I struggled for a long time with how to approach a review for Wastelands Interactive’s Planar Conquest (PQ). To date, eXplorminate has reviewed Worlds of Magic (the “first” version of PQ), ReeXamined WoM, and reviewed the mobile version of PQ for the iOS. Graphically, the PC version of PQ remains distinct, but mechanically there is little difference between it, WoM, and the mobile version of PQ. So should this review be one of our traditional 5X reviews, a ReeXamination, or something else? Not to mention the natural trepidation one feels after the strong response we got from our PQ mobile review.
WIth that in mind, I have decided to create a hybrid review. That may not please everybody (including my editors), but that’s what I feel will give Planar Conquest the coverage it is due.
The 4 X’s
If you would like a detailed description of what it’s like to eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate in PQ, we already have the aforementioned writeups for WoM and PQ for mobile. There are only a few differences in mechanics with each of them, which I will cover in a section below. But otherwise, this game is nearly identical to its predecessors.
If you haven’t read our older articles, I’ll summarize with this: PQ is among the most generic examples of a 4X game. Exploration follows in the tradition laid out by Civilization and Master of Magic back in ‘91 and ‘94 to the letter. There are no surprises or innovations. You reveal the map as you move units around, find resource deposits, and eventually stumble into your opponents.
Likewise, expansion consists of building a settler, moving it to a habitable tile, and constructing a city. Aside from the undead, which must first corrupt a tile they intend to settle, there is nothing novel about this process. Exploitation involves raiding goodie huts of various sorts and claiming bonuses to food, gold, mana, etc. from a few dozen resources. Extermination takes place on a square tactical battle board in the same fashion as MoM, Fallen Enchantress, or Sorcerer King. If you are looking for a cutting edge game that shakes up the formula, you will not find that here. Fortunately for Wastelands Interactive, not everyone is seeking a game that breaks the mold.
What is Different?
It might appear like Wastelands just created a rebranded Worlds of Magic. That isn’t an unfair characterization, but there are some changes that were made to WoM since it first launched in 2015.
To begin, the developer addressed the city spam problem that irked a good number of players in WoM. There is now an economic penalty to sorcerer lords whose empire grows beyond a certain number of cities. This soft cap on cities varies according to the size of the game, which is a nice design element. The smaller the map, the fewer cities you can have before the penalties start to kick in. Also, the base building for a city (Builder’s Hall) now costs a whopping 6 gold upkeep per turn which makes quick eXpansion an economic catastrophe. The reaction to these changes has been mixed, but I personally feel they have helped to rein in the land rush problems present in WoM.
Second, the UI for PQ has been vastly improved since Worlds of Magic. Buttons are always located in the same places, tooltips are far more plentiful, and city management is much easier thanks to the revamped menu layouts. I do miss the beautiful 3D models used in WoM’s city screens that the artists at Wastelands worked so hard to create, but something had to be sacrificed to improve usability. I feel the developers made the right choice.
I have read some criticism on the ‘net that usually runs along the lines of “That UI looks like it’s made for Mobile! Ewwwwww!” I’m going to chalk that up to gamer-think. So what if it is? That hardly makes the UI any less usable on PC, and criticizing UIs has become a well-worn pastime in 4X circles. As a substantive critique, it doesn’t hold water. Bottom line: the UI is much improved, the antipathy PC gamers have towards mobile notwithstanding.
When I reviewed WoM, diplomacy was a major area of concern. Fortunately, the developers took some time to improve diplomacy. And while the changes are not transformative, at least they added something. Those who recall my first review will know that diplomacy was a major area of concern for me. The developers added a much-needed color coding system to the diplomatic status between sorcerer-lords (i.e. at peace, at war, etc.) that appears under each lord’s image instead of under a separate tab. Additionally, each lord was given a series of verbal responses that trigger each time the player opens their diplomatic window or attempts to reach a deal. It isn’t much, but at least it adds some personality to the characters. In WoM and PQ for mobile, the other lords were sterile. Now, at least, you can get a little insight into the type of enemy you’re dealing with.
Finally, Wastelands improved the overall stability and performance of the game. WoM, at launch, was a bug-riddled game for some people. It was epic how poorly the software performed in some cases. Thankfully, PQ for PC did not suffer that fate. For the most part, the launch was smooth and uneventful.
What’s the Same
It’s not all good news, though. There are still some bugs in PQ. For instance, one time I was unable to rotate the combat camera in the middle of a fight. Developers often struggle to fully squash all the bugs in their systems, and PQ is no exception. However, the bugs that are left won’t be game-breaking for the vast majority of users. Instances of game crashes and/or freezing are relatively rare.
Diplomacy, despite the changes listed above, still lacks anything that would make it fun or interesting. The deals players can strike with the AI are bog-standard for 4X: peace, war, alliance, defense pact, etc. You can trade a few things like mana, gold, and spells. Nothing is new or original. The system is merely functional, and that is all.
The UI may be improved, but that doesn’t mean the game is easy to play. PQ forces players to “Left click to select, left click to move” instead of the more widely accepted RTS inputs: “Left click to select, right click to move.” For the life of me, I cannot understand why. The number of misclicks this design choice has caused me to make, as a well seasoned veteran of this series, are uncountable. It may be the way MoM did it back in ‘94, but it’s not the way we do things now and I found it very infuriating at times.
Finally, the auto-resolve system for combat in PQ leaves a great deal to be desired, just as it did in WoM. It is abundantly clear that whatever mechanics the developers programmed into the auto-resolve system do not take ranged units, spell-casting units, or walls into account very well, if at all. I have tried to auto-resolve many combat encounters where I had my enemy vastly outgunned, only to lose units who would never have been touched if I played it out manually. The system is so unreliable that I find it nearly unusable. The only time I would auto-resolve is when one of my cities was attacked and I was down to my militia who were safe behind a wall. I’d almost always win those fights or go to a draw because the algorithms behind the auto-resolve didn’t know what to do with the walls.
The 5th X: eXperience
The eXperience of playing Planar Conquest is a mixed bag, like so many 4X games. Problems include the music being way too loud, glitches in combat that force an auto-resolve, a lack of tactical naval combat, ho-hum animations, illegible text at unusual resolutions, and bland particle effects. The lack of innovation in the design is also reflected in the aesthetics. That isn’t to say PQ is unpleasant to look at. The graphics are good enough, and I know some people who think they’re fantastic. For me, they are improved and appropriate for the budget Wastelands had to produce this game.
There has been a trend in 4X as of late to increasingly complicate the design in order to provide depth. The Endless series and Galactic Civilizations series are prime examples. For some, these games become overcomplicated. PQ may appeal to this type of 4X gamer who is looking for a more old fashioned design.
The problem is, while the tooltips are plentiful and improved and the manual is copious, there are no tutorials in this game. PQ is simple, for the most part. If you’ve played the Age of Wonders or Fallen Enchantress series, a lot in PQ will feel familiar. However, for someone new to 4X games, PQ offers little in the way of help. I suppose that could be seen as an homage to the old school, hardcore days of 4X when there were no in-game tutorials. However, in today’s world, you need tutorials – even if it’s a link to a YouTube series.
Overall, I think fans of fantasy 4X games will find something to enjoy in PQ. While it may not engage their tactical minds like AoW or satisfy their empire management cravings like EL, PQ has enough of each to create an acceptable experience. If you are a huge fan of Master of Magic, I think you’ll almost certainly have a good experience with PQ if you can overlook some of its lingering rough spots. Nearly all the mechanics are lifted straight from MoM and the ones that aren’t (e.g. magic system and anti-city spam triggers) improve the game. A word of warning, however: If one is only marginally attached to the fantasy genre or prefers more cutting edge 4X games, then I would advise staying away from this title.
TL;DR: Planar Conquest captures the mechanics of the original Master of Magic, but does so without the panache and personality of the original. It is a solid fantasy 4X game, yet does not innovate on the genre in any way, shape, or form. Then again, that may just be the thing you’re looking for, and if that’s the case, you’ll probably like PQ a great deal. Otherwise, you should consider carefully whether or not to purchase.
You Might Like This Game If:
- You are a big fan of Master of Magic and wanted an HD version
- You are a big fan of fantasy 4X games and need a break from AoW or EL
- You enjoy 4X games with lots of fiddly, customizable options
You Might Not Like This Game If:
- You are expecting Endless Legend 2
- You like the tactical depth of Age of Wonders III
- You feel Diplomacy and Empire Management are the two best parts of 4X gameplay
Troy has played 50+ hours of Planar Conquest and 300+ hours of Worlds of Magic on his Windows 10 Dell Inspiron 7000 Series 7537 BTX 17” laptop with Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-4500U CPU @ 1.80 GHz, 16GB Ram, 64- bit Operating system, x64 processor, and 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M graphics card.
Disclosure: Troy received a free copy of Planar Conquest on Steam because he owned Worlds of Magic on Steam. Everyone who previously owned WoM received a copy of PQ at no cost.