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Age of Wonders 4: Primal Fury DLC review – the trees are speaking Fey

Basically the magic zoo update
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“Today’s march took us deeper into the forest. There are no paths to speak of and the men are getting nervous. Not even a soldier's humor can contend with the feeling that we’re getting lost. There is nary a beam of sunlight to be seen. The air stands still. An eerie place, this. The mist came back towards dawn in the direction we’re heading, as it has for the last two days. One of the medic’s assistants said that the vanguard lost another patrol. One man made it back. No wounds, but the poor guy’s lost his mind. Said the scouts were picked off one by one as they tried to make it back to us. He never saw anyone. Just his friends swinging at the mist, dropping dead with their hearts ripped out. Laughter from the trees. Gives me the shivers. How strange, that fog is creeping closer today…”

– Diary of an unknown soldier, salvaged months after the entire army was wiped out in an ambush. The search team found an altar dedicated to a great spider on the battlefield, bones and valuables stacked as offerings. They didn’t dare touch a thing under the stare of the skulls.

After Age of Wonders 4: Empires & Ashes gave players the opportunity to role-play as fantasy conquistadors, it’s time to balance things out with Primal Fury, the third of four DLCs making up the Age of Wonders 4 Expansion Pass. Primal Fury is all about living in harmony with nature’s spirits and unleashing their wrath on those who dare trespass their domains.

Age of Wonders 4 Primal Fury artwork.

You strolled into the wrong forest.

Primal Fury’s core is the new Primal Culture, granting you access to an array of new buildings, units, and bonuses. Upon choosing this culture, you may select one of seven primal beasts to worship as your divine spirit with animals like spiders, snakes, crocodiles, and mammoths on offer. Each of these is linked with a different type of terrain, granting bonuses for settling and fighting on the corresponding type, as well as access to a powerful summoning spell early on.

This choice heavily impacts the start of your game. Selecting the Tunneling Spider as your chief spirit, for example, makes you begin in the underground. You can see the potential for both types of players here, min-maxers and role-players alike. It gives you a lot of control over your start and provides tons of flavor for your faction.

Age of Wonders 4 Primal Fury screenshot showing a city.

Primal Culture cities contain special buildings dedicated to their chosen spirit.

Primal units, too, bring an appropriate aesthetic and feel to the table: Basic melee infantry fights half-naked with shield and khopesh, while ranged units are equipped with blowguns and have a skill allowing them to easily disengage from close combat, jumping back while attacking. Another unit can lunge into combat from afar, striking swiftly. Where Empires & Ashes’ additions were all about industrial ingenuity overcoming nature and winning battles through sheer methodic force, Primal Fury leans into the guerilla style of fighting often associated with natives resisting foreign invaders. You hit and run, summon your divine spirit to fight for you, recover your strength by consuming the flora around you, and return to the fight, slowly and steadily eroding the enemy’s strength until he falls to your onslaught.

Reinforcing this theme is one of the new Tomes of Magic, the Tome of Fey Mists. It allows you to cover the battlefield in a mysterious fog that covers your movements and provides buffs to your units, while it inflicts debuffs on the enemy. It also holds the key to summoning Mistlings, which embody this style of warfare: They can debuff enemies and will automatically teleport backward after attacking someone, giving them no chance for an immediate counter. They also look oddly cute for being mischievous little murder machines.

Age of Wonders 4 Primal Fury Mistling screenshot.

Look at this adorable little fellow. Wouldn't want to meet him out in the wilds, though.

The other new Tome of Magic is the Tome of the Stormborne, which is all about unleashing the wrath of nature. Hurl mighty thunderstorms against the enemy and transform your race into Naga, tightly linking them with the power of the sea.

Adding to the expansion of nature, Primal Fury introduces six additional wildlife units and four new mount options – which not only include elephants and mammoths, but also the more exotic options of sabretooth cats and crocodiles. Yes, crocodile cavalry. It looks as ridiculous as it sounds and it’s glorious to behold.

Rounding out the DLC are new Realm modifiers to create custom games with, including a nasty environmental condition that saps the HP of units on the water, and two physical forms for your faction: Lupines and Goatkin. Lupines can serve as a template for both wolf and fox-like races, while Goatkin… well, they’re goats. But they are surprisingly versatile: You can form them into something resembling ancient fauns, make little demon goats, or go full Warhammer Fantasy Beastmen with them. As with each of these DLC packs, Primal Fury makes the sandbox that is Age of Wonders 4 richer and deeper.

Age of Wonders 4 Primal Fury Goatkin screenshot.

Goatkin are a fun new form to play around with.

Once again, key mechanical changes and additions are not being paywalled by Triumph Studios, and instead getting rolled out with the free Wolf Update that accompanies the expansion. These include a new bounty system, which enables you and other rulers in a match to generate quests for each other, an expansion to the Pantheon system with more unlocks and traits, overhauls to how hero recruitment and necromancy work, and lots of smaller quality-of-life improvements.

Primal Fury feels a little less substantial than Dragon Dawn, the other DLC pack at the same price range of $9.99 USD, due to the sheer presence that expansion’s Dragon rulers have, but that’s a misleading feeling. Each of the Primal Culture variations alone adds a ton of options to your next campaigns and, as always, each Tome of Magic has a massive impact. I made a faction of Goatkin led by a Dragon ruler and worshiping a divine snake spirit with the thought being that the Dragon could represent the deity’s physical form (or maybe the Dragon tricked the Goatkin into thinking so, gaining a willing flock of food and slaves in the process). Each DLC is growing the amount of cool factions you can create and gameplay styles you can enjoy.

Primal Fury is another very solid entry into Expansion Pass 1, which is shaping up to be a truly strong “full” expansion even with the fourth and final part still awaiting us – and that’s not a Fey mind trick.

Platform tested: PC.

Age of Wonders 4: Primal Fury is available on February 27, 2024, 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.