The Golden Realms is the first expansion for Age of Wonders 3, adding the Halfling race, a new campaign and a plethora of new features which after you play your first few Random Map Games with, you'll wonder how you lived without. As you might've guessed, this will be a positive review.
Firstly, the feature list added by this expansion:
- The Halfling Race, a fully fledged race with a line up of interesting and unique race units and a few special abilities on their class units, and all benefiting from the new 'Luck' mechanic, which allows them a percentage chance to dodge attacks depending on their morale (Something that is needed due to them being physically weaker than their larger counterparts)
- The Naga Dwelling, a new Dwelling of independent units, from the foot soldiers of the Slither and Guardian, to their lightning slinging Matriarchs and troop-devouring Gluttons.
- New Treasure Sites
- The Mystical City Upgrades, which means that certain treasure sites, when inside a city's domain, can be used to produce new, unique structures that confer benefits to the troops produced there, or unlock the production of new units such as Mermaids or flying serpents.
- New Specialisations, the Wild Magic spec focuses on summoning lesser elementals of a random elemental type, and bringing chaos to bear on the battlefield, buffing troops randomly or debuffing enemies in various ways, and the Partizan specialisation gives new ways to be stealthy on the strategic map (and generally make a pain of yourself to your enemies)
- Empire Quests, competitive quests that can be completed by a player and then by no other, that confer various benefits such as a stack of new troops, random artifacts, or unlocking whole new spheres of magic (randomly).
- The Seals of Power, a King of the Hill style objective to provide a new way to win maps.
- Defensive City Structures, upon building a Siege Workshop each race unlocks a defensive structure that contributes random strikes upon the enemy for each turn of siege combat, making a well defended city an even tougher prospect to fight at.
And a succinct review of those features:
The Halflings: Well, they fit right into the game as if they had been there from the start, their physical weakness counterbalanced by a small buff to ranged damage and their "Lucky" mechanic, which gives them a small percentage chance to dodge damage that increases the higher their morale. Their units have a sense of humour, something that has always been present in the Halfling lore in the AoW-verse - They are pranksters, jokers and generally embrace a joie de vivre in the face of all the dark and grim things on Athla. Some might feel them a little too unique when compared to the races as they were in base AoW3, but each race was diversified by the patch that accompanied the release of the Golden Realms, and a patch touted to come alongside the next expansion seeks to continue that work.
The Naga Dwelling: A dwelling filled with interesting units, the primary aspect of which is their amphibious nature, affording them great mobility and a handful of interesting abilities on their higher tier units. Not too much to say about these guys, except that they are a great addition to the RMG, as always.
New Treasure Sites: As above, there isn't too much to say about these - New dungeons and monster spawners, with new and old creatures defending them/being spawned from them, and a slew of new items to be earned from them. But they also tie heavily into the next feature which is..
The Mystical City Upgrades: This is, probably, my favourite feature of the expansion. Certain treasure sites, when cleared of enemies and within a city's domain, allow a new structure to be built in that city. This structure either confers a bonus to a certain unit class or units with a certain trait (Say... +1 armour to all armoured units, or giving Pike Units a Spirit Damage Channel and other abilities), or allows the production of new units in that city. What this results in is that each city can become, with a little forethought, a powerhouse for producing certain types of unit, to get the absolute best from them, and adds much needed importance to individual cities, and, if you really want to min-max from them, to the races that you force to inhabit those cities.
New Specialisations: Not too much to say about these, the diversity is always good. Wild Magic focuses on providing random benefits or debuffing your enemies, chaotically terraforming city domains, swapping unit locations, summoning the (new) lesser elemental units and so on. Partisan is a specialisation that allows a player to perform hit and run attacks, hide units and get discounts on buying troops from Inns.
Empire Quests: Possibly my second most favourite generalised feature of the expansion. These are competitive quests that are available from the start, can only be completed by one player, and confer benefits upon the player who completes them - either generally, or restricted to the city that completed it - depending on the player who actually completed it. This can be a stack of new units for reaching Full Good/Evil alignment, or randomly recieving two new spheres of magic to research after being the first to research all available spells and abilities in your research book.
Seals of Power: The strength of these lie in providing a new way to complete a level. When they are present, the map can be won the traditional way (by defeating all the enemies), or by holding these for a (customisable, in the RMG settings) set length of time. However, as you hold a seal, it will periodically spawn new defenders who will try to reclaim them from you, meaning that you have to defend them against both your enemies and the seal itself. Especially good for L+ maps which you are worried about taking too long to finish.
Defensive City Upgrades: Make besieging a city a slightly more risky proposition than it had been before, is basically the AoW3 equivalent of the Magical Guard Towers from AoW2, but with each race getting their own, individual form of it. Not game-breaking, and a feature you will wonder how you ever survived without.
All this ties together to plug seamlessly into the base game and make you wonder how you ever played without it. It highlights Triumph's Strategy of "Improve, and Add More", and that they actually mean it.
That feature list should really convey all you need to know, it expands the game, adds new ways to play it, a new race and a whole slew of features that enhance the game greatly. If you like Age of Wonders 3, you really should buy this expansion pack, as it is a lot of bang for the buck, and if you're staring at this during a sale, then... buy this already.