The Age of Decadence Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Iron Tower Studio
Developer:Iron Tower Studio
Release Date:2015-10-14
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric
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It can be argued that a similar playstyle is encouraged by any game that uses skill checks, and to a degree that's true, but the vast majority of those games don't punish failure as harshly as The Age of Decadence and feature far more bountiful resources for character development. There are no random encounters or other systems that hand out experience in The Age of Decadence, for example, and there are very few optional side quests.

And, as mentioned earlier, figuring out how to allocate the initial points is also important. Extreme combat-focused or civic-focused builds tend to work really well and are straightforward enough to build, but more hybrid builds need some experimentation to be figured out. A bad build is punished very heavily by the game, though, and that experimentation will be punished with several deaths and unfinishable playthroughs.

To be fair, a lot of those flaws aren't really inherent to the systems design in a vacuum, but are due to how it interfaces with the game's content. This is also evident in the crafting and alchemy systems. They're very robust and in-depth by themselves. A crafter can craft various weapons based on schematics, and do so by choosing one of several different possible materials that will determine the final quality. It's also possible to apply different techniques to weapons and armors, further enhancing their properties.

But there is a limited amount of materials in the game and not a lot of room for experimentation. The developers were clearly aware of this problem, as evidenced by the option to dismantle existing armors and weapons into their basic components. Even with that additional option, though, there are only so many crafting materials available through the game and no real way to make up for choices that are bad only in hindsight.

In the end, whether it was intentional or not, the game punishes players that can't divine its rules right away.

Murderous Rampages

The Age of Decadence utilizes a heavily stat and gear-based turn-based combat system. The player has only control over one character, while allies and enemies are controlled by the game's AI. During a turn, it's possible to choose from a number of actions such as various attack types, movement, and item usage, all of which are governed by action points.

While understanding the nuances of the system takes some time, the basics are surprisingly simple. Everything, including the percentage chance to hit, AP costs, and the range of every attack, is displayed very clearly. And that's very good because the game's tutorial itself is poor. It explains the very basics with some painfully on the nose dialogue and then proceeds to give the player a large variety of tools and the chance to experiment with them in progressively harder battles.

It's very good for players who have already a decent understanding of the system and would like to experiment with new strategies but very poor for novices that are overwhelmed by the amount of tools available. The presence of tooltips that are accessible at any time does little to ameliorate these issues, though I appreciate the additional insight into the game's stats system.

In spite of the poor tutorialization, The Age of Decadence's combat system is robust and enjoyable. There is a large amount of combat playstyles available, and every combat encounter is handcrafted, down to the smallest confrontations, which helps keep the feeling of repetition at bay. It's not, however, an outstanding system. Grounded, single-character turn-based combat has its limit as far as strategies and encounter variety is concerned. Sure, some weapons have special attacks and properties, and there are items like nets and liquid fire to break the monotony, but even that can only go so far. It can be a little dull, in other words.

That said, many players will probably avoid combat, because it's very, very hard, especially during optional battles. Even a build specializing in combat can struggle often, and the game makes no attempt to ease the player into the mechanics. It's even possible to die during the very first combat encounter of the game, and the player is even awarded an achievement when that happens.

In many ways, The Age of Decadence's combat system is the perfect fit for the kind of game it is. It's unapologetically hard, robust and deep but also not very exciting or interesting.

An RPG Like No Other.. For Good and Ill

The Age of Decadence's biggest problem is its own structure. It's a very carefully crafted game with no fat whatsoever and precious few actual gameplay systems. It's a game that punishes players heavily as they are figuring out how the designers want them to play and gives little to no opportunity to remedy mistakes.

It's a game that kills as many characters as a roguelike but lacks the thrills of a new playthrough that are embedded in the very DNA of those games. Every single scenario, every single interaction was handcrafted by a developer. As a result, often the challenge lies not in understanding the gameplay systems but in learning the developers' logic and the content of the game. Making a new character just to have enough points to pass a skill check isn't really an interesting experience, just a tedious one.

The Age of Decadence is very obviously inspired by Fallout (it even borrows the game's poor inventory interface) and titles of its ilk and yet misses the freedom and system interactions that characterized them. In Fallout 2, it was possible to kill pivotal characters without alerting guards by applying super stimpaks to them in large numbers and waiting for the aftereffects to kick in. It was arguably an exploit, something the developers didn't intend, but it was also very clever.