The December update is now online over at The Age of Decadence forums, and this time Iron Tower Studio's Vince D. Weller lets us know that a demo is scheduled for release within the next few weeks before providing us with some (mostly favorable) impressions that their testers have written up for the game. A sampling:
The shining jewel of Age of Decadence I'd say. This is why you'll want to buy the game when it comes out on Thursday. The game supplies you with a few archetype characters at the start that work great, and have specific little vignettes attached to them that give you a sense of context to the world when you start and introduce you to the text-adventure style of the game.
Just working from these characters, you already get a sense that yeah... there is a lot of unique content in this game. Then you start to realize that, even if you go Merchant for example, there is no restriction on what skills you level. You can fuck around completely with all skills you have available. This may seem "stupid" (why would you want to play a Merchant who wants to kill shit?) but the dialogues and text adventures are overloaded with skill checks, some of which are kinda "out of the blue" and unexpected (in a good way). Crafting checks for example are not the most common, but they definitely happen at times and can unlock pretty cool shit. This feels nice in the sense that a crafting character is not just literally about making phat equip for yourself, but gives a good sense that your character is *skilled*. He knows about things related to crafting, and he can showcase it to the world.
The events that you partake in in AoD can be pretty unpredictable. This is both a good and a bad thing. There are times where the game presents you with pretty cool "oh shit" moments where you definitely want to weigh your options carefully. The bad side is that sometimes it can feel like the game is actively fucking you over. Most games can have a Diplomacy check for example, and if you pursue that dialogue line you can pretty much expect to be able to talk your way out. In AoD, you can see a Persuasion check and it will lead you onwards in the dialogue, and the dialogue might ask for a completely different check in the second stage of the convo which can leave you fucked. This isn't necessarily a bad thing (though there are times where the testers have complained about where some choices take you which can be a problem) but it will leave you raging at times.
Where I feel that AoD excels over any other game I played so far (admittedly there are some classics I still haven't played), is the sheer amount of alternate paths it provides through the game. A lot of love and thought have gone into that aspect, and I have very much enjoyed trying out different characters and skills just to see where it would take me. The Teron demo alone provides a lot of entertainment in that respect. However to appreciate it, you HAVE to replay. Some single playthroughs may be very short (I think you can breeze through the demo in < 30 minutes, maybe less, for some paths) and doing so may leave you wondering what the fuck just happened. It will only be after multiple playthroughs (both different backgrounds and different skillsets) that you start to see the whole story, and have a chance to appreciate the love and care that went into the branching story design.
An aspect that doesn't suit me so well is that the interactive fiction aspect of the game is heavily driven by skill checks. While this may be great from a RPG perspective, and has been championed by Vince & co from the start, I find that it provides somewhat limited gameplay, or player engagement you have choices, but based on your skillset, there may often be few. Even if there are choices, you will usually choose the option that corresponds to your characters one or two best skills. In other words, your choices during character building already determined much of your choices in the game. Makes sense for roleplaying, yes but even in the best case, this amounts to a mouseclick, you succeed or fail (and the latter may occasionally even mean game over) and then you move on to the next text section. Relatively rarely you, the player, has to make the kind of moral choices or free decisions that I usually find most engaging in branching narratives.