Age of Wonders 4: Expansion Pass 1 review – A thematic masterclass

Expansion Pass 1 is an extremely strong offer
Triumph Studios / Paradox Interactive

Like many strategy games on the market these days, Triumph Studios and Paradox Interactive’s Age of Wonders 4 gave players the option to buy a whole bunch of upcoming DLC in a single bundle right after it launched. This essentially combines the benefits of the modern business model of smaller, more frequent releases, and the classic way of doing things that required players to open their pocketbooks less often.

Expansion Pass 1 for Age of Wonders 4 consists of four separate content expansions – Dragon Dawn, Empires & Ashes, Primal Fury, and Eldritch Realms – as well as a small cosmetic pack exclusive to the bundle. 

Dragon Dawn

Dragon Dawn was a strong start to Age of Wonders 4’s post-launch support, allowing players to live the fantasy of becoming an Ancient Dragon ruler and establishing the kind of content players could expect from the modular expansion packs envisioned by Triumph Studios.

Read our separate Dragon Dawn review for more information.

Empires & Ashes

Empires & Ashes managed to be a step up from Dragon Dawn despite not adding a new ruler type to the game. Being a bit pricier than the previous DLC, it added a lot more content and had some systemic updates in store as well, among them a fresh victory condition. In terms of the possible combinations and role-playing options unlocked by its additions, Empires & Ashes felt like the strongest DLC.

Read our separate Empires & Ashes review for more information.

Primal Fury

Primal Fury definitely felt like a step back compared to its two predecessors. Though it once again focused on an attractive set of themes and power fantasies and delivered in terms of sheer quantity of content, it didn’t grip me as much as the other DLCs did without any huge mechanical additions.

Read our separate Primal Fury review for more information.

Eldritch Realms

Eldritch Realms, the finale of Expansion Pass 1, steered things into the right direction again: Not only does it provide superbly themed content and executes the Eldritch power fantasy perfectly, some game-changing mechanical additions like the Umbral Abyss and Cosmic Happenings made their entrance into the title with this DLC.

Read our separate Eldritch Realms review for more information.

Age of Wonders 4 screenshot of an Eldritch Sovereign.
Eldritch Realms is a great final piece for Expansion Pass 1. / Triumph Studios / Paradox Interactive

Compared to the base game priced $49.99 USD, Expansion Pass 1 comes out at $59.96 USD, so it’s a very costly expansion pack, if you were to consider it as such through the classic lens. 

In terms of sheer content, the numbers look very solid, though: Expansion Pass 1 doubled the number of ruler types, tripled the available story campaigns, almost doubled the challenge map count, increased the amount of unlockable Tomes of Magic (and with them the available units, buildings, and spells) roughly by a third, and added six additional physical forms to customize your races with, ten being the number in the base game – a base game, mind you, that didn’t lack variety in the first place.

In addition to this simply being a lot of content, it’s content that contributes crucial value to the title. Each of the four DLCs in Expansion Pass 1 is highly thematic and focused around one or two power fantasies that are extremely well executed and fun to experience. Each expansion added new tools to this highly customizable sandbox, which all brought their own unique flavor.

My biggest gripe with Expansion Pass 1 is probably that the mechanical side of things felt like it was neglected a little bit compared to the addition of new stuff to play around with – we got a lot of new toys, but barely any groundbreaking and fresh ways to use them.

Think of features like the natural disasters and environmental changes in Civilization 6: Gathering Storm or the loyalty system in Rise and Fall, which completely transformed playstyles and had a massive impact on how players experienced the game. Additions like the Umbral Abyss from the Eldritch Realms DLC definitely went into that direction, but they are few and far between and I’d have loved to see more of that in the overall package.

Age of Wonders 4: Eldritch Realms
I'd love to see more mechanics-focused expansions in the future. / Triumph Studios / Paradox Interactive

Of course, I have to give credit where it’s due: Triumph made some mechanical changes and additions in the free updates accompanying each DLC, such as the bounty system that came with Primal Fury, though these are relatively minor compared to what I’m talking about above.

Summing things up, I think Expansion Pass 1 for Age of Wonders 4 is an excellent example of how to support a strategy game in the modern reality – people want more frequent releases and this is a way of bringing them steady content updates. Triumph Studios identified very attractive power fantasies and designed its four expansions around executing these in the game’s framework, all the while expanding the amount of possibilities and variety players can experience, though it didn’t pay the mechanical side of things the same level of attention.

Score: 8/10

Version tested: PC.

Marco Wutz


Marco Wutz is a writer from Parkstetten, Germany. He has a degree in Ancient History and a particular love for real-time and turn-based strategy games like StarCraft, Age of Empires, Total War, Age of Wonders, Crusader Kings, and Civilization as well as a soft spot for Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail. He began covering StarCraft 2 as a writer in 2011 for the largest German community around the game and hosted a live tournament on a stage at gamescom 2014 before he went on to work for Bonjwa, one of the country's biggest Twitch channels. He branched out to write in English in 2015 by joining, the global center of the StarCraft scene run by Team Liquid, which was nominated as the Best Coverage Website of the Year at the Esports Industry Awards in 2017. He worked as a translator on The Crusader Stands Watch, a biography in memory of Dennis "INTERNETHULK" Hawelka, and provided live coverage of many StarCraft 2 events on the social channels of as well as DreamHack, the world's largest gaming festival. From there, he transitioned into writing about the games industry in general after his graduation, joining GLHF, a content agency specializing in video games coverage for media partners across the globe, in 2021. He has also written for NGL.ONE, kicker, ComputerBild, USA Today's ForTheWin, The Sun, Men's Journal, and Parade. Email: