The year 2015 was a good one for RPG games. Witcher 3 set a new modern standard for the genre. Divinity: Original Sin made a successful attempt to combine modern technology and classic ideas. And Age of Decadence went full old-school, with turn-based combat, pages of supplementary text, and spartan interface.
So, if you dare to play AoD, there will be no quest markers – all important info will be in the dialogs and notes. You’ll have to read everything and memorize, think when choosing dialog options, and be extra careful during the fights. And if you make a mistake – you will die. Developers honestly warn players – this game doesn’t play like a generic RPG.
You are about to die and we salute you!
The combat is full of intricacies. Every weapon has several types of attack, from swift blows most sure to hit, up to aimed strikes that can cripple your opponent. And weapons themselves are divided into eight types. Five of melee weapons – daggers, swords, hammers, axes, and spears. Plus ranged – bows, crossbows, and throwing weapons.
You have 11 skills total – 8 for each weapon, plus block, dodge, and critical strike. To actually hurt the enemy you need to have decent skill at least in one of weapon, and defense technique will help you to avoid damage yourself. So choose wisely, as the amount of points is very limited.
Tactical options are enhanced by various special items. Alchemy potions can boost your stats. Nets entangle the enemy for a turn. Bombs and “liquid fire” deal a great deal of damage.
Don’t forget about the armor. Some types easily absorb damage at the cost of mobility. Others grant more balanced protection, also being penalty-free. There is no “best choice”, all depend on the particular situation and opponent type. Even helmet, that protects only your head, isn’t necessary sometimes and just obstructs your vision.
Just be aware that everything above is applied to your opponents as well as you. Your enemies have all the abilities you have, and there is no way for your character to increase hit points and become an invincible killing machine. So, unless you have an edge in skill (or a few bombs in the pocket) think twice before stepping on the battlefield.
When in Rome…
And it’s not just the combat that is hardcore, where even a fight with common thugs is a risky business. If you use social skills, don’t expect generic RPG results either. Managed to persuade some guy to leave the city with over the top charisma? This guy can easily change his mind and later pop up accusing you of making death threats, thus ruining your reputation. Yeah, so much for “peaceful” solutions.
Though the same applies to your character as well. You can lie about successfully finishing the quest and actually get full reward for it if a quest-giver simply hasn’t learned about your deception in time. For the character with high critical stat and a dagger in the inventory, killing is a totally legit dialog option. And someone with poor combat skills can always (well, most of the time) walk away from the battle.
And speaking of reputation, there are actually thirteen(!) types of it. Seven factions have their own measurement of how useful (or harmful) your actions were to them. And in addition, there are six “general” types – body count, combat, loyalty, peacemaker, prestige, and word of honor.
“Combat” rep is a tricky one since it doesn’t count if you won a fight or not, but if you survived some encounter despite impossible odds. Other rep types, however, are self-explanatory and you can easily guess, what they are needed for.
There are also several types of Experience points – general, combat and civil. Instead of leveling up, you directly “buy” improvement of your combat (or civil) skills with them. In addition, some characters can “train” you by improving specific skills – 11 for combat (including various weapon types) and 12 civil, from lockpicking and crafting to etiquette and lore.
…do as Romans do
I’m not going to go into details about craft, with five(!) types of metal and alchemy. It’s all explained in the reference (called by F1 key). And it’s just one of the possible lines of character skills development.
You can start from eight different backgrounds – from tough mercenary to a sly merchant. And each will put you in a different position at the beginning. Mercenary, for example, starts as a bodyguard, almost instantly failing to protect the target against an assassin. While as a merchant you will be the one who orders the assassination (nothing sinister or evil, just business). Or you can actually be the assassin herself. Or himself – picking male or female characters differs only in some clothes options.
However, after a few quests, all stories will merge into one plot filled with adventures, political intrigue, and artifacts of great power. And in the end, your character will uncover more secrets about the Empire of the past than he bargained for. I’m not going to spoil much, as just one look at Steam screenshots will show you certain “artifacts” telling a lot about the now decadent world.
Still, all goals can be achieved in different, sometimes unconventional ways. At times the game feels more like an adventure game, as obtaining important items and using the right answers in dialogs can be equally important as developing correct stats. For some characters, turn-based fights can be mostly optional, while others can become legendary gladiators, who slew many over the course of the game. Though not without some reloading on your part.
Overall Age of Decadence is a great “old school” experience. Similar to classic games, like Arcanum, except instead of Arcanum’s steampunk-fantasy world of AoD resembles the remnants Roman Empire. Beating the story definitely demands much attention, studying and calculations, as the game doesn’t give a player everything on a silver platter. But in return, it offers you a unique world, complex story, and all the challenges and moral dilemmas you can get.