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Role-playing Video Games

The Age of Decadence: a low magic, post-apocalyptic world inspired by the Roman Empire

The Age of Decadence, developed by Iron Tower Studio, is a game that is currently under development, yet still accessible via its official site and Steam’s Early Access programme for a modest $24.99 US. It looks promising even though it is not yet ready for release, which is why I want to bring attention to it in the first place. Also, somehow venturing into the computer role-playing genre in the way that this game does has become an uncommon occurrence, at least in the mainstream, but we will get to that later. For now, you may want to peruse the official site and the official wiki in addition to this post if the game manages to pique your interests.

Moving on, I am attempting to make the purpose of this post twofold – firstly, it will be mostly informative with some relatively in-depth details about the game and how it works coming from both the developer and my experience with the game, and secondly, a really small review based upon my experiences yet again with some opinions made by others. I am hoping that this method of formatting the post will make it more useful than some of those I have done in the past, but I will have to wait and see if that is actually the case. However, I digress, and it is time to move on to the actual game itself.

The Age of Decadence

What is The Age of Decadence?

And why should you care at all about another role-playing game? The Age of Decadence is not a game that will present you will amazing graphics that it will use to distract you from the fact that it has no depth at all. No, it will in fact most likely do the exact opposite. The graphics, as you can see from the screenshots below, look nothing like a modded game of Skyrim that took an entire week for the user to put together, nor does it have the impact that games such as Crysis did when they first came out on PC. The Age of Decadence has 3D graphics and they are decent – they are good enough to not distract you from the game, but all the developer’s effort was evidently utilised elsewhere, and for that, I actually am grateful. I am getting a little ahead of myself however, and I would like to first present to you the introduction the developer has written for the game, after some screenshots.

The Age of Decadence The Age of Decadence

The Age of Decadence is an isometric, turn-based, single-player 3D role-playing game set in a low magic, post-apocalyptic fantasy world, inspired by the fall of the Roman Empire. The game features a detailed skill-based character system, non-linear gameplay, multiple skill-based ways to handle quests, choices & consequences, and extensive dialogue trees.

Traditionally, many fantasy RPGs are about killing things, clearing up dungeons, and being a hero. Now, there is nothing wrong with mindless fun and wish fulfillment, but we serve a different meal here. Quoting from one of the reviews:

“Well, if you want a hardcore, heavy metal roleplaying experience that challenges you, this is the ticket. Otherwise, take a pass. The game is vicious, both in its lack of morality and its merciless systems. If you want to be the hero of a story, run and don’t look back. If you want to be Attia of the Julii or be a power player, this is your RPG.”

The focus of the game is not on killing monsters, but rather on dealing with fellow humans and factions, trying to survive – easier said than done – and making a name for yourself. Naturally, to accommodate all that scheming, plotting, and backstabbing, we give the player plenty of choices, from multiple solutions to quests to different paths you can take through the game. You (and your actions) will determine who your friends and enemies are. There are no default good and bad guys.

Now, I am somewhat inclined to point out that The Age of Decadence claims to use an ‘isometric view’ by default. However, if you are interested in finding out more about isometric graphics in video games, check it out on the Wikipedia page before taking this as it is. Also, I disagree with the part of the quoted review that says The Age of Decadence lacks morality, but morals are a difficult topic to get into so I will save such a thing for another time. However, if you are worried that this might affect whether you will like the game or not, I would say that the dilemmas presented are as realistic as one person can reasonably imagine considering the setting.

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Features

If we have not lost you already, it is time to get to some more specific details. Have a look at the features that The Age of Decadence promises to deliver.

  • 8 distinctive gameplay styles: from Praetor, serving a Noble House, to grifter, preying on greed and gullibility.
  • 23 skills, ranging from Dagger and Critical Strike to Disguise and Persuasion to Crafting and Lore.
  • Action Point-based combat system, featuring a flexible set of standard attacks, special attacks such as whirlwind and impale, and aimed attacks at different body parts.
  • 8 weapon types: daggers, swords, axes, hammers, spears, bows, crossbows, throwing weapons, each with individual traits.
  • Non-combat quest resolutions and a well-developed diplomatic path (“The best weapon against an enemy is another enemy.”)
  • Over 100 quests, taking you to 22 locations: towns, outposts, archeological digs, sealed places of Power, underground facilities, and temples.
  • Each situation has multiple ways of handling it, based on your skills, reputation, and connections. Each way has consequences that will affect someone or something.
  • Extensive dialogue trees, written with role-playing in mind. You can use many skills in dialogues, take actions like stealing or sneak-attacking, and play your character with personality as you see fit.
  • An interesting world with rich history and unclear future that your actions can shape into seven very different game endings.
  • Detailed crafting and alchemy systems: melt items and create new ones, balance your sword, play with Greek fire, increase your poison’s potency, use corrosive acid on locks, and experiment with black powder.
  • Hundreds of items, ranging from weapons and armor to scrolls, tools, flasks, and pre-war relics.
  • 3D world created with Torque Game Engine, featuring detailed locations and almost 200 unique animations.
Sha’s Note: You can find out more about the Torque Game Engine at the official website, Garage Games under their list of products.

So, as I have gotten into the habit of doing so, I am going to ask whether this game actually does all of what is claimed above. The simplest answer, in my opinion, is yes, it does. The amount of customisation for the character is a whole lot of fun and there are a great number of different ways to make them unique beyond the usual stats and skill choices. However, let us not get too ahead of ourselves. As you will find out, this game is about manipulation and, if you are into getting all bloodied up, some extremely deadly combat.

I will begin by having a look at how the game starts and then I will talk about the civil route, followed by the combat route. So, for starters, when we choose to start a new game, we are presented with the following warning message which I find to be highly amusing.

The Age of Decadence

Character creation

Next, the first step is to choose the name, gender, background, and appearance of the character on the screen shown below. There are eight backgrounds, each of which affects the character’s starting reputation and pre-set base stats, to choose from and they are as below.

The Age of Decadence

Class Description
Assassin When diplomacy fails, assassination is often the only recourse. Renowned and respected for their ability to resolve disputes with the least amount of bloodshed, cloaked by the shadows of the night, assassins are in high demand amongst all strata of society. Whether drawn from a petty dispute or a matter of state, blood is blood.
Thief Regardless of the social fabric, there will always be those that prefer to live in accordance with their own code of conduct – outside the law. To a thief, a world in ruins is a world of opportunity. While those that covet power are consumed by deceit, the Thieves are turning a tidy profit on their neglected wealth.
Praetor Always looking for promising individuals to serve their interests, Noble Houses elevate ambitious men with a diverse set of skills to the rank of the Praetorian Guard. While most possess some martial training and patiently wait for the spoils and glory of bloodshed, others still favor the gentler arts of diplomacy and take a discrete, yet active role in the courts of nobles.
Loremaster Preserving and understanding pre-war knowledge and technology is a lucrative business. An increasing number of people see their salvation in the ashes of the past and thus the market is becoming saturated with icons and objects from the old empire, most without any real value. Always on the lookout for something of real worth, cataloging and appraising items, loremasters remain at the front line of this trade.
Grifter While most thieves prefer to form gangs and act under the cover of darkness, grifters see no reason to trade the laws of society for the laws of a guild. Preying upon the gullible with a combination of personal magnetism and persuasion, the grifter’s art is rarely noticed.
Drifter While for most people the focus is on trying to belong and having a place to call their own, drifters display no such sentiments. Valuing freedom above all else and answering to no man, they prefer instead to move freely without the weight on any shackles, never staying in one place for too long.
Mercenary In a world rife with conflict, those with martial skills are never idle for long. Most mercenaries take on personal contracts with individual clients, although they are occasionally embroiled in the greater machinations of the Noble Houses. Determined by gold, their allegiance lies with the highest bidder.
Merchant Behind every Noble’s power and every struggle for territory lies the gold of a merchant, respected and feared. More than mere traders, merchants manipulate entire markets and those that depend upon them. People, information, and favor all have a price, but only the merchants know their true worth.

Then the character’s base stats may be modified to a number between four and ten on the screen shown below. There are six of these, each affecting either the number of combat or civil skill points granted to the character in addition to their main purposes, and each one if often checked in appropriate dialogues. You can find more information on the individual stats below.

The Age of Decadence

Stat Purpose
Strength Influences starting skill values (which determine to-hit chance), and determines damage modifiers and maximum carry weight.
Dexterity Influences starting skill values (which determines to-hit chance), and determines Action points and sequence in combat.
Constitution Determines your character’s Hit Points and resistance to poison and other harmful substances (which will affect your ability to explore certain locations).
Perception Influences starting skill values for ranged weapons (which determines to-hit chance), determines the accuracy modifiers for all weapons and range modifiers for ranged weapons, and helps you spot things which would remain hidden otherwise.
Intelligence Influences starting skill values, and determines starting Skill Points and bonus skill points. The bonus skill points are added only to points earned by completing quests, not to points earned for killing enemies and passer-bys.
Charisma Influences starting skill values, and determines reaction and reputation modifiers.

Once you are satisfied with your character’s base stats, you can move on to combat and civil skills. Each one of these skills can have ranks from one to ten where one rank in the skill is considered unskilled, and at ten one becomes a grand master. I will not be listing what each of the skills do here, but if you are interested in learning more about how the game works, look out for my upcoming guide.

Once everything has been decided and we move on, an introduction is displayed then the character is plopped down into the world, ready to start their (most-likely) short-lived adventure.

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The world

The state of the world that the character is thrust into is, just as we already learned, that of a post-apocalyptic, late Roman Empire inspired land – the remnants of what once was an age of decadence.

The empire that once occupied one third of the known world is gone; its cities destroyed, its land scorched, its link with the civilization of old severed. Noble Houses that lorded over provinces and commanded vast armies have withdrawn to rule from their broken city-states. Once seduced by the prospect of power, constantly fighting for affluence and influence, now they fear losing what little they have. An endless, silent struggle for dominance ensues both within and without. The Imperial Guard, remnants of the Imperial Army, bound together under a common cause, act as a deterrent to open warfare.

Immeasurable damage was done to scientific and arcane research during the war and as a result the world has become stagnant. Where mistrust, prudence and petty plays at power are common, progress is solely reliant on the rediscovery of long forgotten libraries, forges and arcane facilities. The Noble Houses lack the resources and the will to re-establish the structures and societies of knowledge, and technological and societal advancement have become a commodity to be traded, sabotaged or stolen. Hucksters peddle ancient wares of no value to the ignorant, while the Lords seek and hoard artifacts they barely understand.

Ideas of chivalry, honour, and valour are long since dead, cast aside as just another currency. Loyalty is transitory and the rule of law is easily bought. Alliance and reputation are sometimes the difference between life and death – a misspoken word or an unpaid tribute can pose dire consequences. This deceit and corruption presents a unique circumstance of opportunity for the individual, particularly among Noble Houses. Their idle disquiet that the centuries of inertia and decadence are about to change is rapidly descending into desperation. A fanatical mysticism is slowly gaining favour and long held resentments are rising to the surface. Some speculate that another war approaches, others actively encourage it.

While such a situation offers nothing but dark times for many common folks, it offers a once in a lifetime opportunity for an individual determined to seize the moment and follow it to riches, power, glory, and, most likely, an untimely death.

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See the above left image for the map of the town in which the character begins their tale, Teron, and the above right for a map of the world where only Teron is shown (to avoid too many spoilers). You are not wrong if you guessed that this might seem like a small area, however, the amount of content spread across the few towns that will be available in the end is, in my opinion, more important than the sheer size of the explorable land.

When the character sets out on their journey to rise and become somebody, anybody of worth, remember that it is not possible to experience every possible event in one play-through. The game was intentionally designed like this to let various character leave their mark upon the world in their own way, a way that is unlikely to have seen them being a grand master of all trades.

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The path of the silver-tongued

Speaking of which, now I would like to point one a couple of features mentioned earlier, namely the following.

  • Non-combat quest resolutions and a well-developed diplomatic path (“The best weapon against an enemy is another enemy.”)
  • Each situation has multiple ways of handling it, based on your skills, reputation, and connections. Each way has consequences that will affect someone or something.
  • Extensive dialogue trees, written with role-playing in mind. You can use many skills in dialogues, take actions like stealing or sneak-attacking, and play your character with personality as you see fit.

These promises are more than satisfactorily fulfilled in my opinion, and the in-game result is ridiculously satisfying. The Age of Decadence is one of those rare gems that promises an interesting computer role-playing experience and delivers. It is a little hard to put into words how well this works without providing an example of every conversation, but have a look at some of the shenanigans I have gotten up to below for some examples of the fun you can have. Do not worry, they are all from the first half an hour or so of the game so there won’t be much to spoil here. Also, you can click on the images to get a full size version in a new window or tab. I cannot expect anyone to be able to read text this small, can I?

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The Age of Decadence The Age of Decadence
The Age of Decadence

What was all of that about? Well, little Miss Juno here just convinced a preacher that she is the Chosen One of the Gods to ensure her prestige amongst the religious, convinced a group of raiders to hand over their hostage then attack an enemy outpost, and single-handedly brought down both the Assassin’s Guild and the Imperial Guards Guild in one night.

Also, another awesome thing is that, other than stats and skills, the character’s personal exploits may be used to further, or inadvertently hinder, them in the world. This is what reputation is all about, really, and the six different types are:

Name Description
Body count Tells everyone how many people that crossed your path ended up dead and shows that you aren’t squeamish when it comes to killing.
Combat It’s not about how many lives you’ve taken, it’s about how many times you’ve gone up against impossible odds and lived to tell the tale. It’s the real deal.
Loyalty Measures your loyalty and whether or not you’re the type who goes down with the ship or jumps it like a rat. Then again, some opportunities simply can’t be missed.
Peacemaker It tells people that you prefer to seek peaceful solutions. Some people may find it very reassuring.
Prestige Measures your fame and influence. Are you an adventurer of great renown? An ambitious up-and-comer? Do you command respect? This stat will tell you (and other people who might be paying attention).
Word of Honor Measures how well you keep your word once it’s given. Some people might trust you more if your word is your bond.

The Age of Decadence

These types of dialogues will appear when available in conversations the same as skill-based dialogue options, like the example shown above. You will encounter quite a few of these throughout the game, making your exploits seem more rewarding in the long run, and giving the feeling that each character is making their impact on the world that little bit more.

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The more aggressive approach

There is, of course, more to the game than just manipulation. In regards to combat, for starters, it is turn-based with each character being able to take actions on each turn by spending Action Points (AP). The turn order itself is decided by which character is the fastest as determined by Dexterity. All the action then takes place on a square grid which has coloured coded squares to assist in making the decision whether to move or not and to where – blue squares indicate that the character may move to them, and green squares indicate that an attack may be made with the currently selected weapon from this square. There are also dark green squares which indicate that the character may move to or attack that square, and red squares which indicate that no action may be taken within that square.

Looking more closely into the interface, the player character’s hit points are displayed to the left of the two held item slots, whilst the number of AP available is shown to the right of them. The number of AP that the character may use per turn is determined by the Dexterity stat and each action performed by the character, including moving and changing equipped items, uses up a certain amount of AP. Finding out how much AP an action will cost is also quite simple – hover over the square on the grid to see how much movement to that square will cost, open the inventory to see how much changing gear will cost before clicking the button to apply it, and look to the right half of each held item slot for the cost of the currently selected action for that item or right click on either slot to see what different actions with that item will cost.

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When it finally comes to exchanging blows, you can hover the mouse over a target to see their tough state, or how healthy they are, and how likely the character is to successfully hit them if that target is currently in a green square. The speed of the weapon will affect how many attacks may be used by the cost of its AP. For example, a normal attack with a dagger costs 3AP as it is a fast weapon, while a normal attack with a two handed hammer costs 6AP as it is a slow weapon.

All weapons, except for crossbows, have three attack types – fast, normal, and power, where normal attacks have no additional modifiers, however, the other two types do. Fast attacks are more accurate, cost less, and do less damage, making them effective against lightly armoured opponents who usually have little trouble dodging attacks. Meanwhile, power attacks are less accurate, cost more, and deal more damage, making them effective against heavily armoured opponents who have more trouble avoiding attacks In addition to these types of attacks, there are aimed attacks that may target the head, torso, arms, or legs for varying effects, as well as special attacks which are more weapon class dependent and include moves such as whirlwind, double tap, and impale.

There is more to combat that simply swinging weapons around as well – shields may push enemies away or knock them to the floor, the character may feint to trade places with an opponent, or they could throw nets and bolas to entangle or choke enemies from a distance. Then there is the versatile crossbow, the ability to make critical strikes, and the effect of armour that I have yet to even begin talking about. As you can see by now, there are many possibilities in every combat encounter, and each of them can turn the tide in a battle towards you favour if utilised correctly.

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Overall, the combat seems difficult at first, but once you get the hang of it (and figure out how to exploit the system because, quite honestly, it is impossibly hard to not do so once you realise how it works), each encounter becomes an extremely rewarding challenge and a whole lot of fun. If you keep at it, you might even get an achievement such as Killed More People Than Malaria for which you have to kill a hundred people in the course of one game.

Is The Age of Decadence worth paying money for?

Hold on a moment, before I continue, I would like to present a couple of videos made by others about this game. It is always a good idea to know what it is that you are paying for when you buy anything, and having a look at some videos might be of assistance if you are interested in learning more.

Well, if you were to ask me directly, I would say that The Age of Decadence is definitely going into my list of favourites and I believe it is worth the $24.99 US being asked for it. I have put a lot more hours into the demo than I have the full Early Access version which I only bought recently, but with a game like this, I do not think it matters. The game does not lose its appeal the further we get through the story as each new quest line is as well thought out as the last, and there are tens of thousands of lines of dialogue to be seen.

But that is just what I personally think about The Age of Decadence, an opinion which, on its own, is not worth that much. As I said, having a look around is a good idea and so, I have gathered a few reviews that might be helpful, as shown below.

Firstly, we have a review from GameBanshee. It might be an older review, but it is still relevant to the game.

Ultimately, the demo of Age of Decadence has, more than any game in a long while, left my jaw firmly planted on the floor. As an RPG player who loves deep character systems, game worlds with rich lore, nebulous and amoral situations, deep reactivity and interesting quest design, The Age of Decadence doesn’t just meet the bar, it leaves some of the best and classic CRPGs in the dust. And as much as I can complain and nit-pick about what the game does or doesn’t do, I find myself constantly coming back to it, just to try the same scenarios again as a different character, or to see if I can win a challenging fight, and ten times through, I’m still finding new locations, events and characters – that’s the sign of a great RPG to me.

Secondly, we have a review from RPG Codex that, like the last one, is a little bit old, but again, still relevant.

Contrary to how most cRPGs work, taking the combat route in The Age Of Decadence is likely the hard path. Succeeding in skill checks is easy, but killing all those fuckers, that’s where the real challenge awaits. And the game isn’t shy about it, odds are, your very first combat encounter will already tell you that combat in [The Age of Decadence] means serious business. To get a character who’s truly capably to win every combat encounter in [The Age of Decadence] you’ll probably need to dedicate yourself to combat skills entirely and even then maintain a narrow focus, not spreading your skill points too thin. Of course that means, having sub-par social skills, you’ll likely be unable to solve quests in non-violent ways to begin with, with perhaps the exception of an Intimidate check every now and then, because your bodycount number factors into Intimidate checks.

Again, I can only repeat: In my opinion the combat is the highlight of the game and the most fun part. Perhaps it has something to do with the steep difficulty, but when you finally manage to eradicate the Raider’s camp or the Aurelian outpost it feels like a genuine achievement.

Finally, we have the most ‘helpful’ Steam review as at the writing of this post. For those of you who do not know what these are, these reviews are written by people who have bought the game, and other people can come and vote the review as helpful or not helpful. Usually, they are a decent indication of what people think of the game, but as with all reviews, remember that it is the opinion of one person just like this post itself is the opinion of only one person.

I have to preface this review by saying that I LOVE this game, but chances are 80% of the current gaming population wont like The Age of Decadence. As such its important for anyone interested in this game to have a good idea of what they are getting themselves in for – which is a proper hardcore RPG.

Overall if [you’re] sick of “baby’s first RPG” and are hungry for a solid learning curve and dangerous combat in a unique setting I recommend The Age of Decadence.

Sha’s Note: I just couldn’t leave the ‘your’ error in there when the writer meant to say ‘you’re.’

Before I continue, if you would like some more information on how the game has progressed in development over the past few months, you can check out Update #2, Update #3, and Update #4 on their Steam Community pages.

Back to the main point, what can we gather from this? If you want a challenge and to not only customise your character, but also be able to play them in a way that makes sense for what you have created, then this game is for you. It is challenging at times and your decisions will always have consequences, no matter how diplomatic you try to be. There is no perfect way to get through this game and no path is full of rainbows and pink clouds. If all of what I have shown you here still sounds good after all of this, then I would recommend this game for you and I would assume that you will love it as much as I do.

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Get your own copy of The Age of Decadence

Now I cannot talk about a game in a positive or even a negative fashion without providing a means of letting the reader try this game out for themselves now, can I? With that, here are the links to the demo versions and places where you can pre-order a copy of the full game.

Demo versions

Full game purchases

With that, we have reached the end of my little look into this really neat role-playing game. I am excited for the final release, whenever that may come, and I hope I have at least helped a bit in the decision of whether this game is a good purchase or not.

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