Genre: Fantasy Strategy
There comes a game, every so often, that I will drop everything else to play. My steam account shows a few games that are easily over 100 hours that I would play enough that I began seeing the gameplay before I’d go to sleep at night (most infamously FTL: Faster Than Light, which I will have to go into depth with sometime). Today, I would like to speak about a game which no one I know is familiar with outside of seeing me sinking hours and hours into it: Dominions 4.
First, I’ll say it right out. This game has old school graphics. It’s a turn based 4x strategy game where you play as the god king of a nation. The loose storyline goes that the “overgod” has passed on, and the false gods who are left over – i.e., you and the other players – are vying for dominion. You have become the patron god of a fledgling nation in order to do this, and their total devotion helps you to conquer nearby nations, and eventually the world.
Dominions 4 is highly customizable, down to every nitty gritty detail. You cannot do great in the game unless you micromanage – there are a preposterous amount of things in the game to discover. Generally, you play nations whose combat is oriented through either arms, magic, cavalry, ranged or aerial units. Magic is broken up into a variety of schools (air, earth, blood, etc.), each one running the gamut across a myriad of disciplines (conjuration, enchantment, transmutation, etc.) – whether or not you are focused on magic, you’ll probably want to study Artifice to get your generals and scouts some cool stuff. Then there are “other” playstyles, such as one that kind of dawned on me recently, stealth. You can send armies of weaker stealth units who can sit in another nation until they have less defenses, preaching or spreading disease or attempting to assassinate leaders, before swooping down over the lands you are occupying.
I’m already starting to get ahead of myself here. Gameplay is split into three ages, and each age has roughly 25 nations a piece, with a few shared through two or even all three ages, though gameplay changes for each from age to age. Some nations are analogous to historic nations (such as the Early Age containing Berytos, The Phoenix Empire – they are very much the Phoenicians / Carthaginians), while other nations are based in mythology (like Tir’ Na N’Og, Land of the Ever Young), and yet others are extremely fantasy based. Each nation picks from a list of 10-30 different avatars for gods, which have different base stats that you modify. Not all gods are created equal, but that inequality gap can be quickly filled with the points provided to build that god.
Building your god is an enormous and game breaking decision. You will lose your first game, and will most likely lose your next couple of games as well, but the more you understand the game mechanics, the more you can understand what kind of god you want to build to lead your nation. Your god will gain different traits that are sensible for helping your nation – that undead army of yours isn’t going to want a bunch of well growing crops, they’re going to want corpses everywhere. It may also seem awesome to have that kraken-themed god to lead your nation of R’yleh against the surface dwellers, until you realize that your kraken can’t leave the briny depths. In my recent game, for example, I discovered the avatar I had chosen, the Teotl of Night – a bat headed and winged god with stealth and assassination traits – was easily able to bypass most nations defenses, and would never be discovered. Giving him a very high Dominion rating (10 out of 10, as a matter of fact) made it so the lands he entered or went near would start to become physically adapted to suit the lands my people occupied, and make all of my divine units stronger, the longer I let him frolic before trying to assassinate someone or attack a nation.
Keeping all this in mind, the games biggest drawback is that you will be paralyzed by choice. There is so much to do, and unless you are willing to devote a lot of time to reading through the internet, many of the games mechanics are overly complex and take a long time to figure out. I’ve sunk about 75 hours into the game so far, and still keep learning new things each play through. This is really awesome, but it makes for a horrendous learning curve.
I’d definitely give this game two thumbs up. Even though it was released in 2011, the game is still selling for $35 on Steam – a hefty price tag that just goes to show the quality of the gameplay. It’s not terribly well known, but it is terribly addictive and fun.