Age of Wonders 3: Golden Realms

Game review by
Neilie Johnson, Common Sense Media
Age of Wonders 3: Golden Realms Game Poster Image
Strategy game is hard to learn but very rewarding to play.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

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 & Representations

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

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.

Sex
Language

Dialogue is of the formal fantasy sort.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What 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.

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What's it about?

In keeping with the "invasion" plot of the original game, AGE OF WONDERS 3: GOLDEN REALMS follows the new Halfling race as it tries to regroup after a large portion of its population gets slain by Orcs. A competition of sorts arises among three powerful Halfling families, all of whom assert their right to lead. The heads of these families, who boast different strengths, decide a race is in order to settle and develop the most territory. Along the way, they discover treasure and magic, various hostile tribes and beasts, an ancient Lost City, and a race of man-snake creatures ruled by a serpent queen. 

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.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about political conflicts such as the ones found in Age of Wonders 3: Golden Realms. Why do nations and people go to war? Is there ever a "good" reason for war?

  • Talk about the combat in the game. The option for automatic combat lessens the impact of the game's violence; is that more appropriate for younger gamers? How does the violence compare to that in other strategy titles?

  • Discuss what makes a good ruler. Is it better for a ruler to be loved or feared? Why?

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