Have You Played… Dominions IV?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

What a shame it is that Dominions IV doesn’t do more to teach you how to play. It’s a turn-based strategy game in which you choose an amateur god and aim to ascend to professional god status by capturing thrones across a region map, and it’s excellent for the diversity it offers in race and units.

On my first attempt to play Dominions 4, my pretender god was a immobile stone obelisk. On my second attempt, it was an immobile fountain of blood. Quoting from the enormous and wordy PDF manual, “Some are giants. Some are flying goddesses. some are weird polyp things that can only live underwater.” You pick one, then you choose its abilities, when it will enter the game, and begin to plan an army from hundreds of possible units.

The result might be a game where you rule the seas – that weird polyp – or one where you roam the land, collecting innocence civilians you can sacrifice to your blood god. It might be one where you present a peaceful front but spent the entire time infiltrating your enemies and silently dispatching their pretender without ever going to war.

Just as likely, it might be a game in which you rub your temple, consult the manual and multiple wikis, and try to work out what the heck you’re supposed to be doing. I have played Dominions IV enough to know that it is great. I have not played it enough to be great at it, or even competent. There is still much I do not understand about the game and it is often a slog to learn via the above linked manual or other online resources.

I will persevere. Adam can explain better why it’s worth doing so.


  1. raiders says:

    No, I haven’t played it:

    Speaking “strictly for myself”, this is one of those Blood Bowl endeavors, yeh? I will mostly likely read the entire manual before I ever attempt to purchase the game. BTW, thank you so much for providing a link; so kind of you to do so. I’ve been wanting to play it since I saw it during last year’s summer sale. I believe I need to add this to my gaming-experience-library.

    • joansam says:

      If you like games that actually require strategy, you’re in for a treat. Reading the whole manual is really a bit overkill (unless you like that sort of thing). The tutorial is page 10 of the manual, and there’s useful stuff for a while after it, though it starts to get less useful around page 60 or 70. But almost all of that stuff is non-essential for starting a game. My biggest piece of advice is: don’t worry about god creation at first, because you won’t know what you want for a while. Just click through that screen and start games with different nations. And the forums are quite active, you can Google most questions that you’ll have.

    • Soif says:

      The Dom3 manual is still one of my favorite manuals for modern games. It was a beautiful spiral bound tome of lore and stats and sometimes I would just sit down to read it even when I wasn’t planning on playing soon. I regret not picking up a physical version of Dom4 as reading a PDF doesn’t have the same feel. That said Dom4 is an excellent game and you can often find it for cheap during a sale. As a beginners tip keep in mind that what era you choose (early, middle, late) has a big impact on how the game plays and what factions are available.

  2. Crabtipus says:

    I have about 210 hours in the game and I’m still not entirely sure what I’m doing, at least when I play against other people. There’s a lot going on, and the game has a terrible tutorial so finding a beginner’s guide definitely helps. It’s also one of the only multiplayer games I can play on my terrible mountain internet connection, though I wish the PBEM was handled by the game itself instead of me having to fiddle with save files every turn.

  3. ribby says:

    It really doesn’t take much playing to be able to beat the AI on normal difficulty.

  4. mike2R says:

    This is for Dominions 3 rather than 4, but there is a fantastic text Let’s Play of a multiplayer game, with extensive contributions from most, if not all, the players here:
    link to lparchive.org

    • carewolf says:

      Dominions 4 is more of a minor patch to Dominions 3 than an expansion let alone a new version. Everything is the same, graphics and UI included. The God designer is slightly better though.

      • joansam says:

        It’s somewhere between an expansion and a new game. Most of the graphics are the same, the UI is somewhat improved, a lot of the mechanics have changed, new nations and units have been added, and a lot of the balance has changed. You can read Dominions 3 guides and watch the Let’s Plays, and most of the game will be the same, but the parts that are different will really mess you up if you try to play multiplayer.

  5. Okami says:

    On a somewhat related note: Illwinter released “Conquest of Elysium 4” a few days ago. It’s a roguelike strategy game that uses a lot of the ideas present in Dominions but plays a lot simpler (which means that you don’t have to read as many different online guides for the game as for Dominions).

    Get it here: link to store.steampowered.com

  6. EndymionAwake says:

    I have a few lovely war stories in my memory from this game, and I really think the game shines at producing them.

    For instance in one massive game I played (24 players if I remember correctly), I had taken the roll of Atlantis, one of the 4 underwater nations, and one of the two of them that can easily move their armies onto land. I made much use of this ability, taking a small holding on one shore for the sake of bringing in resources, extorting protection money from several of my land neighbors who I could have raided at any time, and rushing forward to claim half of the land of a dying nation while they were being defeated. I did have one failing throughout this: a surprise attack on a coastal capital was unable to breach the fortress before that nation’s army was able to return from its current war and slaughter my supportless troops. The player who had just called off a war to deal with me besieging their capital for a season then immediately offered me a ceasefire and alliance, which I accepted so that I could attack his neighbor without worry. That is the joy of amphibious nations: you’re immune to most land nations for the first half of a game.

    The game isn’t without problems though. Blood magic, for instance, is very much overpowered. Also, the way combat begins completely ruins a lot of stuff in the end game. Being able to cast army of lead on your turn 1 to make your entire army heavily resistant to magic and decently armored is completely worthless when the defending army goes first and can spam battlewide offensive magical spells. By the time your powerful mages can protect your army, the army is already dead. As such late game tends to devolve into fighting between so-called supercombatants, powerful beings made more powerful with magical equipment and their own spells. Very few nations can manage to resist them without resorting to their own supercombatants. I do personally enjoy those rare cases, such as the celtic druids of Marverni who solve all problems by spamming meteors at them.

    Overall it is a fun game I will remember fondly and one that led me to some interesting communities online. But I am done playing it. The flaws, once fully perceived and understood, frustrate me too much to allow me to play further. But they took 200 hours of play and several big multiplayer games to reveal themselves, so I am contented.

    • Eschatos says:

      Supercombatants are hella weak in Dom 4. Sure, you can crush an army of infantry with one, but in the late game mages beat everything.

  7. RedViv says:

    It’s far prettier when played than in screenshots, far less weird when played than when described, and oh so very interesting.
    There are plenty of reasons for Dom4 to be in my top 10 most played games of all time list, and that’s quite something considering I am old as time itself, as that concept was introduced only in the 80s.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I’ve only played one campaign, but I enjoyed that a lot. After I got how the game’s basics work (building troops, spreading faith, looking for magical places, etc), it wasn’t hard to dominate the AI on normal difficulty.

    After it was clear that I probably wouldn’t lose the game, no matter how “bad” I played from then on, I started to experiment. It’s been a while, but I think I conquered the last enemy province with an army of mechanical dragons, which was lead by another mechanical dragon which I had made sentient and given the ability to lead troops (also some additional magical powers).

  9. Corwin71 says:

    I love this game. I’m usually a bit of a lazy game player, not willing to invest the time and energy required to learn how to “properly” play a difficult or complex game, but with a select few like this one (and the Dark Souls series), I find their depth and setting rewarding enough that I’m compelled to. This is probably the single most addicting strategy game I’ve ever played….more than Civ, more than Endless Legend, more than anything. I don’t play this game as much as I would like to simply because I know that if I start a game, ~20 hours of my life will be devoured, probably in about two days, schedule permitting.

    The one thing I’d change: the sound effects. Some of them are quite terrible. The graphics are perfectly good enough, in my opinion.

    • Immobile Piper says:

      Oh god, I’m not sure how I feel about elephants or arrows but women for sure have pretty bad death cries.

      • Corwin71 says:

        The elephant sound is super loud, but fine. Arrows, fine. As far as I recall, anyway.

        The shrill lamentations of the women are nails-on-blackboard bad, yeah, and the resurrection sound is one of my least favorite. Hearing that slurping sound over and over drives me nuts.

  10. teije says:

    That Which Sleeps – under development right now – is the game that most reminds me of this. Very different in its premise – you are an “elder evil” trying to stealthily corrupt the world – but to me is looking to have a similar vibe.

  11. Immobile Piper says:

    Great multiplayer if you can allocate the time, my longest was a bit over 6 months. Thankfully with reasonable settings and brisk pace you can finish one in 2-3 months. I absolutely love how the game has so many options. Tons of nations with many ways to play them, and then you add six or twelve or twenty into one game for a bloody free for all. Such a rich experience.

    Lategame can get pretty draining though, which I just can’t handle alongside a newborn.

    • Immobile Piper says:

      [Obligatory edit rant]

      I should probably clarify that games only take that long if you play turn-a-day PBEM’s. There’s a direct connect option so if you and a couple of others are feeling like lazing the Sunday afternoon away, you can always ‘blitz’ a game.