Eternal Lords is an expansion pack in the grandest tradition of the form. By which I mean – it’s bloody massive. Not only do you get two brand new races, the Frostlings (a bit like Game of Thrones’ ‘white walkers’) and the Tigrans (Egyptian cat-people), but you also get to indulge your evil side with a new class, the Necromancer. Quantity doesn’t always mean quality of course, but thankfully in this case the new additions aren’t simply nice little bonuses. They provide radically new ways to approach Triumph’s already excellent fantasy empire-builder.
Age of Wonders 3: Eternal Lords
A mammoth expansion. With extra mammoths.
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Take the brand new Necromancer class, for example. Previously in Age of Wonders 3, morale was a key mechanic to consider. Unhappy populations would become liabilities in the field, where a simple, well-placed despair spell could cause them to cower in terror, making them pitifully easy targets for enemy troops. The Necromancer solves this problem by killing everybody. His population is made up of undead ghouls rather than living troops, and therefore he neatly sidesteps the need to worry about keeping them happy.
That’s a pretty powerful ability, so as you might imagine it doesn’t come without a price. Ghoul units don’t regenerate hit points over time, so you’ll have to sprinkle reanimator units throughout your forces to keep them battle-ready. Likewise, you’ll never benefit from the hefty bonuses that having a population with high morale can give you. There are other cool, thematic differences. Your ghouls population doesn’t grow through traditional means, and instead must be raised by either converting enemy populations via zombie plague spells, or building certain structures like embalming guilds in your cities. More than anything your population becomes a resource, like crystals and gold. Which is incredibly fitting, and deliciously evil.
Riding a sabre-toothed tiger into battle seems a bit like... cheating
It’s not just mechanical differences, of course. Necromancers have access to a range of new spells and units, and some very nasty battlefield abilities. One trick I used more than once was resurrecting a dead unit as a trash unit called cadavers, who were useless in combat but great for providing flanking attacks for my heavier melee units. Banshees cause despair in a wide radius, which slots in beautifully with some of your other units, who do extra damage against enemies with low morale. There’s all sorts of neat combos like this to experiment with, which makes playing a Necromancer hero heaps of fun.
The two new races are also a welcome addition, though neither changes the game quite as dramatically as the new class. Frostlings contain some great heavy-hitter units like yetis and mammoth mounts, but also make use of a new ‘chilling’ status effect to make enemies vulnerable to being frozen. Tigrans tend to be lighter, faster, with high damage but lower hit-points. Age of Wonders’ neat racial and class unit mixing makes for some interesting combinations, and from a purely visual standpoint the unit design and aesthetics of each unit add a welcome splash of colour to the game’s fantasy universe.
Each map is crammed with treasures, resources and monsters to battle
Unique structures and units have been liberally sprinkled across each map, some of which can be captured to provide specific bonuses to your empire. As a Necromancer, conquering a lich’s tomb can unlock a new structure which gives a fear effect to all your troops, while new aquatic domains can see you battle various sea creatures, including some surprisingly effective baby krakens. There’s a huge amount to discover, and anyone who has that Heroes of Might & Magic itch to discover absolutely every hidden nook on the map will be more than satisfied.
If you’re bored of having to win the game by obliterating absolutely everyone who opposes you, the new ‘Unifier’ victory type will give you a more peaceful option. Every action you perform in the game will now earn you positive or negative reactions from the various races in the world. Earn a particular race’s trust, say by liberating their independent city from an evil overlord, and you’ll unlock bonuses to either your economy or military. Reach a high enough rapport with a race, and you can start building the Unifier Beacon, a wonder signifying your sandal-wearing benevolence that wins you the game upon completion. This meshes well with new alignment specialisations – the good-aligned Keeper of the Peace in particular is a fine choice for stirring up your enemy’s populace. Again, there’s lots of synergy here between various classes and races, enough that your options for achieving a peaceful victory are nearly as varied as those for winning through conquest.
Even with a bone dragon on my team, this is probably not going to end well
It’s a shame that the main campaign doesn’t quite hold up to the same high standard as everything else in Eternal Lords. Though it does a decent job of introducing the new changes, the tale of a bitter frostling lord dipping his chilly fingers in necromancy never really amounts to much more than a brief distraction. If you’ve played any of the previous campaigns, there’s nothing new to see here. It seems churlish to complain about that too much, considering that skirmish mode has always been the best way to enjoy Age of Wonders 3, but it would have been nice to see Triumph do justice to all the cool new ideas they’ve introduced.
AGE OF WONDERS III: ETERNAL LORDS VERDICT
That’s a fairly minor criticism though. Like all good expansions, Eternal Lords doesn’t just throw in a bunch of new content at random (though that’s not to say there isn’t a ridiculous amount of new goodies, because there is). It carefully re-considers the mechanics of the core game and offers interesting new ways to approach familiar problems. The big draw here is the inventive Necromancer class, which is just heaps of fun, but both the two new races and the range of smaller changes, like the new options for a peaceful victory, are smart additions that will make Age of Wonders 3 feel fresh again to even the most jaded player. Take note, developers; this is how you do a good expansion pack.
TOP GAME MOMENT
It’s nice not to feel like you have to murder everything to win. A well-played diplomatic victory is just as satisfying.
Lots of well-implemented, smartly designed new content.