Finally the perfect game to scratch my TBS/4X itch! I have a feeling that in 15 years or so I will still be playing Age of Wonders 3. I make this prediction because once in a while I still play the original AoW and it came out in 1999. So unless they come out with an AoW4 or standalone expansion that is even better in every aspect I think this game will stay on my computer and my next computer and the VR headset after... a long time.
My favorite part of AoW3 is its focus on tactical combat while still including all the 4 Xs (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) plus RPG elements. There are cities to form into an empire, heroes to level up, spells to research, dungeons to loot, resources to manage, etc... On top of it all players are engaged in battles early and often. The battles are killer fun tactical experiences that take place on their own maps separate from the primary strategy map. When a hex is attacked on the strategy map the armies/stacks in that hex and all neighboring hexes get pulled into the tactical battle. This means there could be 42 units (7 hexes x 6 units/hex) in the same battle and they could even belong to several different players! The combat mechanics like attacks of opportunity, flanking, guarding, and 3 action points to use for movement, multiple attacks, or multiple reactions are very well done. When playing single player I almost always choose to fight each battle manually because they are so much fun, but there is an option to automatically resolve them if you wish.
The only bad thing I can say about AoW3 is that it feels like the morale systems need to be flushed out a little more. My wish for morale is that your starting/ruling race should have more influence on the morale of your cities and units and diplomatic relations with independent cities. It was important in past AoW games. These things will probably get improved with some patches, and should not stop anyone from buying the game. *** This review is based on the BETA version of the game. ***
There was a period of years where I played a lot of Civ4 and some Civ5. Eventually I found myself thinking - I wish there was more action in these games and battles were more realistic like... Age of Wonders. Before AoW3 was announced, I searched for recent games with gameplay similar to AoW but nothing seemed to be on the same level. Warlock was too simple and too Civ-y... Total War just didn't draw me in... Others didn't even look worth buying. Age of Wonders seems to fill a special niche that no others do.
I was fortunate enough to be let into the beta for AoW3, and I must say that Triumph Studios has outdone themselves even in the beta version. AoW3 takes many of the best parts of its predecessors plus some new goodness to create a masterpiece of the TBS/4X genre.
edit: Forgot to mention one of the things that makes AoW games so replayable - the races. Past AoW games had at least 12 races, but AoW3 is releasing with 6 which is a little disappointing at first glance. However, this is made up by the new class system which did not exist in previous AoW games. The developers have done an amazing job making both race and class matter. An elven archdruid feels different than a draconian archdruid or an elven warlord. Thus, instead of having simply 12 races to choose from you have 36 race/class combos (6 races x 6 classes). There are also specializations/spheres that further customize your leader and playing experience, similar to previous AoW games. I expect more races to be added in DLC or an expansion and am fine with that.