Age of Decadence Review
I just trashed a city's infrastructure for the mob.
I was totally justified in doing so. My character was serving the Commercium, the entirely unscrupulous merchant's guild who runs the trading quarters in every major city. They plot and conspire all over the place to topple the ruling houses in the cities where they work, and they're pretty much the closest thing this world has to the mob. So now, because of me, they control the city's military as it descends into lawlessness, and they could probably take over whenever they like. The scary part is, that's probably not even the nastiest thing I'll do this playthrough.
This is Age of Decadence, and it's possibly one of the best games I've played this year.
The Age of Decadence is an isometric roleplaying game from Iron Tower Studios. I came across it early in its development after hearing it talked about on a gaming site, and in particular, after an interview with the dev team. From there, I followed the open development as much as I could, downloading each new release and dying frequently with each new character I made. This game has a history with me.
The thing that makes me absolutely love the game and come back to it again and again no matter how many times I die or screw up, though, is that the game is that deep. The game begins with a message that combat is highly lethal, and it would be better to negotiate your way through each situation. You can get through the first act of the game by only killing one person, or if you really want to see how low you can get your body count, you don't have to kill anyone at all (this won't make anything any easier). The game is incredibly open-ended, and even failing a quest in one way will give you options to succeed at another.
And it's beautiful. There's technically no "wrong" path, and while there are certain paths that will leave you without many good options, each choice follows on the back of other choices. Screw over a local lord? He's not going to want to put in a good word for you. Fail too many missions for someone? They're not going to trust you with the fate of their grand schemes. Fail to decipher that inscription? Then it's probably not best to operate that piece of machinery. The world is essentially yours to do with what you like.
There is just one problem, and it's sadly one worth mentioning. There is a lot of trial and error, and there's a high barrier of entry that comes with that. You'll find yourself not necessarily save-scumming, but testing out situation after situation to figure out what does what, and at which threshold. Even if you specialize enough, there's a chance the skill level thresholds are just too high, and it is that way by design, not by any cruel trick. I had to try several different combinations before I figured out the right way to approach situations. My advice: Pick up Streetwise and pump a lot of points into that. And Lore, too.
But in the end, is it all worth it? Absolutely, yes it is. You will not find a more player-driven game this year, with the possible exception of Fallout 4, which hasn't come out yet. While the barrier of entry is ridiculous, it's also rewarding. Seriously, check this one out. Also-- the demo is the first town of the game. For you to explore. For free. There is no reason not to at least give this a look.
Final score: 5/5
Full disclosure: Reviewer received a press copy of this game