Age of Wonders 4 Developer Diary #5 - Dwarves of the Underworld

Triumph Studios' upcoming 4X/TBS/RPG hybrid Age of Wonders 4 will allow us to create and fine-tune factions by picking their culture, form, traits and Tomes of Magic, and then later advancing through an expansive tech tree. And the game's latest developer diary puts it all together to create a faction of very much traditional stout and industrious dwarves.

There's also this recent developer livestream where Triumph's Lennart Sas and Tom Bird show us these newly-created and customized dwarves in action:

And here are the text bits from the new diary:

Hello everyone, my name’s Tom Bird and I’m a senior developer at Triumph Studios. In today's Dev Diary, we will create our own faction — classical Dwarfs. We will also have a deeper look into the Forms and traits they can have. Together with Lennart I've recorded a special gameplay video where we take these for a spin in game. Check it out!


In the stream, my mission was to make classical Dwarves, as tropey as I could, so the Materium focus was a no brainer. Materium is all about the physical world, and how to manipulate it, it focuses on physical damage, though there is some fire later on when you start destroying sectors with volcanic eruptions!

The Industrious Culture

The Materium culture is called Industrious, and it gives us a good starting point:

Industrious armies sacrifice mobility for defensive power, and generally work best when they let the enemy come to them.

The Anvil Guard is the starting front line unit. It has very high defense making him very resilient against physical attacks, and can taunt enemies to force them to target him.

Like all Industrious units, he has the Bolstering passive:

  • Unit gains Bolstered Defense when it sustains damage. This works once per turn.
Bolstered Defense increases our resistance to physical damage, so this means that the more people who hit him, the tougher he gets!

The Arbalest is our other starting unit. She can only fire once per turn, and her default attack does low damage. Her main strength comes from her Overdraw attack, which she can only use if she hasn’t moved during her turn. This means that she’s best placed behind the shield wall waiting for enemies to come to her.

The Steelshaper is our support unit. Unlike most other support units, she does physical damage with her main attack, meaning Industrious units have no native way of applying non-physical damage. Her main strength is her Grant Defense ability, which allows her to add more stacks of Bolstered Defense to any nearby ally.

This can then be combined with Strength from Steel, which lets her convert those stacks of Bolstered Defense (as well as any gained from the Bolstering passive) into healing power and stacks of Strengthened to increase the unit’s damage!

The Halberdier is our polearm unit, who sacrifices some defensive power for retaliation runes that reflect damage back on melee attackers. Typically you want this guy on the very front line, with a Shield unit in defense mode next to him, to boost his defenses.

Not actually shown on the stream (I forgot to build them!) is the Bastion, a shield specialist who replaces the Anvil Guard’s taunt for the Inspiring Defense passive:

Inspiring Defense
  • When this unit enters defense mode, adjacent allies gain 1 stack of Bolstered Defense.
A couple of Bastions can easily stack big defensive buffs onto an army, which can then be converted by the Steelshapers into health.

The Industrious culture also has this useful spell, which lets you take all of that defense and convert it to Strengthened and Fortune stacks, giving a big boost to damage and critical chance!

Form and Traits

As well as a culture, we also get to choose traits and a tome to define our new Dwarfy faction!

First we pick our form traits!

The default Body Trait for Dwarfkin is:

  • +2 defense to all units
This means we’re more resistant to physical damage, however Industrious already has a lot of physical defense, so we can get rid of this. Our problem is more magical attacks! So we replace it with:

  • +3 status resistance
This helps our units resist status effects, such as being frozen or Sundered Defense, which could strip away the Bolstered Resistance that our units rely on.

The default Mind Traits for Dwarfkin is:

Defensive Tactics
  • Gains a non-stacking bonus of +1 defense and +1 resistance when adjacent to another unit with this passive.
So we take less damage in close formations. Since Industrious rely a lot on Shield Units, who can use their defense mode to protect adjacent allies, this is a very strong choice. However, we are Dwarves who live beneath the ground, so we replace it with:

Underground Adaptation
  • Units move faster underground. Also cities can build farms underground for more food, and the faction starts with the Excavation ability.
So we give up a powerful combat bonus, for a powerful economic one!

Society Traits

As well as traits for our form, we can also choose traits that shape our society! These traits are associated with affinities, and since we’re using the Materium affinity for our culture, it feels appropriate to pick traits from that affinity as well!

Great Builders is just so Dwarfy that it simply has to be chosen. Although we can build farms underground, quarries are also very useful and being able to get gold from them can be worth a lot of money which we’ll need for our armies.

Special Province improvements allow us to replace our boring old quarries and farms with Golem Enhanced Mines and Runecarver Encampments that generate extra resources, so having more of these is always useful!

Finally, starting with a workshop and walls will give a nice early boost to our city's economy as well as keeping us a bit safer to boot!

Runesmiths was our other choice, a trait that supercharges our ability to deploy Unit Enchantments - powerful spells that grant bonuses to our troops. We will be able to research these faster and they will cost less mana for us to sustain, which given that upkeep is the major limiter in game of army size is a very valuable bonus!

As a happy coincidence, it also gives a bonus to our shield and polearm units, both of which we will be deploying en masse!

Tomes of Magic

The next big decision of our build is what tome we should choose! Since I was still in all-materium-all-the-time, I settled for the Tome of Enchantment:

This tome is, unsurprisingly, specialized in deploying a lot of unit enchantments which synergizes nicely with our Runesmiths trait! It also has:

Spell Tempered Shields
  • Shield units gain +1 resistance, and grant +1 resistance to allies when they enter defense mode.
This enchantment helps mitigate the biggest vulnerability that Industrious armies have - weakness to magical damage.

We also get:

Sundering Blades
  • Melee units have a 60% chance to apply sundered defense to targets with their attacks
Sundered Defense means the target is more vulnerable to physical damage, which is handy since that’s the only sort of damage that Industrious units use!

Seeker Arrows
  • Ranged Units gain +1 range on all attacks
This only affects our Arbalests right now (Ranged Unit is a type, so it doesn’t affect Support Units or Battle Mage Units who also have ranged attacks), but +1 range is very useful - Players going for archer heavy armies sometimes pick this tome just to get their hands on that enchantment!

Summon Animated Armor gets us this guy:

It’s a pretty normal Pikeman unit, not as good as our Industrious Halbardiers though it does have the advantage of being immune to status effects and morale. The main advantage though is that it is summoned instead of built in cities, making it much easier to deploy to locations away from our cities!

Awakened Tools
  • The affected city loses 20 stability, but gains 20 production and draft while this spell is running.
This spell is particularly useful on newly founded cities, allowing them to quickly construct new buildings and units. We’re still limited by the gold cost of these things of course, and with larger cities the stability cost can be too high for this spell to be useful.

Runecarver’s Camp
  • This Special Province improvement grants +15 draft to the city, and an additional +3 mana for each adjacent quarry. It counts as a quarry itself.
Normally you can only get mana from provinces by building conduits on mana nodes and magic materials, both of which are pretty rare, so the ability to get a bit more mana from our provinces is definitely helpful. Especially since it synergizes with Quarries, which our Great Builder’s trait has also granted gold income too!

Empire Tree

Now that we’ve explained how we’ve made our Dwarf Faction, let’s have a quick look at some of the Empire Tree upgrades that we can take when we play with them!

When the game starts we’ve maxed out Materium, so we’ll be looking at that part of the tree.

Military Engineering is a nice pick to grab early in the game, it gives us an edge for claiming terrain in the early game. Also, if an outpost has a Palisade Wall, that wall will also be present if the outpost is upgraded to a city, helping us keep our new cities safe.

Our Great Builders trait lets us build Special Province Improvements faster, so taking Specialist Districts so that they also give us gold income makes a nice extra for us!

If we had some spare imperium, the Rite of the Armorer would give us a unique piece of master-crafted armor to give to our leader.

Obviously Dwarves should be masters of siege warfare, so this is a nice pickup for later in the game. Siege Projects can be very expensive!

The Future

So what does the later game hold for our valiant Dwarves? I’ve already written too much, but I can show you a few glimpses of what’s available.

We can transform their skin to steel to protect us from physical damage and poisons.

The Tome of the Crucible lets us sweep whole provinces with Pyroclastic Flames and rain Meteors in combat.

The Golden Golem is the most powerful Polearm unit in the game, capable of turning it’s enemies into golden statues.

And that’s it for this week. I hope you enjoyed this detailed look into how we designed our Dwarf faction and what they can do! Tune in next week to learn more about Narrative Events!