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[Review] dmc's Age of Decadence Review

Low Spoiler review of Age of Decadence

  1. dmc
    This is a review of the recently (October 2015) released game, Age of Decadence, which is published by Iron Tower Studio. You can get it on Steam for $30 (US). It contains virtually no spoilers (just a warning, if you look at all of the screenshots and read all of the text, some of the back story that develops along the way for you will be spoiled - in that I find this to be the best part of the game for me, you may not want to read the text) and gives the author’s impressions of the game through about 30 hours of play time, several restarts, and some on-line data mining to gather some needed meta-knowledge to make it through to the end (or one of them) in time to write the review.

    This review is submitted by dmc exclusively for Sorcerer’s Place. Any questions or comments can be addressed to the author.


    Age of Decadence Review – by dmc

    OK, so, initial disclaimer here: I knew little to nothing about this game before I downloaded it. Further, I had been playing a little NWN2 (mostly for purposes of helping Beren with his various guides) and had trotted out Skyrim for a little mindless hack and slash fun. Thus, I will confess to being woefully unprepared for this game.

    Basic Overview of the game:

    The game is set in a post-war fantasy empire owing a little stylistic feel to the Roman Empire. There is, however, mention of potions, magic, and the like, but when all is said and done, you aren’t making any wizard characters in this game. The intro screen is, frankly, a bit off-putting.


    To quote it:

    “The Age of Decadence is a very different game from what you’re used to. Its world is harsh and unforgiving and it really doesn’t take much to end up dead. In fact, it’s painfully easy, especially if you try to play the game the way you normally play RPG’s, when you role-play a mighty hero who’s able to handle any challenge and smite evildoers by the dozens.”

    “In this game combat is always extremely dangerous. It is the hardest way to handle quests and progress through the game and even a couple of thugs can easily put an end to you adventure.”

    “Keep in mind that you are NOT expected to beat every fight you’re offered. There is no shame in walking away if your character isn’t a killing machine. Optional fights are usually the hardest, so don’t jump at the first opportunity to be brutally murdered. The game isn’t linear and it’s not about killing people.”

    “Be aware that many people will not hesitate to lie to you, steal from you, or betray you, should they see fit. Use your head, be careful what you say, and always look out for yourself, because no one else will.”

    There’s also a quote from Glen Cook’s Black Company books, so, if you are familiar with them, and take the foregoing warnings to heart, you might get a feel for this game.

    Also, you can opt to forego an immediate character generation/start by clicking on the trainer option, which allows you to try combat. I did that. It convinced me, very quickly I might add, that the intro warning was for real and that I did not want to waste my precious time and first run by trying to make a warrior. I won’t bore you with the details, but the practice fight was, err, messy, and involved a lot of blood (almost 100% mine during the fight and, obviously, 100% of mine by the end of the fight).

    Thus, I turned to character generation. I made a loremaster, focused in the intellect/charisma concept, and vowed never to get in any fights. If I did need to fight, I would sit in a corner and use a bow. Or I would die. I had no interest in testing the bounds of combat and looked forward to a game that might be played without any. By way of foreshadowing, with a little meta-knowledge later on, you can absolutely play this game the way I just described and enjoy yourself. You can also, however, build a very reliable fighter type and not worry too much about random deaths either.

    Interface/Graphics

    I’m not going to lie to you – it’s pretty clear that this game was ported off a pretty basic engine and has been long in the making, meaning that it looks and acts as old and clunky as it actually is. If you can’t get past that, it is not for you in any way, and you might as well not bother. It would only frustrate you.

    Me, I don’t care about that stuff if the story is good and the game play can be reasoned with, instead of fought. Plus, it doesn’t look THAT much worse than NWN2, so I can live with it. The interface is a bit annoying at the beginning, but once you get used to which button and key does what and all of that, it’s perfectly fine. In that it is a turn based game, your fast twitch muscles are unneeded and you can go grab a cup of coffee in the middle of a battle or conversation without consequence.

    As for the actual game play and controls, they are fine but nothing to write home about. You can maneuver yourself and the camera well enough to get around and check things out and they are intuitive enough so as to not be frustrating. In combat, a grid pops up with the squares you can reach based on your action points (AP) in color for a handy guideline. Attacks take a certain number of AP, which can be reduced or increased depending on the type of attack you choose (fast, power, aimed, etc.). The weapon type also bears on the number of AP an attack takes so, as you might expect, a dagger is quick and a war hammer is not. Armor and your dexterity dictate how many AP’s you get per round. Again, if you are looking for a Ferrari, forget it. This is a Ford Focus of a game as far as graphics and interface, and, at the beginning, my hope was that the story, writing, plot and those elements would make the game, because I would otherwise be wasting my time in a big way. By opting for a non-combat specialist I was also hoping to minimize those Ford Focus aspects of the game.


    Character Builder/Stats

    The actual character builder is based on the typical 6 stats: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Perception, Intelligence and Charisma. No surprises there. One surprise is that there is no per se leveling, so your HP are set at creation and do not change. They are dependent on your Constitution. You also get skill points to distribute between combat skills and non-combat skills. The combat ones are obvious – weapon types, blocking, dodging, that sort of thing. The non-combat skills are basically broken up into thieving skills and knowledge/merchant/talking skills – things like traps, etiquette, lore, and other similar concepts. The way you set your character’s stats in the beginning dictates how many combat and non-combat skill points you start with to assign. In my initial play through, I obviously stressed Per, Int and Cha at the expense of Str, Dex and Con, which meant that I had many more non-combat points to spend on skills as compared to combat points. As mentioned, it didn't go well almost from the beginning, so I tweaked it. Like this:


    The skills themselves are ranked, and you start with 1 in all of them. The initial bump to level 2 costs 5 points, and the subsequent bumps for the next few levels cost 10 points, then it increases some more, up to a maximum level of 10, which costs you 30 points to achieve. Obviously, the higher the skill level, the better your odds at doing whatever it is you are trying to do based on that skill, whether it’s stabbing someone with a spear, blocking their sword, sweet talking them into doing what you want, or disabling the deadly trap that is preventing you from looting some well-healed merchant’s place of business. Again, folks, it’s a Ford Focus, so don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed.

    Using other skills than fighting ones leads to different resolutions, some of which are, frankly, more satisfying.


    You should be able to finish the game with any build as long as you do not just toss away points but continue to focus on your build. Some meta-knowledge goes a long way, so I have a slight beef with that, but, all in all, you can make it through if you are not an idiot. You will miss tons of content though.

    Solving quests gives rewards of money (sometimes) and assignable skills points (most times). Winning combats will get you physical skill points, talking your way through things will get you the other type, and, many times, you will get generic points that can be used for any skill.


    Story/Plot

    So, turning to story and plot, the game is trying to get you to feel that you are in a post-war, every-man-for-himself type of world where, basically, no one can be trusted. Towards that end, I will share an early encounter so you see what the game means: I was walking through a market when a merchant approached me with a story about how he needed to sell a certain amount of merchandise in order to be granted a stall, and that he was offering certain goods at a discount to hasten that stall-granting, and was I perhaps interested in viewing his wares? Ignoring the inherent Catch-22 nature of his story and despite my natural suspicions, and wanting to see what the game had in store, I agreed to view his wares. Once in the building where he led me, I was set upon by his two thugs and brutally murdered. Thus, I can attest that the intro is reasonably accurate and, unlike other RPG’s where there might be, occasionally, an actual free lunch, there is no such thing here.

    As for the game, the story and the plot, I will not ruin anything in particular for you. Some of the descriptions are interesting, but the history isn’t too fleshed out until very late in the game, and then, only if your character is of a type that can access the lore (you don’t have to be a loremaster, but you had better be intelligent and/or have a high lore skill). I did not feel like there was an entire back story of the world written out (as I have in other RPG’s), it was more like someone came up with a cool idea and setting and created enough details to set the story, then added to it as things went along.

    Most of the story points are explained through lengthy conversations or in-game object interaction. Some examples:



    The following four shots are from one interaction with an object - they definitely contain some story spoilers.


    It is unoriginal in some respects – the noble houses are plotting against each other, the army is plotting against them too, the merchants are scheming against everyone, so are the thieves, the assassins are what you would think, and many of the loremasters are shysters and hacks. It really is good at giving you that feeling of decadence and, really, the opportunities to backstab whoever you happen to be with or working for are numerous. If you are fond of playing a straightforward paladin build, you will probably be frustrated with this game, because that is the least interesting type of character you can play, IMO. If you like to play a thief type, then this game gives you ample opportunity to roleplay your character to your heart’s content.

    Replayability

    After trying my loremaster and then restarting because I didn’t grasp what was going on with everything and made some ill-advised choices, I tried a third go round with a fighter build I found on-line. I did this because I wanted to see if a combat build could be done and because I was less than satisfied with the first couple of playthroughs. I felt that meta-gaming was necessary to actually move the game along, which was somewhat off-putting to me.

    The fighter build actually worked out surprisingly well. If you invest a little time into learning how the combat functions and aren’t too brave (i.e., stupid) about how you fight, you can actually do surprisingly well in a combat build. I know that I missed out on a ton of opportunities in that my sacrificed stats were int and cha, but this character actually went much better and farther than the first.


    I won’t spoil it by describing anything further along in the game than the initial town, but, no matter how you play it, developing an active and pervasive sense of distrust will inure to your benefit. I went back after the fighter and retried it with a talker rather than a fighter and it went much better. It’s just that I am not sure that this many restarts should be necessary and I still know that I have missed a ton of content.

    One thing to know, though, is that the game is basically one story told from many perspectives. If you really want to know the whole story, you actually have to replay it with many different characters in order to see how all the different factions interact. That is both a plus and minus in my book, because gaming time is a relatively scarce resource, so I want to get the most out of the first or second playthrough, but the different stories are interesting, so it is worth it to come at the game from several different perspectives.

    Overall Review

    Basically, the game needed to dominate in the writing and plot to overcome the rather pedestrian game engine and combat learning curve. The question is: did it? The answer is: sort of. I really got the feeling that I was in an evil, selfish, decadent world, which is apparently what the writers were looking for. I did not completely buy in to the milieu and, despite the various on-line acclaims I read, I actually did not find the story and writing greatly engrossing – Planescape: Torment this is not. Some of the conversations were interesting, good and believable. Some were not. I’d say they ran about 50-50 for me. Some of the backstory explanations of major plot issues (I won’t spoil them) were actually way more interesting to me than anything else in the game, and I found those parts to be, by far, the best part of this game. Thus, I suspect that if I were to find more of the content I know I missed, I might like the game even more.

    At a couple of points in the first couple of playthroughs, I found myself actively hating the game due to some sticky combats and issues with the need for meta-game knowledge as far as assigning skill points and the like, but, having now invested over 30 hours into the game, I think I am over that.

    It touts (nay, mandates) its replayability, and I might try again with a thief build, but I might just shelve it and never touch it again. It’s not pulling me back and, at $30 on Steam, you might want to wait until the price goes down. I think it is worth playing if you have the time, but I would not select it as a first choice on either a limited budget or with limited gaming time.
    The Great Snook and Taluntain like this.
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