Warbirds are ready to bring war and chaos to Age of Wonders 4 in the latest content pack. “Empires and Ashes” (Stylized Empires & Ashes) is the second DLC in the Age of Wonders 4 Expansion Pass. This new DLC is very similar to “Dragon Dawn” DLC in that there are additional new tomes, a physical form, spells, units, and more general features. However, “Empires and Ashes” is larger than the last DLC, adding two new story missions, a new win condition, a new culture, and even new music tracks to enjoy while conquering the realms.
“Empires and Ashes,” much like the name, is almost entirely focused on war and conquests. The new Reaver Culture introduced in the DLC sets the tone for what it brings. They are defined as imperialists and have additional features to help fuel these ambitions. This culture comes with a new “currency” called War Spoils. War Spoils are earned by defeating empire or free city units and raiding and/or conquering their cities. Players can use these War Spoils on a variety of things, from producing units to intimidating Free Cities to force them to pledge allegiance to your empire. This culture also comes with special providences that include adding more “drafting” to help players pump out their armies faster and more efficiently.
This culture gives players an improved way to play if they embrace conquest as a playstyle. The downside is that players who choose the Reavers should be trying to fight at all times to take advantage of this, and if you are not, then there is no way to earn the War Spoils. Also, if you are a player that isn’t into that particular gameplay, there is little use for it.
There are four additional new tomes in Age of Wonders 4: Empires and Ashes. The tomes are called the Tome of Alchemy, Tome of the Construct, Tome of the Dreadnought, and Tome of Severing. The Tome of Construct and Dreadnought help facilitate this new Reaver Culture and showcase the new war machines. These new war machines are part of a new unit type called Constructs. Tome of the Dreadnought is by far the coolest of the Tomes as players unlock the Mythic Unit war machine called the Ironclad.
Additionally, the Tome of Alchemy and Tome of the Severing bring some new, fresh things to Age of Wonders 4. Tome of Alchemy adds new types of debuffs alone, giving players more ways to mitigate debuffs on their units. Tome of Severing expands on summoning playstyle for players.
Players do have the ability in Age of Wonders 4 to make their own custom leaders with a variety of traits, physical appearances, culture, and such. It is fitting that the new physical form is the Avian Form, as it gives that Warbird feel. Avian Form has a bird-like physical appearance with more mobile style traits. This includes traits that allow units to move through friendly units, units with greater vision, or others that will enable players to have a more elusive combat style. Much like the dragons in Age of Wonders 4: Dragon Dawn, all of the birdlike appearances are customizable and can lead to some cool-looking units.
My favorite thing about the Age of Wonders 4: Empires and Ashes is by far the new win condition. This new victory mechanic condition is called Seals of Power. Players must capture Seals, and after capturing a set amount of Seals, that player is deemed the winner. The amount of Seals a player needs to capture to achieve this victory can be changed as “Empires and Ashes” gives players three general options of small, medium, and large amounts.
To capture Seals of Power a player must have units placed on top of a Seals of Power or multiple ones at the end of each turn. Every few turns, an army will spawn at the Seals of Power, and players must defeat that army to recapture the seal. This mechanic is quite fun as it brings quite a few challenges of best utilizing your armies. Do you leave a single unit to capture until the next spawn and will regroup after that unit is wiped? Do you leave the full army on the seal and hope it can withstand the spawning army without needing to send reinforcements later? Do you go with one of your Heroes on the Seal for better defense? This can really become worthwhile when a war breaks out, or infestation occurs, or other general chaos and players are forced to choose between defending a Seals of Power or mobilizing their armies.
Two new story missions, Ashes from the Past, have been added in this DLC for players that have been enjoying the story of Age of Wonders 4. Players are called to aid a sorceress of Athla named Laryssa Mirabilis as chaos breaks out in one of the Avian dominate realms. Players also investigate the past of the Commonwealth. Players are given the options on how Laryssa assists you either as a hero or on council among other options. There are quite a few challenges within these missions as Avian are Reaver Culture and thus heavenly into war along with dealing with the outsider Commonwealth.
I admit I am much more of a sandbox Age of Wonders 4 player of mixing and matching realms, but I did enjoy Ashes from the Past. The quests felt fresh and continuous that really allowed to keep the game flowing. Some of the ritual quests were interesting as they involved having your Ruler solo armies which early game felt nearly impossible.
There are some other bells and whistles coming with Age of Wonders 4: Empires and Ashes such as new units, new mounts, and Ancient Wonder in terms of gameplay content. Players will also get six new music tracks. These things just enhance and expand on the Age of Wonders 4 experience.
There is also a Golem Update coming to Age of Wonders 4 that is free and launches with Empires and Ashes. I did want to touch on this as there is actually quite a bit within this update that really adds to the gameplay. The first and most important is Item Forge. Players will finally able to do something other than just sell or trade off all those useless items. Players gain Binding Essence by disenchanting weapons that can be used to create these new items. The Item Forge is a buildable structure that allows players to create customizable items for their Heroes.
There are other features such as some reworking of traits, additional in-game events, and other general improvements, but the Item Forge is above and beyond the best thing added in this update. I will say I am not a fan of the new Spellbook Interface which adds more confusion than before, but I am sure some players will appreciate the updated UI.
Overall, Age of Wonders 4: Empires and Ashes gives players plenty of new content to dive into. This DLC is larger than the previous one and it feels that way while playing. The new culture along with the complementary features really allow players to expand their gameplay. The downside is all of this is really build around constant war and expanding and as the game insists imperialism thus if you are player that isn’t a fan of that play style then this DLC can feel somewhat lacking. If you love playing Age of Wonders 4 and are looking to try a new way to forge empires then “Empires and Ashes” really showcases that.
Age of Wonders 4: Empires & Ashes is available on PC November 7th, 2023 and is available as part of the Age of Wonders 4 Expansion Pass.
Age of Wonders 4: Empires & Ashes
Age of Wonders 4: Empires and Ashes gives players plenty of new content to dive into. This DLC is larger than the previous one and it feels that way while playing…If you love playing Age of Wonders 4 and are looking to try a new way to forge empires then “Empires and Ashes” really showcases that.