The Complex God: Dominions 4

By Adam Smith on October 16th, 2013 at 11:00 am.

If turn-based strategy games tickle your fancy and you’ve never heard of the Dominions series, it might be best to turn away now. That is if you don’t want to spend the next couple of days poring over a hefty manual, the next couple creating a succession of pretender gods, and the following weeks and months attempting to ascend to a Position of Ultimate Power. I dabbled briefly with Dominions 3 but since the release of the fourth instalment a few days ago, I’ve lost most of my self to the game. I’ll write much more as soon as I’ve managed to win the game while playing as a totem pole, but for now, I shall compile a brief list of reasons as to why you may be interested, whether you’ve played Dominions 3 or not.

The manual for Dominions 4 really is enormous and there are supplemental guides for every sort of spell in the game as well. That’s necessary because there are more than eight hundred of the things, from basic combat spells to world-sundering global effects. Here are some more numbers:

2,000+ monsters
75 nations
300 magic items
Infinite maps
Infinite Gods (or near enough)

Infinite Gods! It’s that kind of game, one in which you probably won’t see everything in a lifetime, never mind a single campaign. Indeed, you won’t see anything near a tenth of the total in one playthrough because every nation has a unique set of creatures to its name and you can’t stick them all on one map.

When the game begins, players choose a nation and create a pretender, which is their avatar in the world and the item/creature/person that they are attempting to elevate to godhood. Nations range from Lovecraftian underwater cities to Arthurian kingdoms and pretenders can be anything from a lich lord to an inanimate fountain of blood. The variety is astounding and every early decision has an impact on later strategies.

Creating a god is quite tricky. Feels like more of a responsible task than creating a dwarf cleric, although beards can be just as important. Who among us would worship a totem pole that didn’t boast a particularly impressive Hulihee?

Once on the map, the game settles into a pattern of conquest and development that is somewhat easier to get a handle on than the creation process, although there are still a great deal of options and the interface, though not actively unfriendly, can occasionally hide its secrets too well. Interfaces shouldn’t really have secrets at all.

The biggest addition to this sequel is a co-operative multiplayer mode built around the concept of Disciples – for each team, one player controls the pretender god while the others control powerful prophets. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet but intend to recruit at least one node of the Hivemind to my cause. Along with Disciples, the game also adds Thrones of Ascension, specific objectives that are optionally scattered across the map. As well as providing a stronger focus for short-term conquest, they create potentially game-changing effects when seized. There are also new terrain types, contributing to complex random maps, and additional items, spells, nations and unit types.

I’m thoroughly absorbed, only surfacing to write posts like this and to change my music playlist occasionally. I find that Dominions suits ambient electronica, unless I’m playing (as currently) an all-consuming sylvan mother-tree, in which case I opt for a spot of Matt Berry’s folk-fear.

Dominions 4 is out now. I’ll tell you exactly wot I think as soon as possible.

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25 Comments »

  1. Trashcanman says:

    All I really want to know is whether or not they’ve included a working AI this time.

    • jrodman says:

      That seems like it would be a plus.

      Was the old one nonexistent, not working at all, or just full of problems?

      • Trashcanman says:

        In Dom III there was barely any. Sure, most people would say the game was tailored towards multiplayer but I for one would like to enjoy a game like this in singleplayer.

        • UmmonTL says:

          AFAIK the AI has not made any real advances and I’ve even heard that it has regressed. And I doubt we’ll see any change to that unless they make nation-specific AI’s and allow the community to program them. Making an AI that can deal with all the tools this game gives you is near impossible. Making an AI that can play one of the nations and focus on their strengths is possible but then it will play that nation the same way each time.

        • lasikbear says:

          Well… it still loves to recruit huge armies of units throughout the game, but it’s at least supposed to be better at using summons and magic items. It should also benefit from the extended midgame in Dom4* so its strategy of giant mass of dudes with mage support is at least somewhat viable assuming the casting AI and research areas workout ok.

          *mages are more expensive/slow to recruit so they will also be more rare, research costs scale up more dramatically especially after level 5, more viable low level summons and spells

      • slM_agnvox says:

        The AI in Dominion 3 struggled to play anything but the most basic aspects of the game. Assembled a pile of gold-recruitable units and hurled them in your direction. Some players would increase the challenge of it by designing more effective gods for the AI (Super Combatants) and playing many AI opponents at once. But it did not offer anything remotely akin to the challenge of playing an opponent using the entire arsenal of the game’s nuance at their disposal. I.e. thugging, item crafting, summoned units, air drops, remote rituals, battlemaging, globals, and on and on.

        No, it was not an especially challenging single player experience, though one you could lose yourself in for hours, even after your opponent was “defeated” thirty turns ago, just fiddling with your nation, your units and playing with the spells.

        PBEM matches were where the the game truly shined. Most I played had an average of 8 participants and and took place over several months. Nothing else like it in gaming, in my experience. The tension of submitting some dicey orders and the horror/triumph upon receiving the results throughout the course of a week, phew. Looking forward to the multiplayer options in Dominions 4, since the PBEM games were essentially a hack run on a fan supported mail server (llamaserver <3)

      • LintMan says:

        Back sometime during Dominions 3 development, the developers basically admitted they really weren’t that interested in single player. They also don’t have a lot of interest in improving the UI. I think Illwinter is only 2 or 3 guys, and they basically work on what interests them. And stuff that doesn’t is mostly left minimally functional.

    • mgardner says:

      Initial reports indicate that the AI is slightly better in many small things (but still not comparable to playing against humans). See this thread for example:

      http://www.desura.com/games/dominions-4-thrones-of-ascensions/forum/thread/how-is-the-ai#889669

      It’s certainly adequate to allow new players to learn game mechanics. The biggest problem is, the AI does not use clever tactics that good human opponents employ, and doesn’t know how to counter some of these tactics either. You may learn some strategies that work tremendously against the AI, but will fail miserably against a human.

      Despite all this, I still love playing SP just because there is so much to see and do. Every game is a little different. A nice bonus in Dominions 4 is the ability to set up AI teams (and the teams can be asymmetric – you don’t have to be on a team). Although this is an “artificial” boost to the AI, it does bump up the challenge level. This can be a good alternative to just increasing the difficulty (which mostly just increases the resources the AI gets, and thus the size of the armies they field against you).

      • mike2R says:

        Thanks for that link, you just got them a sale. I’ve played both 2 and 3 single player so I don’t have any illusions, but the AI does sound better in terms of getting an enjoyable game out of it, even if still extremely unsophisticated when compared with what a human can do.

  2. Pippy says:

    Although I haven/t played the previous 3 the Dominions 4 AI is better at playing the game than me.Then again I am terrible at it.

  3. Harlander says:

    How much is it?

    I hear Dominions 3 started off pretty expensive and stayed that much, and I already used my “spend lots of money on a fascinating game that I won’t actually play much” on Distant Worlds

    • UmmonTL says:

      They have switched publishers so they no longer force you to buy a physical copy for a ludicrous price. It costs 25€ on Desura or Gamersgate and I’ve heard that it was on sale for as low as 10€.

    • DatonKallandor says:

      They ditched publishers so no more Grognard Tax. It’s actually almost sensibly priced for a game which hasn’t really changed that much in terms of UI or graphics since 1999.

  4. Bluerps says:

    Sounds a little bit like Master of Magic meets Europa Universalis.
    Anyway, it looks very interesting! Please tell us wot you think soon, Mr Smith.

  5. Sidewinder says:

    I’ve only heard of this series once or twice in passing; I look forward to the WIT. I have to point out, though, that if you don’t like pouring through manuals you could kill a musk ox with, strategy gaming may not be for you.

  6. lasikbear says:

    We have a Dominions Forum here at RPS: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?31-Dominions-Dominions!

    There is a disciples game (new team mode) recruiting right now, and we can get more games running if more people show interest.

  7. Warduke says:

    Ahh, this article reminded me I always wanted to get into Dominions 3 but the price scared me off. I really want to give this one a try and love the multiplayer aspects of it. Is multiplayer somewhat nube friendly or will I get stomped into a mudhole by more experienced players?

    Looks like there is some “team” play options too that might be helpful for new guys.

    • lasikbear says:

      Well, the community at least is very friendly to new players. At some point you will get stomped to dirt, but everyone will be very polite about it and answer any questions you have.

      Seriously though this is one of the best times to start, Dom4 has some pretty big changes so everyone is starting somewhat new. There are plenty of new player games starting soon, and we have generally had at least one or two new people in every game played on the forums so far.

      The New Players Resource List on the RPS forums is here: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/forums/showthread.php?11714-New-Player-Resources

  8. wodin says:

    Love Dom 3..will get Dom 4..my favourite battle mechanic in any x4 game.

  9. Warduke says:

    It’s my understanding that battles are auto-resolved but you get to watch a replay of it? Is that accurate?

    • JB says:

      You can set up troop formations (new for Dom4, previously everyone was just in a block) and give orders to units and commanders, then when they clash with another force they will act on what you’ve set up. So, more or less accurate, yes.

  10. 2lab says:

    I hope they understand this time that more people might buy it if it’s not stupidly expensive.

    • JB says:

      The stupid price point was Shrapnel, the publisher. Illwinter (the devs) split from them a little while ago and have had Dom3 on Desura for a reasonable sum for a little while now. Dom4 is also reasonably priced. Happy days!

  11. namad says:

    technically you CAN stick them all on one map! there’s a mod for dom3 which lets all three era’s together in the same game and some insane people even took a couple YEARS to play a game with every nation in the game all at once…. presumably a similar mod will be easily enabled for dom4 too.

  12. Berserkben says:

    This game will take all your time away! Great game with tons of re-playability!

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