I promise you I have tried very hard to find something deeper, beneath the surface of Age of Wonders: Planetfall, that shows its true brilliance. I really have. It screams “hidden gem”, on the face of it: a generous glob of SyFy channel space-cheese, spread over a rich and hearty mix of genres. Civilization by way of XCOM, in the ideal setting. Perfect. By any conventional wisdom you’d think, if you scratch away long enough, that the schlock on top would give way to some buried treasure. That there’d be some B-movie, Starship Troopers gold lying in wait, reserved only for those patient and diligent enough to keep digging.
If only. Keep digging at Age of Wonders: Planetfall and you will find some impressive depth, for sure, from tech trees to unit modifications to character customisation – only it’s depth, unfortunately, in the sense that a twelve-page restaurant menu has depth. It’s depth that inspires a sense of dread and regret, maybe some resignation, and a sigh: there is an awful lot here, I will spend a very long time working my way through it, and there’s a fair chance none of it will be as good as it could have been were it left to stand alone.
A lot of that feeling is made worse than it really ought to be, too, because Age of Wonders: Planetfall simply does not explain itself well. In fact it seems confused about what, exactly, it needs to explain at all. The premise of Age of Wonders: Planetfall is that it’s a mix of two brilliant but also seriously complex genres. You manage unstacked cities on a hexagonal-tiled world map, acquiring resources, advancing through tech trees, moving armies and conquering your way to more territory as you go – all very Civilization (in fact all very Civilization 5, much like 2014’s Age of Wonders 3 was too). When you engage in combat, meanwhile, it’s down to the turn-based-tactics level. You control an army of up to six units and move them around their own tile-based map through full cover and half cover, expending action points and improving percentage-chance-to-hits – hence, Civ crossed with XCOM.