The Age of Decadence Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Iron Tower Studio
Developer:Iron Tower Studio
Release Date:2015-10-14
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric
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Introduction

Originally announced in 2004, The Age of Decadence is an isometric CRPG developed by Iron Tower Studio. Set in a post-apocalyptic setting inspired by the fall of the Roman Empire, the game features brutal turn-based combat, a complex branching storyline, and a plethora of skill checks. For a long time, it was one of the few titles that promised a return to the design values of games like Fallout and Darklands.

However, the RPG landscape has changed dramatically since the announcement of The Age of Decadence. Crowdfunding happened. Titles like The Banner Saga, Shadowrun Returns, Wasteland 2, Divinity: Original Sin and Pillars of Eternity might not have been to everyone's taste but did a lot to serve a previously ignored niche.

The Age of Decadence can't simply sell itself as an old-school CRPG anymore. It has to stand on its own merits. The question then is: does the title have something to offer in a post-Kickstarter landscape?

A Decadent Setting

The game's story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that is strongly inspired by the fall of the Roman Empire, though it's still an original setting and still includes some low fantasy elements.

Because of its inspirations, The Age of Decadence's setting doesn't need to waste time explaining itself. It also feels fresh, however, because the idea of a Roman-themed post-apocalypse is so rare compared to the average pseudo-medieval fantasy.

Long before the events of the game, a war between the empire that had conquered most of the known world and the "barbarian" tribes of the Qantari escalated to the point where both powers sought the help of extraordinary otherwordly beings.

Accounts vary on how exactly those events transpired (and, indeed, much of the game can be spent piecing them together) but the results are obvious: the world is in ruins. Precious few towns dot the arid, poisonous deserts that were created by the apocalyptic magic used during the war.

In spite of the scale of the conflict, however, The Age of Decadence is extremely grounded. It's a game about political intrigue and men's schemes and plots. Its story starts with the discovery of a map that is supposed to lead to an ancient temple and can branch in very different directions depending on various factors.

The Age of Decadence delivers choices with consequences in a way that puts most other titles to shame. Each of the game's backgrounds changes the start of the game dramatically, and the guild plotlines have several branches and outcomes. There are several ways to accomplish an objective... and several ways to fail to accomplish it.

Attributes, skills, previous choices, reputations forged with the various factions, snippets of lore learned along the way, and even the items collected all come back into play during the game's quests, for good and ill.

For example, I managed to convince a preacher in the starting town that I was chosen by the gods, which later helped me access a holy city. Failing to convince him, however, would have damaged my reputation with the noble house that governs the city. Those are just minor examples too. The same city could end up under the control of very different rulers, depending on the player's choices.

Along the way, the game slowly but surely shifts its focus. At the beginning, legends of the war and the lords seem distant, while the focus is firmly on survival. But if a character manages to survive enough to progress throughout the story, those elements come naturally into play.