Back in the olden days, before the dark times… before the hegemony of broadband and DLC, there were “Expansions” (with a capital “E”). Blessed were those whose treasured games were fortunate enough to receive an Expansion, for they alone could let the good times roll a little longer. In those days, Expansions came on compact discs because there was so much content packed into each and everyone one. But alas, for all but a handful of developers, Expansions are no more. In their place, if anything, one might find small “DLCs” containing a few add-on goodies or a tweaked game mechanic. These new “expansions” are more like updates that you have to pay for. There is much un-rejoicing.
Then, in the midst of the DLC malaise, along comes Triumph Studios. One of the most inspiring things about Triumph Studios is their success with the old-school development model. Their 2014 release of Age of Wonders III was a testament to delivering a solid product without having to feed the hype engine (or death spiral) of Early Access. There was no open beta period filled with angry forum posters shouting conflicting, ill-conceived remarks. Triumph Studios stuck to their vision, hunkered down, and delivered.
Of course, the initial reception for Age of Wonders III was mixed. For many, the game’s focus on warfare and conquest was a little flat compared to other empire management heavy 4X games. For others, particularly long-time Age of Wonders fans, the perceived lack of content (particularly races) was a sore point. People felt the game was going backwards, not forwards, in terms of content. Yet, Triumph stuck to their guns, articulated their case, and promised more to come. There might, it was rumoured, even be Expansions (with a capital E!) And lo, the rumors were true.
The first Expansion, Golden Realms, was released in the fall of 2014. The second, Eternal Lords, was released about a year after AoW III’s launch in March 2015. Triumph went old-school – Eternal Lords was an Expansion that rose to the herculean ideals of a bygone era. Two new factions, a new class (bringing the total possible combinations of race/class to a staggering 63), new victory conditions, new global events, new empire management mechanics. I could continue… or you can just read our review.
At the end of the day, Eternal Lords transformed AoW III from a solid title that many people enjoyed into an amazingly rich and varied game that anyone claiming to like strategy or 4X games should try. With it, the AoW III experience finally feels complete. While the core gameplay is still focused around warfare, there is now enough nuance and diversity in how you carry out your warmongering that it makes for a challenging and varied experience every time.
In a day and age where developers are trying to make games with a mass-market appeal, Triumph Studios kept their focus. AoW III (and its Expansions) won’t appeal to every 4X gamer, but as a warfare-centric 4X game, it is one of the best.
We’re not entirely sure what’s next for Age of Wonders III. Not too long ago, Triumph released a modest patch for the game along with an expanded suite of modding tools. The community has thrown itself into the modding ring, and there is already a plethora of tantalizing mods out there, from those that change up gameplay mechanics to those that add new content. Some of the developers (and beta team members) have pushed out mods of their own, and the quality of some of these is superb. And overall, modding is a powerful instrument to keep a game-community thriving long after official development has slowed down.
Would we love to see more? A third expansion perhaps? Yes, of course! However, it is extremely likely that Eternal Lords is to be the final word on Age of Wonders III and we’ll be happy gamers nonetheless. Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic, the precursor to AoW III lived on with an active community for over a decade. Here’s to hoping we can say the same for the series’ third installment.