Announced at PDXCon 2018 (opens in new tab), Age of Wonders: Planetfall is a sci-fi spin on Triumph Studios' turn-based strategy series. I sat down with director Lennart Sas at the expo to discuss the direction of his latest game, how it compares to sci-fi stablemate XCOM, and how we might customise space dwarves in The Star Union.
Against the series' long-standing ties to high fantasy, my first question to Sas is a simple one: why steer Planetfall in this direction?
"We've been making fantasy games for 20 years. 20 years! In the past, we've tried other things. They haven't always worked, or haven't seen the light of day," Sas tells me. "We grew up with Tolkien but we also grew up with Herbert and Lucas, and other the science fiction greats. We consumed pop culture like anybody here and have always been entertaining or applying the sci-fi universe in one of our game concepts.
"This universe is a great match for AoW because it's mythological, it's got a very rich history. So while fantasy is often about history and going back, space stories mainly look forward. For us, though, the ruins of the futuristic world are everything. You're a descendant of the Romans, the Roman Empire, they're still everywhere—stories and old technologies that you might have used. That's a connection to Age of Wonders. The tactical combat is a whole new ball game. It's still very in-depth and intense but it's completely new."
As teased in the trailer above, Planetfall has sci-fi-inspired, turn-based, ranged combat—which makes comparisons to XCOM inevitable, reckons Sas. He admits features such as cover, overwatch and destructible terrain accentuate the link, but suggests the way battles play out stands the two apart.
"I think what's different with XCOM is that our battles need to be concise, they can't last for one hour," says Sas. "They need to allow for a large variety of [participants] be that critters, monsters, tanks, airstrikes. Once you play, I think you'll notice numerous, quite significant differences between the two."
One significant different between Age of Wonders of old and Planetfall, however, is the busyness of battlefields. Whereas Age of Wonders 3's manual battles unfolded on a flat field, where obstacles solely served to impact movement—Planetfall has high ground, explosive cars and biodomes.
"There's a lot more interaction with the terrain compared to previous Age of Wonders games," says Sas. "In terms of hazards, the simple things like explosive cars show that. Indeed, there's going to be two layers—natural terrain and terraces, higher grounds. You also get sieges, and taking down citadels. There are a lot of things you can use like biodomes. You can decide to blow them up, dig into the concrete foundation there and find materials. These choices are a lot more apparent than in older Age of Wonders. There's a lot more going on."
Sas explains that Planetfall relies on procedural systems, more than ever before. Players can decide the size of their worlds, and can determine its fill of biomes, mountains, rivers, lava among other features. Players can choose predetermined templates too, and Sas says that while nothing in set in stone yet, he hopes to have mod support ready at launch.
When pressed about Planetfall's races, Sas mentions a race "planetary miners" named DVR. They sound like a modern evolution of AoW's Dwarves.
"[The DVR] were planetary miners that entered the most hostile places in space and would shield themselves from radiation, heat and what not. Nobody knows exactly what the DVR look like now. When you customise them, you don't customise their face, you customise their suit. You might have a monocle or an old-fashioned diver's helmet—they're quite charming in their own way.
"This is sort of like our equivalent of Dwarves, but they do have a bit of a different aesthetic—fully metal, or covered in suits. You don't really see them but the do share similar traits—they're into exploitation of worlds, they don't care for wildlife. Yeah, there are tropes. You could call them spaces dwarves here, but we're always looking to find angles that are unique and not be: these were just elves that grew from the fantasy world."
Age of Wonders: Planetfall is due in 2019.