Posted on 26 Nov 2019 by Stephen Haselden

Age Of Wonders: Planetfall

The Defence

Developer: Triumph Studios
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Genre: Strategy, Turn-Based
Platform: PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: 06 Aug 2019

The Prosecution

OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 3rd generation
VGA: Nvidia GeForce GTX 650Ti 1GB
AMD Radeon HD 7770
HDD: 20 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: None
Mod Support: Unknown
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 7-8th generation
AMD Ryzen 5
VGA: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 3GB
AMD Radeon RX 570 4GB
HDD: 20 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: None
Mod Support: Unknown
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+

The Case

Age of Wonders: Planetfall (Planetfall) is breaking from its fantasy roots to make the first sci-fi game in the AOW series. This makes it perfect timing for a sci-fi nerd like me to jump into the series. However, the big question is: Can a series that’s never been taken seriously as a 4X, transform itself into something that can compete with the big names of the genre?

The Trial

Planetfall is a sci-fi 4X, cosmetically slightly similar to CiV V but with a simpler economy, unique diplomacy, and vastly superior combat. As a 4X, Planetfall covers all the bases from diplomacy to exploration, and does everything well. Spying is the weakest area; with Special Operations filling the role of espionage, by using a flat resource cost for missions and a turn timer that can’t be spammed. Training and developing spies is not included. Colony management and the economy are not too complex. But, the way sectors and colonies are divided has some unique effects on expansion and economics, making all these features fresh and interesting even for experienced 4X players. Research has its own twists too: There are two tech trees that can be researched simultaneously and each tree has three main branches; one for core technologies and two that can be customised depending on your empires race and specialty. Starting choices for each game also include customizing your leader (who is a powerful fighting unit) and selecting his starting weapons and the various buffs he can give your empire.

Everything Planetfall does is to a very high standard. 4X is a genre starving for content, which means developers who add anything new will still be praised by players; even for games with out-dated graphics, poor UI’s, or other major flaws. Planetfall, on the other hand, is not only full of unique features, it’s complete, well made, and dripping with quality everywhere you look. Planetfall has all the uniqueness and passion of an indie project combined with the quality and production values of a world class studio. However, I’ve still got one gripe to pick with Planetfall and its with the writers.

A great sci-fi story can reveal wonders and take you to new worlds and new dimensions. A good sci-fi story however, gives you lasers and PewPew. It’s the difference between 2001 A Space Odyssey, and ‘Flash Gordon’. Planetfall has tried very hard to mix the two which has led to some problems. Most of the game is a cheesy mix of laser-toting dinosaurs fighting undead cyborgs; the cheese level is off the charts, which is fine with me. Let the cheese flow and let the ridiculous 80’s heroes take out monsters and spaceships alike; armed with nothing but great hairstyles and explosive tipped sunglasses. I don’t have a problem with cheese, I don’t have a problem with hard sci-fi either. But unfortunately, the two have not mixed very well here: The overly serious technobabble the story bombards you with, is entirely at odds with the hammy characters and galaxy sized plot holes. To make matters worse, the story is drip-fed to you out of order and you’re left to absorb the details while also trying to absorb the tutorial. The story is lacking a protagonist or any other plot device that could ease you past these problems; instead you’re dropped into setting almost as strange as a Dali painting and left to figure out the what and the how without so much as a hint at the why. The campaign as a whole, is a mix of tutorial and gradual story revelations. Fortunately, the tutorial is well paced and balances instructions with frequent battles to keep you engaged, even if none of it helps with understanding the plot. Planetfall’s settings and artwork are simply stunning. The various races and creatures are all imaginative, sometimes hilarious. The world map is beautiful, detailed, and filled with exotic environments and imaginative creatures. When battles take place the combat arenas reflect the areas on the word map where they take place.

Like every fallen empire, the Star Union have left junk everywhere.

Battles are a key feature of Planetfall, far more than most 4X games. Combat bears some similarities to Xcom, in the use of cover, abilities, and a little with progression too. However, Planetfall has more units than in Xcom; they’re a little less complex and on the whole battles are quicker than Xcom missions too. Another important difference is the inclusion of the Graze mechanic: The Graze mechanic makes low % misses (if you have a 75% hit chance or higher, you’re guaranteed to graze instead of missing) guaranteed to hit still but at half strength and with reduced effects. Lower hit chances increase the chance of missing altogether. Much butt-hurt has been announced over the random and “unfair” nature of RNG combat in Xcom. But Planetfall feels like it has found an excellent compromise, very unlucky shots will still do some damage and only bad shots can miss altogether.

The small size of the armies in Planetfall clashes with the idea that you’re taking part in a planetary conquest. But, it’s easy to ignore that discrepancy when you’re going into combat alongside Battle Penguins. Tactical battles are obviously a lot of fun. But strategy should be more than just building the biggest army. In keeping with good 4X design, Planetfall has various routes to victory. During the game setup, you can select various victory options; Score, Unifier, Last Man Standing etc. There are also Quests that can be set at the beginning of a game; these are  minor objectives that will give you boosts in various ways once completed. But, more interesting than all this objective setting, are the alternate strategies you can use, even when playing a Last Man Standing game.

Despite the major focus on warfare, Planetfall puts a lot of obstacles in the way of starting a fight. A unique feature called Casus Belli (more on this later) is a kind of moral gage of how the population view your actions. Start an unjustified war, and the civilians will be unhappy, and stall your economic output. But, find a justified reason for war, or fabricate one using Special Operations (the equivalent to spy stuff) and you can store up Casus Bell until you have enough to declare war without repercussions. Empires have large boundary territories giving defenders time to see approaching armies and react. Every city has a standing army outfitted with the most advanced units you’ve researched and even turrets. Powerful Diplomacy mechanics and Strategic Operations (another unique feature) provide more alternatives to war, although they’re equally handy for starting fights too. But, the biggest deterrent to waging war is the powerful AI, which is devious and punishing if you “bite off more than you can chew”. All these deterrents prove that Planetfall has takes its 4X side seriously. If you do take the diplomatic route to victory you can still get involved in a number of fights, either eradicating monsters in neutral territory, or on missions to build favour with allies. Tactical battles are obviously a lot of fun, obviously, but Planetfall finding the means to go to war in the first place can be fun too.

Who farted in the Magma tank?

Energy is the primary resource for construction and trade. Cosmite is a secondary resource required for more advanced technologies and buildings, but a small amount of Cosmite generation is received from every Colony base. These resources are well balanced throughout the game, and despite Cosmite being more common in advanced techs, the quantity of energy needed for every building/unit has a bigger effect on what you can build. Even mid to late-game, attention needs to be paid to your energy income. Tanking your economy is as likely with an eight-city empire as a one-city empire, if you buy every upgrade and expansion without paying attention to the costs. As per usual, the more research you do the more advanced units and technologies you’ll be able to build. After unlocking certain units, corresponding buildings need to be built before they can be produced. However even basic units will remain useful right into the endgame; standard soldiers (especially the Vangard ones) are very versatile and useful against any other unit. But with Mods (every unit in the game can have three Mods added to it) their usefulness and survivability are increased many times. Overall research will unlock more mods than units. The units themselves all excel at specific roles: Mechanics build turrets and repair vehicles. But with a few mods they can be changed into anti-vehicles units (Arc ammunition), or strong assault (Jet-packs & Explosive or Stun ammo) or scouts, just better support. The buffs given by mods often stack, so the more mods you unlock the more powerful and interesting combinations you’ll find. You can also name and save these combinations. Correspondingly each mod you add to a unit adds an extra Energy and Cosmite costs too. But it means that you may be using the same army at the end of a mission (World), only vastly upgraded from what you had at the start.

There are many factors in Planetfall that make declaring war difficult sometimes. Normally declaring war will make your population very unhappy, this in turn will have a large economic impact and can do more damage to your empire than losing multiple armies or Sectors. However, if you collect enough Casus Bell (Latin for “an act that justifies war”) your citizens will stay happy (for a time) while you go about burning villages etc. Casus Bell is a clever idea, and it acts like a moral consensus for your empire. Casus bell is generated by certain buildings, traits and techs, but it can also be obtained through various events too, such as: when a rival insults you, trespasses on your territory, or attacks your armies. These are all actions that will increase your Casus Bell. But, interestingly Casus Bell can also be created or lowered with covert operations, and even traded for other resources. The Assembly (a cross between necromancers and the Borg). This an unusual way to handle diplomatic relations but I feel this approach to “building public consensus for war” is a brilliant piece of design by Triumph, and adds an extra level to war planning that is missing in most other games.

Planetfall is very well balanced. The economy juggles a few resources. But, You never reach a point where any resource becomes so abundant that you can ignore it completely. Most technologies grant you distinct and unique progressions. But, no one technology makes you completely OP. Empire expansion is important, but it never snowballs your power. Numbers are important for victory, but advancements and treaties can be even more effective. One area where Planetfall falls out of balance is with it various races. The like the lore of this new universe, the races (Factions) inhabiting it are very eclectic, with everything from humans (Paragon) to insects (Kir’Ko) to undead cyborgs (Assembly). Each faction comes with unique units, buildings, mods, and operations, and can be further customised with technology and leader specialisations. Despite the slight Faction asymmetry, your design choices at the start of a game make a bigger difference to how each Faction plays, with one exception; the Assembly are the one Faction able to circumvent Casus Bell altogether. This pretty much makes every game with the Assembly a firefight from beginning to end. The ease with which the Assembly can go to war is further enhanced by their ability to repair units using fallen enemies and even spawn new units with every victory. Altogether these abilities give the Assembly Faction a distinct advantage over any other. But, despite the OP nature of one faction, Triumph have done a fantastic job of balancing vastly different races and adding a huge range of strategies for layers to experience.

More bling? Why yes, I'd be delighted!

Diplomacy in Planetfall has many uses. Buying sectors from allies is the most common use I found for it. If you’re trying to avoid wars on all fronts you’ll quickly find the need to purchase sectors from your friends, either to allow expansion, or to allow you access if you don’t have a free movement deal. However, there are many other uses to Diplomacy such as: trading resources, making agreements alliances, trading Casus Belli, and even buying unique techs and units from NPC’s. Many Deals and Trades require Energy (a general resource needed for everything), or Cosmite (a map resource needed for advanced techs). But, before you can so much as smile at an envoy, you first need to accumulate some Influence. Each empire accumulates Influence at a steady pace. Performing quests, making agreements, and building structures to speed this up. But, there is a limit; You cannot spend the whole game sitting back, accumulating Influence, waiting for critical mass before you suddenly make everyone your friends, and gaining an alliance victory in one turn. Instead, each empire has a maximum Influence, with major diplomatic agreements using up most of that amount. In addition to a delay as you accumulate influence between each deal, there is a timer to make you wait a minimum of three turns between every major agreement with each empire. All these restrictions make a lot of sense, and work to avoid a lot of exploits that are common to 4X games. My one gripe with diplomacy, is that there is a delay every time the diplomacy screen is opened. This is a little frustrating when trying to view multiple treaties as having a fancy avatar load each time the diplomacy screen is changed is a little frustrating.

Unlike older Age of Wonders games, Planetfall does not include simultaneous combat turns for multiplayer. This has become a point of contention for some Age of Wonders fans who became used to this feature in older games. However, finding a 4X with working multiplayer combat is such a rarity, I can’t find it in me to complain about this. As mentioned before; tactical combat is quicker than in Xcom, and faster than Xcom multiplayer too. But for players intent on a faster 4X multiplayer experience, battles can be set to automatic, which  is no worse than having simulated battle in any other 4X game. Obviously Planetfall has been out for a couple of months now. Since release, a strong modding community has developed for Planetfall with mods introducing new items, new balance, and new cosmetics. The release version of Planetfall had a couple of minor UI issues with my 21:9 display. However, these were fixed very soon after release and I haven’t come across any other bugs since.

The Verdict

Planetfall is an unapologetic merge of 4X and tactical combat. As a 4X, Planetfall is feature complete, well polished, and well balanced. This alone is enough to put Planetfall on a par with the best 4X games available. But, some of the innovations Triumph have added, particularly to Diplomacy, are nothing short of brilliant. Combat in Planetfall is comparable to Xcom EU. The huge array of units available are also upgradable with various modifications, and abilities, plus some global powers too. Planetfall falls slightly short of the Xcom EU benchmark by not being as immersive as the Xcom games (more on immersion in a bit). But, it makes up for this with the addition of the Graze mechanic; a clever system that negates the misery usually associated with the RNG lottery. Mechanically and aesthetcally Planetfall is flawless. The imagination behind the alien worlds and species is equally impressive too. Every creature from Lava Worms to Battle Penguins, being both bizarre and impressive in their own way. However, the imaginative world Triumph have created is let down by flaws in the campaign presentation. This lead, for me, to a break in immersion, and a struggle to stay invested in the characters and story. Overall, Planetfall is one of the most complete and impressive 4X games I’ve ever seen. It has a middling learning curve, a fresh approach to many mechanics and some genius ideas for diplomacy. Combat in Planetfall, adds a lot more fun to what is often a very dry genre, and rivals games like Xcom EU. Somehow, bar the shaky story, Triumph Studios have put together a nearly flawless challenger to the best 4X games.

Case Review

  • The pen is mightier than the dinosaur – Groundbreaking diplomacy mechanics.

  • No-one to blame but yourself – Tactical combat on a par with Xcom, but with less RNG misery.

  • The interdimensional kitchen sink – Feature complete 4X with lots of fresh ideas, and a strong AI.

  • All that glitters is not Cosmite –  Well balanced resources, expansion, economy, and more.

  • Spaceships vs Spears – Huge amount of customisation.

  • Penguin Apocalypse – So much weird. So much cheese.

  • L Ron Hubbard, eat your heart out – Poorly presented story that’s too convoluted for its own good.

4.5 Score: 4.5/5
GoT meets Battlefield Earth: This fight just got stranger.


  • Audio: Seven different audio sliders, inc: Speech, Ambience, Music, Effects and more. No controls for switching between audio devices in-game. To put on headphones you’ll have to exit, adjust your settings in windows then restart.
  • Graphics: Good range of graphical options, including Render and Interface Scaling, which I especially like. There’s a good range of resolutions too, and there’s no problem with 21:9. But, the aspect ratio is fixed to the same as your display device - meaning, 16:9 resolutions become stretched on 21:9 screen. However, this is a minor complaint.
  • Controls: Shortcuts are rebindable. Auto Save and frequency are options. Lots more interface and quality of life options too. The Fast Animation option greatly speeds up combat.


4.5 Score: 4.5/5

Age of Wonders: Planetfall (AoW) presents a sci-fi universe that ranges from serious space men doing serious things to wacky adventures in magical spaceland with penguins and all manner of fantastical beasties who you might even end up capturing and training to become part of your army if your tech tree allows it. Each faction, and custom factions, has an impressive array of traits and tech at their disposal to make progression through the 4X campaign unique enough for each of them. In addition to your tech you’ve also got a customizable hero unit; you might make them a melee fighter, give them a tank or helicopter, turn them into a powerful sniper, or any one of a half dozen other tactics. More heroes can be recruited in the course of play too, so you’ve never got a shortage of badasses to field alongside your regular forces.

My one complaint is that AoW is a very complicated game and it’s entirely possible to be several hours deep in your campaign when you realise that you’ve royally screwed the pooch on progression and your enemies are miles ahead of you. Of course you could keep playing as-is and try to salvage the situation with diplomacy and defences or you could take my approach an rage quit before rolling up a sword wielding Assembly badass with a faction that’s all about military supremacy and then steamroll your enemies early in the game before they can gain any momentum. Yay for subjugation by our half machine overlords!

If you’re a fan of 4X games then AoW is an absolute must. There’s a story campaign and your standard 4X modes, side quests, heroes, stupidly huge tech trees, and a very engaging combat system. Age of Wonders: Planetfall delivers on all fronts but isn’t very friendly to players new to the 4X genre or those who don’t think through their decisions. Thankfully, a wide array of difficulty settings give the game very different flavours from “ultimate power trip” to “oh god, the wildlife is killing my cities and my soldiers are useless!” Planetfall gets a big recommendation from me.

Comments (0)