When you hear the word “fantasy,” thoughts of majestic scaly lizards bestowing wisdom or unleashing fiery havoc upon unsuspecting treasure hunters inevitably comes to mind. Just as the excitement from the base game’s release begins to settle, Age of Wonders 4: Dragon Dawn presents us with the chance to embody these legendary creatures and infuse our playthroughs with a touch of draconic splendor.
As soon as you open the custom faction creator, you’ll notice that your subjects can now take on the new Lizardfolk physical form. It comes with a set of customization options that allow your people to resemble bipedal crocodiles, snakes, or chameleons.
Introducing the new body trait, “Poisonous,” bestows upon your units Blight resistance, while simultaneously presenting a potential hazard for melee assailants as they risk being poisoned upon striking your forces. Additionally, the fresh mind trait, “Cold Blooded,” reduces morale loss from any origins by half. While not entirely revolutionary, these traits introduce an extra layer of intricacy to playthroughs, particularly when opting for a resilient faction that possesses a potent retaliatory edge.
A noteworthy inclusion in Age of Wonders 4: Dragon Dawn is the introduction of the Dragon Lord, a formidable third ruler type that aptly assumes the form of a majestic dragon. These awe-inspiring beings not only possess an imposing presence on the battlefield, dwarfing most units in size, but they also benefit from the Dragon’s Hoard mechanic, which rewards them with escalating amounts of gold as they accumulate hero items.
Dragons on the march.
The DLC offers a selection of pre-made dragon rulers to choose from, while also granting you the ability to craft your own custom dragon rulers. This customization feature not only allows you to alter their physical appearance but also enables you to select their affinity, which may differ from that of your race.
This choice determines the nature of damage inflicted by the dragon ruler’s formidable claws and breath attacks. Opting for Materium grants you the power of physical damage, while embracing Chaos empowers you with fiery, scorching attacks.
In addition to the standard skill trees, these dragon rulers receive an exclusive Dragon Lord skill tree, tailored specifically to their draconic prowess. Within this unique skill tree, a range of perks awaits, offering various advantages such as enhanced health, the ability to shape the dragon breath spell into different forms like a cone or line, mighty roars that bolster friendly units, and bonuses to knowledge, stability, and fortification within the cities they govern.
At level 4, these rulers unlock their first signature skill, allowing them to choose an aspect aligned with their affinity. Each aspect bestows a potent bonus, such as Materium granting an additional critical hit chance and defense. However, it’s important to note that selecting an aspect also increases the upkeep cost associated with it, balancing the substantial benefits it provides.
This is, in fact, their final form.
On the battlefield, my dragon ruler proved to be an unstoppable force, leaving a trail of poison and inflicting substantial damage with each fiery breath attack, ultimately delivering decisive blows with sharp claws and a formidable tail. Despite the limited equipment options available to Dragon Lords, restricted only to rings and wands, I hardly felt disadvantaged, thanks to the sheer power of their innate abilities.
Age of Wonders 4: Dragon Dawn also introduces two noteworthy tomes that encompass mixed affinities. The Tier 1 Tome of Evolution grants both Nature and Chaos affinities, with a primary focus on unit evolution. This tome introduces the Slither Hatchling and the Wyvern Fledgling, the latter joining the game’s expansive collection of formidable summons.
These creatures begin their journey in a relatively fragile state, but if you manage to safeguard them from harm — a task that proved more challenging than anticipated, based on my personal experience — they have the potential to evolve into formidable beings. Embracing this theme, the Draconic Vitality minor transformation endows your units with additional health per rank, further rewarding the progression and veterancy of your forces while compelling you to carefully consider your tactical choices.
Within the Tier 3 Tome of Dragons, another intriguing addition awaits, offering both Nature and Chaos affinity points. This tome emphasizes the acquisition of dragons and the transformation of your race into Draconians. This significant transformation manifests in the form of Dragon-type units, accompanied by the Draconic Rage trait, which augments their damage output when their health dips below 60%. Additionally, this transformation grants a modest degree of natural regeneration and immunity to burning, improving their survivability and resilience on the battlefield.
Dragon Lord's tower above most units, being particularly easy to spot.
The Tome of Dragons also presents the opportunity to recruit Young Frost and Fire Dragons, formidable Tier 3 fighter units in their own right, although lacking the breath and claw attacks of their adult counterparts. Furthermore, specific alignments offer access to Gold and Obsidian Dragons, further diversifying the draconic arsenal at your disposal.
Upon achieving champion rank, these dragons evolve into their even mightier adult forms. While Age of Wonders 4 already boasts a rich variety of units, the Dragon Dawn expansion, although relatively concise in its offerings, delivers a remarkable sense of awe and satisfaction when witnessing an army of lizards, led by a colossal dragon, unleash havoc upon the battlefield.
The DLC also introduces a new Tier 4 realm known as The Ashen War, immersing you directly into the heart of a conflict between two formidable alliances. Each of the six elder dragons involved possesses a unique power that significantly benefits their respective faction. These potent powers are also bestowed in lesser forms upon their chosen heroes.
Upon commencing the game, an event allows you to align with one of the factions, providing an early bonus to empire relations, or take it upon yourself to quell the conflict. Since this occurs prior to fully exploring the map, there is a chance to form alliances with elder dragons that may be distant from your starting position. Fortunately, choosing a side does not immediately trigger hostilities, and you retain the flexibility to change your allegiance as the game progresses.
My ruler, satisfied after a very productive meeting with former dragon slayer Ira the Hood.
Throughout my playthrough, members of the opposing alliance spawned in the middle of the map, effectively creating a physical barrier that separated myself and one elder dragon - who would soon become my steadfast ally - from our other two comrades. What made this situation even more challenging was the fact that the opposing alliance operated as a cohesive unit, demonstrating true alliance dynamics by providing assistance to one another and launching coordinated assaults.
Initially, my efforts to support my neighboring ally in his ambitious attempt to breach enemy territory yielded promising results. It appeared as though a surge of dragons descended upon our shared Nature-loving adversary. However, several turns later, the combined forces of all three opposing alliance members launched a formidable counteroffensive, pushing us back and regaining control. Simultaneously, our allies faced setbacks in their individual attempts to make incursions in the southern part of the map.
The Elder Dragon AI is set to Hard by default – but can be tweaked to your liking – and gets a head start in terms of heroes, cities, and units. Although alliances and treaties can somewhat shift throughout the game, there’s a good chance that you’ll also have to deal with other AI players. In my playthrough, both eventually joined the opposing alliance.
Stretching my already inferior forces to both defend my lands and attempt to support my ally’s offensive actions proved to be more than I could handle in the long run.
The dragon and the bunch of unlucky, now-poisoned piglets.
Being attacked on multiple fronts can make for some epic battles in which you snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat, but also has the potential to become exhausting. Most of my attempts to take enemy territory were thwarted due to my capital being repeatedly threatened by enemy incursions from the north.
In addition, fairly strong marauder guards soon make their presence known across the land, posing a significant challenge to expansion efforts. Adding to the complexity, volcanic activity periodically wreaks havoc, damaging units both on the strategic map and during tactical battles. To exacerbate matters, regions affected by volcanic activity hinder unit health regeneration which meant it sometimes took me longer to get back into fighting shape.
The Ashen War scenario certainly stands out as one of the more demanding challenges, especially when played on default settings. It offers the potential for at least three distinct playthroughs, based on the choice made at the outset regarding alliance affiliation. While the gameplay poses a rewarding experience, it is worth noting that narratively, The Ashen War may not offer extensive depth or intricately woven storytelling elements.
During my time playing the DLC, I encountered a singular technical issue. Occasionally, when attempting to read nested tooltips within narrative events, my game would freeze, prompting a restart. The higher allowed number of save games (going up to 24 and possibly included in the free update accompanying the DLC) made it easier to avoid frustration.
Overall, the DLC brings notable highlights such as the impressive Dragon Lords and the interesting evolution theme of the tomes. However, it also has its drawbacks, including fragile units and a scenario that may become repetitive or tiring.
AGE OF WONDERS 4 VERDICT
Age of Wonders 4: Dragon Dawn offers a satisfactory amount of content at its price point, focusing on a beloved element of the fantasy genre. The inclusion of mixed affinity tomes adds intriguing twists to gameplay, although witnessing the evolution of new units can prove challenging due to their inherent fragility. The larger dragon units and Dragon Lords themselves appropriately embody a sense of awe and power on the battlefield.
However, while these additions be an asset in any playthrough, Dragon Dawn does not fundamentally alter the overall feel of the game, serving primarily as a flavorful addition. As a result, the DLC may not be considered a crucial purchase. Devoted fans of dragons and those who have exhausted the content of the base game will undoubtedly appreciate the interesting new elements to explore. Nevertheless, if you are still immersed in the base game, the absence of the DLC will not be immediately apparent or detrimental to your overall experience.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Unleashing a single dragon breath attack that poisons half of the enemy’s army in an instant, turning the tides of battle in a spectacular fashion.
Imposing and powerful Dragon Lords command attention on the battlefield.
The evolution theme of the new tomes adds an intriguing aspect to gameplay.
The alliance-centric new scenario offers a fresh and engaging experience.
Some new units are too fragile, making it challenging to reliably evolve them.
While it adds flavor, the DLC doesn't feel essential to have for all players.
The new scenario, while enjoyable, can become exhausting over time.