The Age of Wonders series has been around for more than 15 years now. The first three games were beloved gems with active cult followings that kept the flames alive until Age of Wonders 3 finally became a reality. One of the big reasons Age of Wonders 3 became a title worth supporting with hefty expansions was the fact Triumph Studios knew their audience, and more importantly, how to satiate that audiences hunger for everything that made the originals great while still delivering a game that felt modern.
Eternal Lords, the second expansion for Age of Wonders 3, delivers more of the same turn-based, spell/counter-spell, multi-day time-sink goodness. It’s a meaty expansion to a game that already has a substantial amount of content. It does not reinvent the wheel; rather it simply adds more of what you already love. It feels complementary not revolutionary.
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The big selling point for Eternal Lords is the addition of two new playable races; the Frostlings and the Tigrans. The two races are counterpoints to one another with the Frostlings representing the power of the icy north and the Tigrans representing the fiery heat of the deserts. Each has their own strengths, weaknesses, mechanics and spells that generally take their cues from either ice or fire. The Frostlings for example can bring monsters such as the Yeti to fight a Tigran Sphinx or Cheetah. Both races are solid additions to AoW3’s roster. They feel fully realized and unique while remaining accessible to new players and interesting to old ones.
The expansion also adds a new Class; the Necromancer. Without a doubt my favourite addition in Eternal Lords – as the name would suggest, the Necromancy class is all about death. You’ll field units like Banshees, Dread Reapers and Bone Collectors. You can convert city populations into Ghouls, turning that captured city of Halflings into undead Ghoul Halflings! This allows your support units to heal them thanks to the Healers of The Dead empire upgrade. Your all about death remember?
The Necromancer also has two of the most powerful spells in the entire game. The first is the Undying Army combat spell which bestows Undying on all undead units, allowing them to return to unlife one turn after being struck down. The second is the Age of Death strategic spell which adds a 35% chance for ANY unit (yours, your enemies, everyone!) that fell in battle to come back to unlife as a ghoul under your control. While Age of Death does not affect some units, the combination of Age of Death with Undying Army makes the Necromancer incredibly powerful and difficult to subdue with just force alone. Two opponents may fight each other in a massive multi-army slugfest, one of whom upon achieving a hard fought victory, must now suddenly deal with the ghouls that have arisen from the carnage that are now under your control and literally ready to pounce on the remaining weakened enemy force. Death is the best!
• Developer: Triumph Studios
• Publisher: Triumph Studios
• Reviewed on: PC
• Release Date: OS X, Linux
There are a few gameplay tweaks and additions that also help round out Aow3’s feature set. The first is the Race Governance system. As you progress and your particular race gets stronger and more powerful you be able to choose one of two perks (military or economic) for each of the five ranks of Governance. Things like a bonus to ranged damage or more gold income. On their own these perks don’t have a huge immediate effect, but Aow3 is a game about the cumulative power of your empire, and the perks do allow you to tailor things to better support your long term goals.
Another welcome addition are Cosmic Happenings. These are random events that affect the entire world. A rampaging army of trolls or a magical storm. Sometimes the Cosmic Happenings can be a real boon to your forces, other times you can suddenly find yourself cursed with a temporary vulnerability to lightning just as your about to face an army of lightning chucking foes.
Eternal Lords also comes with three new Specializations; Keeper of Peace, Grey Guard and Shadow Born who champion good, neutrality and evil respectively. This allows players to tailor things to benefit their particular alignment. Players will gain the ability to summon things like Fallen Angels or cast spells such as Rally Populace which increases the chances an enemy city may rise up against its masters. The end game units provided by these Specializations are a lot of fun to play with and give players something truly potent with which to crush their enemies.
The Eternal Lords campaign is one of my favourites to date. It plays intelligently on the overall theme of ice vs fire, death vs life. You start as a Frostling Necromancer looking to secure a future for his people. You quickly become embroiled in a larger struggle against a mighty Necromancer, the very same Necromancer who taught you, while also negotiating political alliances and deciding whether or not you will strive to claim ultimate power for yourself or if you will remain loyal to your Queen and your people. The campaign maps are large, lush, intelligently designed and challenging. The final map in the campaign in particular is one of the very best the series has seen yet. The campaign changes things up enough that you get to experience the majority of the new content, but multiple play-throughs would be needed to experience all the variations and endings that are possible.
Eternal Lords of course come with a large helping of smaller content. Things like new Hero items and new standalone scenarios. Triumph Studios released a free update to coincide with the release of Eternal Lords which allows players to “Play by E-mail” – which is a nice feature for a game whose matches can last multiple hours, if not days.
Overall Eternal Lords is a solid, welcome addition to Age of Wonders 3. I’ve pulled 30 hours out of the Eternal Lords expansion, and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. For $21.99 that’s a pretty great value. There was nothing shocking or game shattering about the expansion, but it was absolutely satisfying and most importantly, fun to play. Kudos to Triumph Studios for sticking to the old school format of large expansions rather than piece meal DLC.