I’ve been a fan of Triumph Studios’ Age of Wonders series since the original 1999 AoW, and while the first game is still my favorite for it’s simplicity and straightforwardness as a turn-based tactical/strategy game, I found II and III to be similarly engaging games in their own ways. The series is set in a medieval fantasy realm similar to Dungeons and Dragons or Magic: the Gathering, filled with archetypical fantasy races, where magic can affect the game both on the overland maps and the tactical map.
I think the biggest trouble I’ve had with the series aesthetically is the discouragingly sexualized women’s adventuring gear found in each game. From the naked nymphs and mostly-naked ladies-of-pain in the first game to the half-naked leaders and elf maidens in armored girdles in Wonders II to Lady Julia’s trademark boob-plate, the game designers didn’t place much priority on sartorial practicality. While this isn’t entirely a deal-breaker for me, I feel like the series as a whole could show better respect for its female characters and units.
Among the features new to Age of Wonders III are the introduction of character classes and full leader customization in terms of character appearance. Each of the seven classes has three or four different outfit types with a huge array of facial features, headgear, poses, and backgrounds that players can use to create and customize their avatars. While it’s important to remember that these characters are intended to be rulers and military leaders—and thus will realistically favor dress or parade outfits—because leaders participate in battle in the game, I plan to focus on each outfit’s functionality in combat situations.
Though there are nine races to choose from in Wonders III with male and female customizations, every race picks from the same set of costumes. I’ve asked Lady Greensleeves, my human character, to model each outfit for the writeup. The following analyses will focus on the overall usefulness of the different class outfits. For each class I’ve opted to focus on the default costume, as each option is basically a variation of the one pictured. Though I went with my character’s current headband and war paint, character accessories range from hoods to crowns to helmets, all of which are available to any class. Click images for larger.
The first class alphabetically is the Arch Druid. As the name suggests, the druid is a warden of nature and encourages her followers to worship and revere the natural order of the world. Her armies are centered around bands of hunters and archers and creatures of the wilderness, while her spells, skills, and bonuses deal more with mastering the forces of nature.
The druid’s ensemble isn’t terrible, in my view. Our heroine’s shoulders are protected by mask-like spaulders, with a similar mask design over her heart. Plates of the same material protect her waist and hips. Her cloak keeps her safe in all kinds of weather and enhances her natural authority, while bracers protect her arms from enemy weapons or the bite of a bow’s string. The leather padding on her chest and battle-skirt suggest that consideration went into keeping her safe in combat, but this is unfortunately negated by the bare midriff that leaves several inches of stomach unprotected from enemy spears and arrows. Though the druid’s outfit is rugged and thematically appropriate for the class, points have to be subtracted for the high abdominal vulnerability. Grade: C+
A champion of technology and industry, the Dreadnought is perhaps the antithesis of the Arch Druid. Her armies center around gunpowder and heavy machinery while her skills and abilities enhance her cities’ industry and mechanical output. As such, I love the pseudo-Napoleonic aesthetics and accessories.
Unlike the druid’s garb, the dreadnought’s steel cuirass protects our heroine from neck to waist, keeping her insides safe from cuts and stabs. Her shoulders are further protected by stylized spaulders sculpted from the same heavy steel. Meanwhile, steel vambraces deflect and absorb severing blows to her arms. Our lady’s dress enhances her leadership and imperial authority, but is bulky and delicate for mainline combat. Though this doesn’t in itself leave her vulnerable, points are subtracted for its inability to sustain damage in even light combat. Grade: A-
The Necromancer is the most recent class, added in the Eternal Lords expansion DLC. True to the archetype, the necro is a master of undeath, transforming her followers into ghouls and calling upon death magic to slay and debilitate her enemies. While the other classes can lean toward good or evil in their alignments, the necromancers are pretty much straight up evil.
The default armor for the necro is actually one of the better, offering leather padding and protection to our heroine’s entire torso. The leather should offer decent deflection against elf arrows and goblin darts and minor protection from dwarven war axes. Underneath she wears a set of glossy black tights of unknown material. While I’m unsure of the tights’ durability, it does look flexible enough for movement in combat. Leather or cloth gloves protect our lady’s hands while offering unhindered scythe handling. Not wide enough to really cover her armor, her cloak is primarily decorative, I suspect. Grade: A
Though not necessarily evil, the Rogue is very much a master of lies and deceit. Her armies rely mainly on stealth and subterfuge, and her skills and attributes focus around converting enemy units and damaging enemy morale. Though it’s a decent support class for multi-player, the lack of durable, heavy-hitting units keeps rogues from being effective front-line class, particularly in late-game.
Though I like the pseudo-Renaissance styling of the rogue’s apparel, I don’t see that it’s well suited for combat. Her arms should be well-protected by her leather vambraces and I like that she’s bare-handed for unhindered knife-work. Her cloak, too, should provide basic protection while adventuring, with a hood to disguise her face. Her corselet, however, doesn’t seem to provide much torso protection, and leaves her heart completely bare to enemy swords and arrows. Her green tights look flexible for combat movement, though this might be somewhat negated by her thigh-length leather boots. Grade: B-
As one would expect, the Sorceress is a spell-caster who delves deeply into the mysteries of the arcane. As such, her combat style focuses largely around summoned monsters and heavy, offensive spells. Where most classes rely heavily on gold to maintain their armies, the sorceress tends to focus more on mana production.
Of the three sets of sorceress robes, the default set is the most conservative. While I’m sure her ensemble is fine for studying ancient lore or ruling over her nation, it seems counter-intuitive for leading armies into battle. Bizarrely, most of our heroine’s protection is centered around her shoulders, with metal(?) spaulders to deflect disabling blows. Meanwhile a simple, pointed gorget blessedly cover’s her heart. Her cloak is regal enough, offering protection from the elements, but not much else. Her arms and legs are left completely bare, while the rest of her body is covered by a flimsy evening gown. I do like her little hip pouch for carrying magic items or spell components. While the argument can be made that she might rely instead on magical protection from damage or the elements, spells have limits to their duration, consume mana, and can be dispelled by enemies. To me, the sorceress’s outfit shows an unfortunate disregard for the perils of combat and/or the limitations of magic. Grade: C
Messengers of the gods, Theocrats rule by either their people’s love or fear of their deities. These holy figures recruit armies of zealots and crusaders to bring about the gods’ will. Her spell and skills repertoire includes a lot of healing, enhancing her soldiers, and improving her people’s zeal and morale.
Expecting some paladin in a boob-plate cuirass, I was pleasantly surprised by the conservative nature of the theocrat’s robes. Though somewhat bulky, they should be durable for adventuring or leading a holy war. Her shoulders keep safe from heathen arrows by heavy leather-covered spaulders, while her torso is protected by a segmented leather cuirass. Her heavy robes should protect her arms and lower body much like a padded hauberk. The leather waist-cloak pinned over her robes should provide additional protection to her flanks when riding into combat. Grade: A
Easily the most heavy-hitting class, the Warlord focuses extensively on straight-up martial prowess and military might. Her soldiers are the best-trained and most battle-hardened, crushing her foes beneath their heels as they march upon their enemies’ kingdoms. The warlord’s abilities involve improving her armies’ experience levels while reducing their cost and increasing military production.
Not afraid to lead the charge in person, the warlord favors the heaviest armor style in the game. Her woolen cloak and fur mantle protect our heroine from the weather while enhancing her war-leader status. Her torso is kept safe by a steel cuirass with a segmented waist for improved flexibility. Those steel-and-leather vambraces are equally effective for protecting from severing cuts or for backhanding impudent goblins. Segmented steel tassets and a chain-mail skirt protect her upper legs, and plated leggings and greaves guard her lower legs. All-in-all, our heroine makes for a formidable warlord indeed. Grade: A+
Overall Grade: B
Age of Wonders III logo is property of Triumph Studios. All screen captures taken from game play.