The battles themselves play almost like tabletop RPGs. Your units have movement points, various attacks and abilities, and all the great trappings that make pen and paper RPG combat fun. Your leader unit (more on that shortly) has a presence in the fight even if they aren’t physically in it, by casting spells to either help friends or harm enemies. Tactical minds may rule these battles, which can easily turn the tide of an entire campaign. If you kill an enemy hero and they drop their sick Mace of Face Stomping, then it’s finders keepers. Who knows! Maybe that’s the edge your team needed in this entire, brutal war.
You might find yourself asking “So where does the co-op fit in?” Well, what kind of battle would it be if your friends weren’t there to help out? On the overworld map, any armies beside the attacked unit, no matter who, are immediately embroiled into the conflict as well. This counts whether you choose to auto resolve or manual battle. Want to see what your ally’s draconian mystics are capable of? Get in position and launch the offensive. If you’ve played the Total War games cooperatively, you’ll already be familiar with that concept. Assaulting an enemy city by yourself is gratifying, but teaming up massive forces to break the enemy’s Throne City is some of the most fun this game can offer.
Out of the 8 scenarios, “A Mirror Pact” and “Taming of the Great Khan” are the only two promoting co-op play, which is entirely too few. We mainly played on the Randomly generated maps which, aside from having an errant swatch of snow here and there, were pretty consistent in their great quality. Luckily the game offers up multiplayer options in the form of hot seat multiplayer, LAN and online.
Instead of ruling your forces from your magical mead hall, your leader can take to the streets and waste fools themselves. You can choose between a ton of pre-made leaders of different races and classes, but you may also forge your own with insane complexity. The big deals here are their race, which determines your starting city’s ethnicity, and Class, which determines what spells are available to you. A city’s race dictates what units are offered, as it would be unseemly for a High Elven Archer to pop out of an Orcish settlement.
The races feel different in terms of the variety of units, though there are only six total races. That’s kind of a bummer for any previous Age of Wonders fans out there, as Shadow Magic featured 15 different races which still managed to feel unique. The classes (of which there are also six) add an entirely new dynamic to the game, as the spells you’re learning as a Rogue aren’t even close to the ones the Sorcerer is learning. They keep matches fresh, and trying a new race/class combination makes it feel like an entirely new experience each time.
The game is unforgiving. A two hour long slog through a random map might end in an instant as your leader and your Throne City are claimed in a single, poorly-defended turn. You might spend time leveling up a hero, snagging great gear and wrecking your adversaries, only to stumble into an ambush, leaving your hero slain and all of that sweet equipment in the hands of your enemies. It’s rewarding to play smart, and devastating when you err.
Though there is is a learning curve to Age of Wonders III it is genuinely satisfying when you overcome the challenges. Teaming up to destroy a much larger foe, working together to plan out cities and choke points with your ally make it worth the time investment. It’s got some issues, but if you can appreciate the blend of strategic empire building and tactical combat, you’ll get a kick out of this one.
The Co-Op Experience: Stand Alone Scenarios and Random Maps can be played with up to 8 players which can be AI or Human Players. Theoretically you could setup a game with 7 human players VS 1 AI (though this would be unfair for the AI). Because of this we've listed co-op as 4 (for balance). You can play coop together on one machine in Hotseat or in online sessions with fixed teams. This is the local co-op aspect. Note The campaign is single player only.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.