Age of Decadence
Developer: Iron Tower Studio
Release Date: 14 October, 2015
By Chris Picone, 07 April 2017
Age of Decadence is the first release by indie developer Iron Tower Studio. At its heart, it is a text adventure, although it is supported by isometric gameplay designed to allow you to explore the world, and a functional turn-based combat system. The game takes place in a unique post-apocalyptic pseudo-Roman setting. Details of the world before the apocalypse are scarce but legends tell of mighty civilizations with advanced technology summoning the gods and waging wars with powerful magic, eventually destroying both empires and leaving the world in ruin. By the time the game starts, the gods have left, magic is gone, and no one remembers how to work the machines. The known world consists of once-noble houses fighting to regain power and affluence in a struggle for dominance over the remnants of the broken world. Meanwhile the merchants’, thieves’, and assassins’ guilds, and the allegedly neutral imperial guard, scheme and manoeuvre behind closed doors, each with their own agenda.
The story is the hardest to pinpoint, but is also where the game really shines. At its most basic, the game involves the main character trying to find an ancient temple, with the goal of finding some artefact or lore that would give one faction power over the others. However, the character’s reason for doing so, the journey to find the temple, and everything else that happens along the way is entirely dependent on not only the chosen background, but on every decision the player makes along the way. Not in the manner we have come to expect from recent digital RPGs, where your choices allow you to slightly deviate from the set path, but in a manner that truly makes it feel like you are creating your own path as you go.
There are eight backgrounds to choose from when you start the game: Assassin, drifter, grifter, loremaster, mercenary, merchant, praetor, and thief.
The first game I played was as a Praetor, a kind of minor nobility who acts as the voice and hands of the lord of one of the great houses. The game was full of political machination and diplomacy. I forged alliances with some of the factions and sabotaged others as I led House Daratan to supremacy. Along the way, I fought off assassination attempts, became a gladiator to enhance my reputation, and explored ruins although my lore and crafting skills were too low so much of what I found down there meant nothing to me. Eventually I found the temple; I won’t spoil what took place there.
Out of curiosity, I began a game as a mercenary, just to see how the game out when playing a fighty character. The game certainly involved more combat but it didn’t go as I expected; early in the game I left my duties and abandoned my career as a bodyguard to become a thug for the thieves’ guild. My curiosity satisfied, I continued onto the part of the game that really had my interest; the lore.
My next playthrough was as a loremaster. Again, this didn’t go as expected; a loremaster doesn’t have the resources or muscle to just go trudging about the countryside exploring ruins on his own, and so I had to choose a faction to side with – at least in the beginning. I ended up working as an agent for the Commercium, making deals to further their needs when it suited me, hiring assassins and playing the great houses against each other, but ultimately working toward my own goal. I found and fixed ancient machinery, and unravelled mystery after mystery, until I eventually found my way to the temple under entirely different circumstances to my praetor. Interestingly, even as loremaster I was unable to access all areas of lore; in some places, I found my physical frailty prevented exploration. In others, I found that my loremaster never found out that some places existed because he lacked the reputation or the backing from a particular faction.
The graphics are largely functional; not bad, but they do appear dated, particularly when exploring the world from the isometric viewpoint. However, the accompanying illustrations are immaculate, and the nature and scope of the game mean that you are generally too absorbed into what is happening in the game to worry about what it looks like.
Similarly, the music is a quiet achiever. You don’t really notice it too much, but it does work subtly to create and maintain the atmosphere throughout the game.
The game alternates between playing like a typical isometric RPG, and a text adventure. There are towns and ruins to explore, and of course there is combat, but the larger portion of the game is played through extensive dialogue screens that manage not only your conversation choices, but also character actions and decisions. For example, early in the game you will want to meet the lord of Daratan. To do this, you might do a job for his lackey at the gate (which you may or may not be able to achieve), you might try to persuade the guard that it’s in the house’s interest to let you in, you might try impersonating a guard, or you might try distracting one of the guards and then jumping the fence – all of these are dialogue options. Dialogue isn’t just a matter of choosing the right conversation option to pass an obstacle either; there are many viable ways of passing obstacles, but they all come with consequences both positive and negative. A lie might get someone to sign a document, for example, but when the lie is discovered there might be far-reaching repercussions. You might have someone assassinated, but then that person stays dead, and often factions will have their own spies that will work out that you were the one that hired the assassin. Combat is functional; it’s turn based, and you choose your attacks based on the right technique based on the opponent; targeted attacks might be necessary for heavily armoured opponents, for example. There are a few items such as nets and poison to help you overcome enemy strengths, but for the most part combat is fairly uninteresting. It is challenging, however, and can be rewarding.
Fun Factor / Replayability
The game only takes ~10 hours to play through. However, the game has been developed so deeply that you will want to replay the game, probably several times. Each of the eight backgrounds offer drastically different playthroughs, and there are even decisions within each background that offer different playthroughs again. For example, as a praetor you can choose which noble house to serve, each of which has their own agenda. As a mercenary, you can play as a sell sword for the imperial guard, or as a thug for the thieves’ guild. Whichever way you play, you’ll only be able to access parts of the game, and in many cases the only way to access the other parts is by starting a whole new game and trying a completely different play style. Even after my two-and-a-bit playthroughs, I am aware that there are still whole areas of the game I have not been able to explore, and there are two factions that I have had only minimal interaction with. The game has plenty more to offer me yet.
This is the first game in I don’t know how many years, that I have actually played all the way through more than once, and it has still left me hungry for more. The combat was a bit unimaginative but world and lore were incredibly well developed, and AAA RPG companies could learn from the non-combat aspects of the game.
If you consider yourself a hardcore role-player, and think you could stomach a text adventure, Age of Decadence is an absolute must-play game. If that isn’t you, there’s nothing to see here. Go back to your fluffy CRPGs like Tyranny and Pillars of Eternity (both great games, but they’re built for the mainstream crowd).
If you’re curious, check out the free demo on steam.