The Age of Decadence R4 Preview

23 Dec 2013
Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Iron Tower Studio
Developer:Iron Tower Studio
Release Date:TBA
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay

It's been close to 2 years since I last took a look at The Age of Decadence, but with the newest major version, R4 up and running, and the game's availability on Steam through the Early Access program, I figured it was time to see how Iron Tower's premier title was shaping up. The biggest addition to the game is the desert city of Maadoran, as well as an overhauled character system and some UI updates. With a full two-thirds of the game available, not counting side-quests, we now have a good idea of how The Age of Decadence will play out, though perhaps not how its final chapters will resolve.

For more general information on the game, covering more details on its story, please feel free to refer to my original preview.

Maadoran

Following the events in the crumbling city of Teron, your character will be sent, either on his or her own terms or at the orders of a commanding faction, to Maadoran, one of the last remaining "true" cities in the post-apocalyptic world. Maadoran is a different place than the relatively sleepy and poor Teron: the city is bustling, the stakes are much higher, and death comes much more easily to people caught up in its political machinations. If all the drama, backstabbing, power plays and twisted conspiracies were your fancy in Teron, Maadoran has it in spades, though I expect that it will evolve even more as Iron Tower Studios refine things further.

The story in Maadoran is, like what plays out in Teron before it, very open to change depending on the faction you're aligned with; I won't go into detail about it, because one's goals and path will undoubtedly vary a lot based on one's previous actions. However, it's worth noting that the "main plot" still doesn't really take priority, and it's possible to nearly ignore it if you want to and focus wholly on the faction intrigue, which is a rare and interesting thing to see in an RPG.  There's just as much choice & consequence to it as in Teron, though those consequences from Teron are also highly deterministic and can, paradoxically, feel a bit limiting.  If Teron was the setup to get the ball rolling, Maadoran has that ball in full spin, sometimes quite out of your own control.

Unfortunately, while the atmosphere itself in Maadoran is excellent, with some fantastic music and a completely different look to it, right now it feels light on extra content compared to Teron, which is strange considering it's supposed to be a bustling trade city. There are no dynamic characters walking around, no merchant caravans, and even the stalls in the market are mostly empty. It simply feels rather dead and lifeless, and it lacks in extra characters to talk to and extra encounters to take part in that I expected to see. However, playing through Maadoran a total of three times, it's also worth noting that you may see substantially less or more of it depending on what faction you've sided with - my initial impressions were that it was lacking in content, but that may only be true of some paths.

Character System

The other major change since I last played The Age of Decadence is that its character system has been overhauled substantially, though the attributes and skills themselves have stayed mostly the same. Rather than skills fitting into a 100-point scale, now they sit on a 10-point scale instead, and the cost of increasing them goes up as they raise in level, making it a pretty big investment to specialize. This is nice, in effect, because of the way skill checks have been changed. Many skill checks now actually rely on two skills used in combination rather than one, which encourages you to spread your points out a bit, but also makes characters a bit more versatile than they used to be.

Another change is that skill points have been divided up into three kinds. There's general skill points, which you receive for completing quests and are more or less "fixed income" you can depend on throughout the game. There's also civil skill points and combat skill points. These are awarded specifically for making use of either combat or non-combat skills, and can only be spent on skills of the same type. If I have to be honest, I don't really like this change, because it streams characters that focus on combat or non-combat styles into specializing even more. If you play a character centered around using civil skills, then this system makes it even harder to try to train up your combat skills and play a hybrid character, for example. It may be more "realistic" but I can't say it's more fun and ultimately just seems like needless bloat.