The Age of Decadence (2015)

The Age of Decadence (2015), published and developed by Iron Tower Studio

The world has fallen into ruins and barbarism after a catastrophic war waged centuries ago. What the legends say was a war waged between gods and demons left the world a dwelling for tyrants and city-states, who all try to grasp the power they think is theirs by either by right or might.  This is the world you are thrown into, be you an assassin or just a humble merchant, this is the world where you have to survive the political intrigue and plain old robbers. This is the world, where the best way to win a battle is to avoid it altogether but if it's not possible, then at least win by any means necessary, honour being the least of your worries.

Depending on what kind of a character you enter this world you shape the world in your wake. You might do it with blunt force or with a slippery tongue, but you shape it none the less. People die by you, either because of your schemes or just because you kill them. These deaths at times affect the world in larger. Rulers rise and fall, but your main quest remains: to find the temple of the last god and see if the legends were true.

The very first mission for every character is to get their hands on a map, that will set the long journey towards the temple. I've tried with two different characters, and with both, the beginning is somewhat different. The assassin gets the map through an assassination job, a loremaster gets the map when he is asked to evaluate its worth. And even during these short intervals, you can decide how you go about it if you are blunt, honest, dishonest. It all boils down to, what kind of statistics your give yourself.

As far as gameplay goes, with an assassin, I had killed several people before even getting to the second city whereas my more of a brainiac loremaster got there by making other people do the killing for him. It is, as a whole, quite a big difference, when the one playthrough is trying to figure out the best strategy for killing, the other is scheming about how to avoid it or who does it for you. And that kind of choice and decision making is already far, far beyond what most RPG's with vastly bigger budgets manage to pull out.

That kind of diversity action and outcome is really the core of the Age of Decadence and what makes it so charming despite its more obvious flaws, one of the biggest being that it has relatively clumsy controls and in-game camera and other being that it looks pretty archaic for a game released in 2015. But those details withstanding, the game itself is quite good, especially if you like gameplay where things you fo have an actual effect on the world you are set in.

The engine used in the game really seems to be the biggest problem it has. It runs reasonably well, albeit suffering from some slowdowns despite the graphical fidelity is far from being even close to what you'd expect even from a title 10 years older than Age of Decadence is. Then there's the camera, which is somewhat clumsy and tends to get stuck at times, especially when you are in a tight place doing combat. It also has a tendency to try and drop to a lower plane than where your character is at the moment.

But as the game itself is interesting, I soon noticed I learned to tolerate the clumsy controls. The world, the combat and the story were enough for me to overlook the technical issues. The idea of the world moving on even if you don't do all the things in your quest journal is really rather novel what comes to modern RPG's that boast with the reactiveness of the user actions or lack there off like it can be here.

As you'd expect of a game with many outcomes, the Age of Decadence serves several different endings, depending on how you fare in the game. If you manage to crack the mysteries of the old world enough, you might become a god of sorts yourself, or you just might end up waking up the last of the gods.  The path you take to these ending varies by the character you use and what you manage to do, the quests you do and the people you work with.

You can swipe through the lands leaving cadavers in your wake or you can connive and scheme your way through, lying to everyone you see, using them for your own good. And then there are the options in between, where you can be as good as the world filled with untrustworthy characters makes sense to be, or you can backstab others while preferring others. It all depends, really, on how you want to approach things and this aspect of the game really is what makes it stand out.

I've been mostly praising the narrative mechanics of the game, so how does the combat fare?  This is the aspect that will probably scare away a lot of people despite they'd be into the other aspects of the game, as the combat does turn pretty challenging the further you go. The Age of Decadence has tactical, turn-based combat, where you die a lot. You need to plan your battles with care and use all the elements you can to your benefit in order to win.

Most of the time it's just you against several enemies. On an occasion, you have characters on your side, but the main bulk of the game, it's just you. For non-combatant characters, the best option is to try and steer as far of the combat, even if that would mean grovelling at the feet of someone stronger than you are or just turning away from a situation you'd tackle in some other game. The best way to win is to not fight at all is a lesson you learn early on.

Personally, I noticed, that if you do fight, you will end up with a bigger purse. My loremaster was relatively light on funds all the time, but he did have a couple of occasions, where he could have had his pockets full. But that all depends on if you are willing to backstab other, which all has an effect on how the rest of the world sees you. 

There is no magic in the world of Decadence. All the magical items you see are just technology the world has forgotten on its long stumble. The so-called gods and demons were far beyond what people of the current era are, but the war that ripped the world apart also destroyed a lot of the knowledge, leaving behind myths and fractions of truths mixed in together. You can build stuff and mix all kinds of healing concoctions and poisons, but nothing of it is magical in nature.

The character progression is quite straightforward. When you complete a mission or do something noteworthy, you are given points in one of the three categories: combat skills, civil or general. Combat and civil points can only be used on their specific skills, but general skill points can be assigned to either one. Depending on how you proceed in the game, you do have to think hard what skills you actually do beef up, as especially the civil skills will help you a lot if you want to avoid as much of the combat as you can.

The Age of Decadence is an interesting game. On one side, it is technically a bit clumsy and dated, but on the other hand, it does a lot right as well. If you think that the good it has outweighs the bad, then you'll like it despite its flaws. But if you can't get past them and the world and the narrative it has don't either open up to you or don't appeal to you, then that's that. In either case, it is a game I'd recommend any RPG fan to try out, as you'll figure out sooner rather than later if it's worth pursuing to the end.