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Strong-willed, cunning, greedy, and somewhat lazy, I’ve always found that dragons share a lot of characteristics with cats. Naturally, my majestic dragon empress of the Nature Affinity amassed a feline following, which is more Materium-focused – after all, a dragon’s hoard must be filled with riches and uniquely valuable artifacts, and who better to achieve that? Being led by such an ancient, wise, and powerful being has left its marks on this civilization: Over time, fur turned into hardened scales, horns began to protrude from skulls, and little wings began to spread behind feline backs. These mighty transformations made the cats more resistant to all kinds of dangers and powers their pursuit of riches for the dragon’s hoard.

Ores from the underground flow into the crucibles of mighty forge-cities, which – curiously – are surrounded not by devastated wastelands you’d expect from so industrious a civilization, but by a flourishing paradise, which steadily expands into the deserts beyond, for her draconic majesty values this kind of treasure as well. Those who serve her needs are shown mercy and favor, a benign rule, and the satisfaction of being useful to such a radiant being such as her. But woe on those who have treasures she covets or who dare have designs on taking something from her, for a dragon in battle is a most terrifying thing.

My wild empress prefers to strike from afar, gulping up vile missiles of poisonous bile to strike multiple enemies at once, softening them up before her legions close in for a melee. She stays close to the battle line, continuing her barrage of bile and providing passive regeneration for her loyal troops, giving them excellent staying power in combat. If necessary, she can use her claws and her strong tail for powerful swipes, or gorging on her enemies directly to strengthen herself. Nothing stands between a dragon and their prey for long.

Age of Wonders 4: Dragon Dawn battle between two armies.

Dragons dominate the battlefield with their sheer size and have access to a variety of play styles.

Few creatures are as central to the fantasy genre as dragons, making Age of Wonders 4’s first choice for a DLC pack a completely natural one – after all, the 4X game from Triumph Studios and Paradox Interactive is all about allowing players to become protagonists in their own fantasy epic.

Dragon Dawn adds a third Ruler Type to the game, the Ancient Dragon. Coming with their own set of customization options, you can make your dragon ruler look long and sleek, akin to Asian mythology, give them feathers or antlers, or mold them like the more familiar European dragons of Western fantasy. Familiar, too, for players of Dungeons & Dragons and the like will be that you choose a color or Affinity for them, which in turn comes with a specific damage type. There are plenty of visual options here for you to mess around with, which also goes for the newly added race option, the Lizardfolk. You can make them look more like chameleons or bearded dragons, to name some real-world examples, depending on your taste. Together with some new or changed-up traits, this makes for a solid amount of new options in the faction builder.

Age of Wonders 4: Dragon Dawn dragon ruler overview.

Dragons can only carry a limited set of items, but have various powerful abilities at their disposal.

As alluded to in the intro, your dragon ruler is a powerful and adaptable piece on the chessboard: Just like other heroes and rulers, they gain additional abilities as they level up and can hold some items to get even more power.

One cool aspect is that you get to customize your dragon’s most iconic weapon, their breath – do they spit fire in a direct line, in a cone, or does it work more like a mortar? Dragons can also get some nice armor, resistance, and health options as well as a roar to buff nearby allies. My Nature dragon has access to an aura that lets adjacent friendlies regenerate health every turn. Instead of just having the dragon be a one-dimensional melee machine, you can make them a ranged powerhouse or a support unit, so they maintain the flexibility of regular characters. They have unique governing skills as well, boosting cities’ research, happiness, and defenses thanks to their ancient wisdom. You can even gift them with magic or give them the ability to straight-up eat an enemy unit to get some health back. They are one of the largest units on the battlefield and demolish any obstacle – your dragon can truly feel like a force of nature.

Age of Wonders 4’s interpretation of playable dragon rulers is fantastic – they are as terrifying or benign, as wise or wrathful, and as bloodthirsty as you want them to be.

The only slight negative I’d like to note is that their claw attacks aren’t animated in a way that really conveys that power. They feel more like my bored cats half-heartedly reaching out for a toy I’m dangling in front of them but judging it not worth their whole effort. I half expect them to roll over and show their bellies.

Age of Wonders 4 Dragon Dawn Draconian Transformation.

The Draconian Transformation brings your civilization closer to its mighty overlord.

Coming with two new Tomes of Magic, which in turn contain additional spells, units, buildings, siege projects, and race transformations, Dragon Dawn has a solid amount of content, some of which feels like it has great impact – that race transformation making felines or elves (or however your civilization looks) appear draconic and giving them some unique buffs feels great – while other pieces feel criminally underused. An example is the interesting Evolution mechanic, which enables some units to grow into stronger variants as they gain ranks, making their preservation and XP gain a priority. It’s an awesome feeling when you manage to get this process completed. Unfortunately, not many units benefit from this, making its use very limited.

That’s the dilemma of Age of Wonders 4’s first DLC pack: Thanks to the modular way the game is structured, adding even one Tome of Magic means that several areas of the game feel the impact and additional content variety. That’s great as there is a lot of new stuff to be discovered and experimented with. On the other hand, new mechanics may feel a bit limited by the small scope of the package compared to what you’d be able to expect from a full-price expansion. If you want to interpret Age of Wonders 4 as a toolkit to build your own fantasy epic, then Dragon Dawn adds lots of cool tools to it, but doesn’t change much about the building process.

The DLC’s new realm type, the Ashen War, is a suitably challenging scenario throwing you into a brewing conflict between several ancient dragons, adding a new playing field for you to explore. New events specifically flavored for dragon rulers have been added as well, such as a quest asking you to chase down a band of would-be dragon slayers – otherwise known as breakfast.

Age of Wonders 4: Dragon Dawn can be heartily recommended to everyone enjoying their time with the game already and craving more – for the price of a movie ticket, you get a lot of bang for your buck and will easily enjoy yourself for many more hours. It’s the most fun interpretation of being a dragon in a strategy game I’ve seen, partly because in typical Age of Wonders 4 fashion that exact interpretation is left in your own hands.

Platform tested: PC.

Age of Wonders 4: Dragon Dawn is available on June 20, 2023, on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S as a standalone DLC or as part of the Expansion Pass.

*We’ve opted for a recommendation system instead of a scoring system for singular Age of Wonders 4 DLC packs and are aiming to provide a scored review for the entire Expansion Pass once all of its parts are available.