A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this game.
When you win, you win for the good guys. But the only way to win is through conquering and expansion by fighting wars and taking other people's land, money, and lives.
Positive Role Models
Players choose which "hero" they'd like to portray. These characters are heroic, brave, smart, strong, and powerful. Unfortunately, you then use your powers to gain despot-like control of the fantasy world, regardless of the cost.
Ease of Play
This is a highly complex genre, with a mountain of information to absorb. There's an extensive in-game reference that explains how to do everything, but there's no tutorial, so players learn by trial and error. That can mean many games lost to the AI or unpleasant and even hostile exchanges in multiplayer, which can be frustrating.
Violence & Scariness
Combat can be fought automatically, which spares you from ever seeing a battle happen. Manual combat mode, however, shows some blood in the form of quickly disappearing splashes as little cartoon guys fall over like bowling pins. Since combat comprises less than half the game (more time is spent building and strategizing), the violence isn't all that noticeable.
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Dialogue is of the formal fantasy sort.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Age of Wonders 3: Golden Realms is a downloadable expansion to a complex turn-based strategy game. Players take on the role of a hero leading his faction to victory; but this means the destruction of all other forces, regardless of the cost. Despite the game's cartoon fantasy look, it's a complex title that takes considerable time to learn how to play, making it a good fit for hard-core or dedicated strategy fans. It also contains references to violence and many combat sequences in which humanoids and animals are killed -- but fight sequences can be skipped using the automatic combat mode. Multiplayer has a chat lobby and in-game chat functionality, all of which are unmoderated and can expose players to harsh, unfriendly dialogue.
Is It Any Good?
Once you get the hang of things, Golden Realms is a lot of fun. The challenge lies in learning to prioritize the order to build, expand, explore, gather, and fight. After that, the toughest thing is memorizing the heroes' and units' strengths and weaknesses to know how best to use them. This takes time, patience, and the willingness to lose often. But the best thing about the new Halfling campaign is how it makes such clever use of their lovable quirks and characteristics. Gossipy homebodies by nature, Halflings aren't warriors, but here they prove their resourcefulness by turning pedestrian things such as fireworks and luck into defensive weapons. True to form, they're better at hiding and ambushing than outright confrontation, but they also can use Wild Magic to make cute little bunnies rise out of their burrows and attack the enemy.
In addition to the fun of playing the Halfling race, Golden Realms has cool new tropical locations and fun new enemies (the most memorable being dung-throwing monkeys). Its orchestral soundtrack continues to be the perfect accompaniment to the pretty fantasy environments, and, overall, the single-player mode is a great opportunity to live out your own Hobbit-y dreams. The multiplayer mode, on the other hand, can be a disappointment. Due either to a lack of competitive players or simply an exclusive attitude, the few games that exist are frequently password-protected. That means that unless you use the chat lobby to wheedle an invitation out of someone, you can't join any of the games. You can, of course, host your own, but when it comes to finding willing opponents, you might be waiting longer than you'd like. But, even with this multiplayer drawback, Age of Wonders 3: Golden Realms is very well-made and has enough fun new content to make it a worthwhile addition to your game library.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.