Rugged Reviews

Age of Decadence Review

by Ouroboros on August 5, 2016
Details
Synopsys

The great thing about Age of Decadence is that it can be about something completely different depending on the type of background that you choose for your character. During my first playthrough I was very interested in the mystery of this world, wanted to know the real story of what happened during the Great War and as such went with playing a Loremaster.

Age of Decadence is an indie cRPG basically made for those of us who want to immerse ourselves in the history and lore of a strange world. Set into one of the more peculiar post-apocalyptic settings you’ll see, this game seems to be aimed at those RPG players who really love role playing and prefer to solve problems without having to roll for Initiative, if they can help it

Today’s offering comes courtesy of an indie dev called Iron Tower Studio, a game that actually takes great care from the beginning to let you know that resolving encounters with combat is not only not suggested, but should be actively avoided.

So right from there you know you’re in for a very different cRPG experience, but the oddity of the approach doesn’t stop there. Instead, the Iron Tower guys decided to go full out and set the game in an equally odd world.

The post-apocalyptic Age of Decadence

Age of Decadence is set in a very weird type of post-apocalyptic setting. Instead of it taking place in an alternate future of our real world civilization, it takes place in the alternate future of a world once dominated by what can only be described as the Roman Empire – the names, titles and objects in the world are identical to those from the real-world Roman Empire. Although granted, the word “Roman” is never uttered, the organizational structure being simply called The Empire, it’s rather clear from the onset where the inspiration came from.

So the Age of Decadence takes place several hundreds of years after a Great War that saw sorcerers, Demons and Gods take to the field, which lead to the disintegration of the Empire, the ruination of most cities and the destruction of the majority of the civilized world as people knew it. Humanity now being forced to concentrate into only a few urban centers, with the wasteland between them being braved only by raiders and those crazy enough to think they can grow enough food outside the protection of a major settlement.

Survival in the Age of Decadence

Those are the broad strokes of the world that you’ll be venturing in, a place where survival is a goal in itself and where violence, intrigue and backstabbing are the order of the day.

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Despite the fact that the game strongly urges you to not approach your playstyle from the more traditional DnD approach of kicking in the door, killing everything that moves and asking questions later, that isn’t always possible. And I think that is where the game doesn’t go far enough in offering options to the more non-combatant types. On the other hand the game does offer everyone the ability to invest into some form of combat skill and you really shouldn’t ignore the ability of using at least one type of weapon. I suggest daggers.

You’re going to spend quite a bit of time talking to and reading what the NPCs in the game have to say. And the great thing is that you can’t always be sure that they’re being honest or indeed, that they know the entire story, it is up to you to take it all in and connect together the disparate pieces of information that you’ll be gathering.

There’s this big mystery that permeates throughout the game world, a mystery relating to things that happened during this Great War. The accounts from that era talking about Demons and Gods showcasing tremendous powers over the elements as well as, weirdly enough, extra-worldly feats of engineering.

Backstabbing – both literal and figurative – is a daily occurrence, actually you’ll kinda be doing some of it but this also means it can be done to you. You can’t really trust anyone, you can only do your best to play the various sides against each other or against a different enemy while you become sufficiently skilled or powerful to avoid getting backstabbed yourself.

Of course this is true if you choose to jump into the intrigues at hand and play a part in the overall scheme of things. A different way of approaching the game is to instead immerse yourself in the lore and history of this peculiar post-apocalyptic setting and try to put together what actually happened during this mythical Great War, because suffice to say, stories and reports from that time can be rather conflicting as to who, what, where, when and how.

Ok, this sounds cool and all but what’s the gameplay like?

The internal dynamic of the various settlements that you visit is not only deeply influenced by what you do but you actually get to experience this change. You get to directly see and experience the changes that you have caused, depending on which faction’s side you take and your decisions afterwards.

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In Fallout you could see at the end of the game the consequences of your actions, in Age of Decadence you get much more. And to be honest, the consequences of your actions aren’t always positive, or at least, they don’t lead to positive outcomes for the settlements per se, so you’ll want to be careful when moving from one major settlement to another because you will surely not find the same status quo. Thankfully the game does tell you what’s happened as a result of your meddling so you’re not completely taken off-guard.

The Factions

The intrigue and world is so engrossing though, that once you do start doing quests you’ll find yourself forgetting what your initial personal goals were, much like it would happen in real life to be honest. Also, since combat isn’t a major part of the game – depending on how you approach it, of course – gathering skill points has to be done by talking to everyone and doing your best at obtaining either direct skills from them – some will train you a bit in some aspects of character development – or see if you can get some quests from them which you can then try – and the operative word here is TRY – to complete while still retaining your life, so that you can gain some skill points to invest into your chosen development path.

There are six major factions that share and split influence and power in Age of Decadence, there are three ancient noble houses – each of them ruling one of the three remaining city-states in the world, each having their own interests and whatnot, and then there’s also a Trading Guild, an Assassin’s Guild, a Thieve’s Guild and the Imperial Guard which is basically a stand-alone Military Guild.

During your stay in the game world you’ll have contact with most, if not all of these guilds, choosing to be part of one or the other, but things get murky and out of hand as far as allegiances go really fast. It’s kind of like a sped-up version of Game of Thrones because you don’t have to wait for a new episode or season, you can just continue playing, make decisions, see what happens, die, reload, make other decisions, see what happens, die again, make yet other decisions, see what happens and so on and so forth.

Replay value

Besides the many types of characters that you can play as and the varied choices of skills that you can choose from one playthrough to another, keep in mind that the game’s factions aren’t there just to offer some local colour. Joining up with different ones – depending on your character’s build – will lead to wildly different playthroughs. Also, once you have a better grasp on how the world operates you can then create your own character from scratch as well.

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There are also many points in the game when you can make all manner of decisions that will lead to different outcomes further on down the line, even when playing with the same character.

There are also several locations in the world that will be out of your reach with certain characters, but you can visit with others. Similarly the various locations pose different problems which you can solve a number of ways or simply ignore.

This only amounts to Age of Decadence having a veritable metric fuck-tonne of replay value.

Minor gripes with the game world

Despite all of this awesomeness, and it is extra awesome, there are a couple of things that are not ideal in Age of Decadence.

One thing that seems to be lacking from the world are random encounters while traveling. Considering how much you hear about raiders being a problem outside the major settlements, you never meet any during your travels, unless there’s a particular location designed for it.

Also there are a lot of things that you can see exist in the world, but you can’t interact with. Most likely due to the fact that it would affect the economy but it does annoy you a little bit when you get to the lab of a loremaster and you can’t look through his stuff and read his notes for some extra morsels of information.

Now about that whole avoiding combat thing. The game makes it clear, and you’ll notice while playing it, how easy it is to get killed. You can get jumped by thugs, be lured into traps or simply die as a result of honest combat, although rarely is it one-on-one.

The major annoyance I had with the game whilst playing a very non-combatant build – a Loremaster focused on Alchemy, Impersonation and Persuasion – was that the game didn’t allow me to solve certain encounters in different ways. It was either one of the many scripted options – which granted, there are quite a lot depending on your skill set and choices – or combat.

Instead, as a non-athletic bookworm who is into making potions and talking to people, I would’ve liked the opportunity to poison someone’s drink or food, or talk someone else into doing it for me. Similarly, considering the fapt that I was adamant on minimizing combat, when it did come to combat I had little choice than to try my luck – and reload the game until I’d luck into surviving an encounter I didn’t want to avoid completely – instead it would’ve been great if the game offered the possibility of hiring guards or mercenaries to travel with me, for protection.

This last part is actually somewhat of a choice during at least one quest when you can ask for some help from the Imperial Guards to ambush some Assassins, but that should’ve been an option all throughout this tough world.

Mind you, it would’ve been close to impossible to afford guards anyway, because it’s extremely difficult to gather any serious amount of money in the game since looting corpses isn’t a valid option for all types of characters.

And while this is a great thing – adding an extra layer of difficulty – it’s also incredibly annoying because lots of things – interesting things – cost a lot of money and there is no solid method of generating money outside of either making potions and selling them or crafting weapons and armor and selling those. But again, neither those options are very valid to begin with because the raw materials needed for both those activities are very rare and hard to come-by. You can’t work as a caravan guard – for instance – in order to make some solid money. Not that you’d survive the trip but having the option exist would’ve mattered.

These minor gripes notwithstanding, they did not lessen the experience of playing Age of Decadence one bit. If anything, they made me want to experience the game from a completely different perspective on future playthroughs because I know there’s still quite a lot of content that I haven’t seen.

Age of Concluding

The great thing about Age of Decadence is that it can be about something completely different depending on the type of background that you choose for your character. During my first playthrough I was very interested in the mystery of this world, wanted to know the real story of what happened during the Great War and as such went with playing a Loremaster.

Having finished it and finding out a certain amount of the history behind the events of the Great War, I wanted the second playthrough to try a more capable fighter character so I went with the Mercenary background, specialized in wielding a sword and dodging and had considerably more fights, although mind you, they were still tough as hell. And in some cases, they simply weren’t surmountable making me have to reload a much earlier save and take a different path. That’s just how the Age of Decadence rolls, you either love and enjoy its hardcore nature or you don’t and then it’s not for you.

I think I’ve gone on long enough and I believe that those of you who would be interested in the type of game Age of Decadence is got a pretty good idea of whether or not you’ll want to play it. Just in case you aren’t super sure, the guys from Iron Tower Studio have also made a demo available, which you can find on the Age of Decadence Steam page so make sure to check it out.


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