Age of Wonders III is a rather enchanting game to play. There are two campaigns to play but both have varied elements of gameplay to keep things fresh. It combines the city building/managment of Civilization, but the combat is more akin to something like Disciples. The blending of the two mechanics are an interesting one and it makes this game a surprising gem on Steam.
The stories of the campaigns are typical fantasy one race is getting the boot and another race is doing the booting. The Elven story is about the elves getting shafted by the humans. It is up to an elven princes to unite like minded races to find a way to defeat the humans and their alliances. The story in this game is just a means to play singleplayer mode. There is nothing groundbreaking about it. However, Age of Wonders III does a nice job of telling it. It focuses less on story development during the course of the mission, and more during the narration pieces before and after a mission.
The races you end up playing have their differences and similarities but generally speaking, they are more similar than different. What makes the races different are the spells that they have available. The dragon race for instance has the ability to summon monsters to fight for him, which ends up being something you heavily rely on. The elves have access to city debuffs and more support driven magic. That is mostly where the differences lie. Like Age of Empires, stuff sort of blends together when you start comparing the units.
The game flow is pretty simple 4X style strategy. You build a city or two, then you expand on the terrain while building an army to either defend or attack your enemies. There is also a diplomacy function in the game dictate if you wish to form bonds or burn bridges with other leaders of the different races. You accumulate wealth to build your armies but this game is quite unforgiving in this aspect. You run out of money very fast. So you are left to make the best out of the situation at hand. Which brings me to my next point, the combat.
In games like Civilization, battles to determined by a number of factors, but mostly you are in the hands of lady luck. In Age of Wonders III you have two options, Auto-Battle and Manual Battle. When you take direct control of a battle, you move your units around on a hex-grid and destroy environments to make way for your units. You can directly control the outcome of the battle. However, this can in many ways, kill the pacing of the game because battles can last quite some time. This is why the Auto-Battle system was implemented. If you are in an area that requires a lot of battles, you can just have the computer do it. They give you a probably prediction if you are going to win or lose so you can determine if you should let the fight go on without you.
In addition to the armies you develop and the cities you create, you will generally have access to a hero of sorts. This hero levels up and gains better stats and skills that you choose. These characters must stay alive and are your most important aspects of your army. Supplying them with an army to lead and a healthy amount of weapons is crucial to victory. The heroes make a great addition to combat and army creation because they work better with some units than others.
The game also has a healthy multiplayer environment where you choose he class you wish to play as. The classes have different bonuses attributed to them and this is where Age of Wonders III's gameplay starts to take flight. While the multiplayer is nicely crafted, I had much more fun playing the singleplayer. There is little replay value, but the content available is still plentiful.
Age of Wonders III has a great art style and soundtrack to back up the interesting gameplay and average story. As a 4X Fantasy Strategy game, the game has some welcomed changes to the genre while still playing it safe with familiar gameplay mechanics. The game has very little wrong with it, but I wish there was some more singleplayer content outside of the two campaigns.
I give Age of Wonders III for the PC an 8/10. This is a game well worth your time, especially if you enjoy 4X Strategy games. You can pick it up on Steam now.