Races of Frost and Fire
The Eternal Lords expansion adds not one but two complete races, much to many player’s delight. The Frostlings are all about frost and the Tigrans are all about fire. Both of these races mesh perfectly into the game, and look stunning alongside the established races. In a move sure to please people lamenting that the races are all too similar, both of the new races take big departures from the standard template used by the other races.
The Frostling race combines tough and cunning melee fighters with a caste of strong female units, like the White Witch and Frost Queen. There are some great synergies between Frostling units that make them a lot of fun to play. For example, certain Frostling units and weapons can inflict Chilling, like the White Witch’s attacks, making their targets more susceptible to frost damage and its effects. The Icescapers, the Frostling irregular, can throw magic Ice Balls that can outright freeze units, and can do so more successfully on units that have already been chilled.
The Frostling pikeman unit, the Honor Guard, is buffed up to Tier 2 status (most pikemen are only Tier 1) and has the ability to “protect” female Frostling units and redirect damage they take onto itself. The Mammoth Rider, however, is slightly more fragile than other Cavalry units but has a devastating charge ability, making it a bit of glass cannon unit. The Frost Queen is a strong melee-focused support unit with a powerful frost aura that can cripple opponents and open up devastating attack opportunities for other Frostlings, and when combined with the Honor Guard it can take a ton of damage.
One ability inherent to Frostling units is Fast Embark, that allows Frostlings to embark and disembark from ships more rapidly than other races. This is a very unique trait that allows Frostlings to be effective raiders on maps with water, attacking cities and armies close to the water’s edge and retreating back to their boats with little fear of a counter-attack.
The Tigrans are the race with the highest movement. They can hit hard on offense but have lower resistance than most other races making them unable to absorb as much damage. That said, their speed, coupled with specific niche abilities, makes them a very flexible race to use and a lot of fun; you just need to be mindful of the counter-attack!
The Cheetah is the Tigran irregular and one of my favorite units. It moves insanely fast and has a “Pounce” ability, allowing it to effectively teleport a short distance after moving, strike an target unit in the back, and automatically enter guard mode. Couple this with Rogue skills providing increased irregular movement and backstab abilities, and this lowly irregular can be a real threat. As an added bonus, the Cheetah, along with Shredders (a ranged unit), inflict bleeding. This is relevant because the Prowler, the buffed up Tigran infantry unit, inflicts extra damage against bleeding units. The Prowler is also a monster in melee combat, being built from the Warhall instead of the Barracks, while also having strong attacks and martial arts abilities.
The Tigran Mystic (support unit) is also quite interesting. While it performs the usual support unit duties (healing, ranged elemental attack), it can also shape-change into a Panther. Shape-changing heals some of the Mystic’s life and makes it a fast moving melee fighter similar to the Prowler. Did I mention that Panthers can also pounce? The last trick up the Tigrans’ sleeve is the Sphinx, which is an irregular Tier 3 unit with lesser flying. Lesser flying allows the unit to fly in tactical combat but not on the strategic map. The Sphinx is also a strong melee fighter but comes with a short ranged fire attack that can hit multiple units in a straight line.
eXploit: The Age of Wonders series has never focused on typical 4X exploitation mechanics, like special strategic resources or detailed city management. Nevertheless, the 1.5 patch makes a number of substantial improvements to the existing alignment and happiness systems in the game that makes for a far more rewarding experience. Two key features in Eternal Lords hooks into these improvements: the new alignment-based magic specializations and Race Governance.
One feature that makes AoW III unique and replayable is the magic system and its diversity of spells and abilities at your disposal. While the majority of your skills and abilities come from your class, the magic specializations provide a means to further tweak a particular class and race combination. Specializations can help reinforce a particular strategy or offset a class or race weakness and are an important part of designing your Leader.
The Eternal Lords expansion adds three new specializations, each with adept and master skills. These specializations all dovetail very neatly into the alignment system. The Keeper of the Peace, Grey Guard, and Shadowborn specializations have skills that allow you to enchant a city so that produced units are dedicated to good, neutral, or evil respectively. Other spells within the specializations work only on units dedicated to that alignment. For example, the Grey Guard strategic spell, Shield of Dissipation, grants +1 Resistance to all your units and +2 Defense to Dedicated to Neutral Units. At Mastery, Golden Balance makes all your cities produce extra gold, so long as your Leader remains neutral.
What makes these new specializations particularly welcome is that using them renders alignment-based decisions really important (e.g. declaring war or peace, migration vs. absorb). If you don’t maintain a proper alignment, units dedicated to that alignment suffer major moral penalties and can even start defecting. While the Keeper of the Peace and Shadowborn alignments lineup with good and evil playstyles, my favorite is the Grey Guard because it requires you to ride a fine line in order to maintain a neutral alignment. I often find myself needing to declare war when it isn’t in my interest, just to gain a buffer of evil points allowing me to befriend an independent city elsewhere. This juggling act can come across as a little artificial, but I find that it adds an enjoyable challenge to the game nevertheless.
The Race Governance system added by Eternal Lords complements the racial happiness mechanics introduced in the 1.5 patch, where each race in your empire tracks its own happiness based on how the player is treating it. Race Governance adds to this system by having players earn racial XP based on the number and size of the cities of a given race and its happiness.
When you gain enough racial XP, that race “levels up” and you have a choice between two perks: one military focused and one empire focused. Military perks boost the combat effectiveness of certain unit types while empire perks give you special economic advantages or other passive bonuses to your empire. Each race has five progressively stronger levels and the tier 5 perks are all quite powerful. For example, the High Elf level 5 military perk gives all Elven Archer and Support units the ability to ignore line of sight modifiers, while the empire upgrade makes your Great Temples all provide +5 casting points. Both can be compelling and powerful options depending on your strategy and the game situation.
Overall, the Race Governance system adds a new layer to the strategic planning of the game. Primarily, it impacts the decision of whether you go “mono-race” to hit high levels governance perks quickly, or go “multiracial” to have more unit diversity and options at the expense of slower racial XP gains. The system can feel a little tacked on and incidental (i.e. racial XP just passively happens), but it does add spice and further differentiation to the races, particularly at high governance levels.
eXterminate: The Age of Wonders series has always been war-centric and the tactical combat system combined with the composition and strategic maneuvering of your forces is the heart and soul of the game. As such, victory tends to focus on militaristic objectives: outright conquest, assassinating the opposing leader and capturing their throne city, or even Golden Realm’s “king of the hill” Seal victory.
The Great Unifier
The Eternal Lords expansion adds a new Unifier victory condition, which is met by constructing wondrous beacons that make your empire so supremely awesome that everyone else caves in and pledges their allegiance to you. In a departure for the series, this victory condition hinges on the growth and development of your empire itself, as opposed to relying on your military exploits.
By default, players are required to build and light two “Unifier Beacons” in order to trigger a win. Only one beacon can be built per race in your empire, and you need at least the third level of race governance to start building a beacon for that race. Building beacons consumes a substantial amount of resources, and once built the beacon(s) then need to be lit, requiring even more resources. All players receive notifications when the various stages of other players’ beacon building and lighting occur so be ready to defend yourself!
What is most interesting is that built and/or lit beacons provide a hefty empire happiness benefit to you, while subjecting your opponents to a happiness penalty. The more players there are building beacons and vying to be the Unifier, the more the happiness penalties start to stack up and cause chaos. It’s an ironic twist, but one that can start to shake up the stability of everyone’s quaint little towns. And even if you aren’t going for a unifier victory, you can still use the beacons for their happiness effects to hinder your opponents happiness.
Overall, the Unifier victory is a nice addition that reinforces the Race Governance system while also adding a way for your inner turtle to sit back, high in it’s castle walls, and make a dig at victory. Getting a single race to level three governance is not terribly difficult, and can happen easily with 40 or 50 turns. Getting two or more races to that level takes considerable effort, so relative to other victory conditions, the Unifier victory is best suited to longer games and/or games on large or XL maps. It overlaps a bit in this regard with the Seals victory, in that both operate as a sort of optional “countdown timer” on game length. But nevertheless, it adds a fresh new mechanic to the game and a new set of strategic possibilities for victory.
eXperience: Overall, the Eternal Lords expansion ushers in a ton of new content. The Necromancer class alone adds the biggest departure from the established playstyles of other classes, and implementing the Undead as a class instead of a race makes tremendous sense. The new races deviate from the template established by the original races, which is a great move that starts to shake up the gameplay even further. I do worry a little that the new races have so many “new toys” that they outshine the older races. But stay tuned for reactions to the 1.5 patch, because the old races haven’t been left out in the cold (or the fire).
Age of Wonders III was already one of my favorite games in 2014, and the additional content and new permutations of class, race, and specializations that are now possible add even more variety to the game. If you have been sitting on the sidelines, this is a great time to try out AoW3 and see all that the game and its expansions have to offer. If you’ve been waiting for more content and races to round out the game, the Eternal Lords expansion adds considerably to the experience.
Dallin’s “Kearon” additional perspective:
The Age of Wonders III: Eternal Lords expansion is like meeting up with an old friend. A friend that then buys you a Mercedes and offers you a seven figure job vacationing on tropical islands. Why? Because this expansion adds so much content and makes the game feel fresh again.
I have played just under 30 hours with the expansion so far and have only managed to slightly touch upon the added features. Perhaps one of my favorite additions is the aforementioned race progression system. Each choice is typically a tough one, forcing you to choose a bonus for your empire or for your units. The bonuses aren’t trash either; while some might be arguably more exciting, I feel they successfully incentivize you to “play nice” with your neighbors. This new dynamic, coupled with the revamped alignment system, actually forces you to consider long-term ramifications of your actions. Will you raze, migrate, or leave the native population alone when conquering new cities?
But enough talk already, I’ve got a saved game I want to go play!
Micah’s “Marlowe” additional perspective:
The new Eternal Lords expansion adds some really great content to Age of Wonders III. The new Necromancer class and the return of the Tigran and Frostling races are great. They are well-designed and do some interesting new things on both the strategic map and the tactical combat battlefield.
And while those are the parts of the expansion that are likely to grab the attention of most people, many of the less obvious features are just as important to overall gameplay and just as exciting for those who may have wanted more depth out of Age of Wonders III. Whether it is the new Good/Neutral/Evil specializations or the Race Governance system, Eternal Lords is as much about player choice as it is zombie cat people and frozen booger throwers. The new morality-based specializations mean that the player’s choices on the strategic map really matter and can have a significant outcome on the course of a game. Meanwhile, the Race Governance system means that the relations between races depend on what the player actually does in the game and not on some pre-determined, hard coded system with no player input.
The player’s choices and actions have never mattered more in the Age of Wonders series than they have in Eternal Lords.
TL;DR: The Eternal Lords expansion for Age of Wonders III adds the much anticipated new races (Frostling and Tigran) and a new class (Necromancer) alongside other improvements, such as: cosmic events, three alignment-based specializations, a racial upgrade system, and a new victory condition. The new class and races fit extremely well into the existing lineup while considerably adding to the diversity in content for the game. The Necromancer in particular stands out as an exceptionally well-conceived approach to playing the Undead that is fun, challenging, and thematic. The new specializations make strategic choices with alignment impacts more important to the gameplay, as you now have a compelling reason to maintain a particular alignment. The racial upgrade system and the new Unifier victory condition are both clever ideas that are fun and original, however both systems feel a little tacked on and disjointed. If you have been waiting to try out or return to AoW3, Eternal Lords is a great addition to a solid game. In conjunction with concurrent release of the 1.5 patch, AoW3 is now a more complete and engaging fantasy 4X game.
You might like this expansion if:
- You’ve played and enjoyed AoW3 and are looking more variety in the gameplay.
- You’ve been holding back on AoW3 until more races and classes are in the game.
- You want a more “turtle-friendly,” non-combat victory condition.
You might NOT like this expansion if:
- You are not interested in having more races and classes in the game.
- You are more interested in improvements to the game’s systems and mechanics (check out the 1.5 patch first).
- You want more involved empire management mechanics than AoW3 fundamentally provides.
Oliver played approximately 65-hours with the Eternal Lords expansion using a MSI GX-640 Laptop with Core i5 430m (2.26 GHz), 4GB RAM, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5850 (1GB DDR5)