Age of Grit Review
Category: ReviewsHits: 5856
Developed by IQ Soup, Age of Grit invites us on a Wild West adventure in a world of steampunk airships. The game is said to be inspired by classic CRPGs and Firefly, the TV series, but at first glance, it's more akin to a story-driven FTL - a game where you control a spaceship by managing its power consumption and a variety of systems and weapons.
And whichever way you look at it, superficially, this makes Age of Grit a mighty intriguing proposition. Which is why as soon as the game graduated from early access, we took it out for a spin.
The Good, The Bad and Mostly the Bad
In Age of Grit you play as Jebediah Rockwell, a war hero who, after being dishonorably discharged, is reduced to making ends meet by smuggling assorted goods in his steam-powered airship all across The West. The West being an entire Wild West-themed continent housing three countries with plenty of bad blood between them.
The game starts with no intro or explanation. It simply places you in your private quarters where you can click on some lore-dispensing items and go through a quick tutorial. From there you can keep exploring your ship and get introduced to your crew - a pilot, a navigator, a mechanic, and a gunner.
All of these are distinct characters with their own stories and personalities, and they're here to stay. As the game doesn't have any sort of level or skill-based progression, you can't upgrade them in any way.
Instead, you'll be able to converse with them from time to time, simulating that thing that should be familiar to anyone who's ever played a BioWare game where you occasionally go back to base and spend some time chatting up your companions.
And as for upgrades, you have your ship to consider. Its inventory is split into three distinct categories - cargo, personal effects, and gear. The first is self-explanatory. As a smuggler, you haul cargo to make a profit.
Your personal effects, on the other hand, appear to do absolutely nothing. Throughout the game, you'll keep finding all sorts of miscellaneous items ranging from rifles and cowboy hats to compasses and piles of lumber. And you would think these items would come in handy during various events by unlocking new options. But surprisingly, this doesn't seem to be the case. The only use for all this stuff I found was selling it for some extra cash.
Finally, there's gear. Your ship has a hull, an engine, a sensor dish, wings, a rudder, and up to six guns. The engine is the key here, as in order to use all that other stuff, you first need to generate some steam.
This brings us to the gist of the game's airship-driven combat system - you use your engine to generate steam, and then you spend that steam to power your weapons and sensors, which is where the whole steampunk FTL comparison comes in. Only in Age of Grit you operate your systems in a turn-based fashion.
However, the similarities here are purely superficial, as the game doesn't have nearly enough systems to facilitate anything resembling strategic thinking. Your best strategy every time is to go all out with your guns and hope for the best. The only tactical decision you have to make is whether you should start blasting immediately or spend a turn building up your steam reserves first.
For a combat system like this to be satisfying, it needs to have at least a few extra dimensions to it, like viable defensive options allowing you to prevent damage, dynamic repairs, active crew management, that sort of thing. When just about all you can do is attack, things get old fast.
And this is a great shame, as the idea behind the game's guns is actually pretty cool thanks to the adjustable levels of steam power you can assign to them and a great many special traits. You have guns that do extra damage when it's the first gun that shoots in a turn. Guns that do extra damage when you pump them full of steam and do a proper burst attack. Guns that set their targets ablaze or disable crucial systems. On top of that, if you use a gun too much, it starts overheating, forcing you to switch things up.
But this alone is just not enough to carry the combat system. What's also fairly annoying is that while the game has a combat log, it obfuscates all of its stats and rolls and just shows you the end result.
In a game like this, the bulk of the fun is looking at your stat screen and trying to figure out how much initiative you need to act faster than your enemies, how to properly counteract their evasion stat, and how much armor penetration you need to do any real damage. And this is rather hard to do when the game doesn't have a stat screen and hides its rolls from you.
Another fly in the ointment is that when you first leave the confines of your ship and gaze at the overworld map with its neat art, distinct regions, and numerous settlements, you can imagine yourself flying around this place and engaging in various sandboxy activities - exploring, trading, doing quests, fighting, running into other denizens of The West, and stumbling onto cool stuff wherever you go. But that's not how this game works.
What you see right away, is all there is to it - you shuttle between a handful of dots on a static map. Every other ship you meet appears as part of some random encounter. You can neither avoid them nor adjust their rate in any way. Meaning you'll be constantly running into outlaws and bounty hunters that usually die in a single turn, but force you to sit through two loading screens and some stock dialogue that gets old really fast.
And when you manage to roll a non-combat encounter, usually, absolutely nothing happens. You get some descriptive text and that's it. Occasionally, you find some trade goods. And every once in a while, your ship takes some damage. And that's that for encounters.
Being a professional smuggler, you can indeed engage in some trade. But the game doesn't have an economy. It just has a list of settlements that sell things and other settlements that can buy those things, with prices forever set in stone. And with your cargo hold limited to four units of trade goods, it's rarely even worth it to bother remembering which settlements give you the best deals.
To be fun, a game like this really needs its world to thrive. You need to see other ships do their thing. You need to be able to choose, to some degree, when and where to interact with them. You need to have a multitude of options for these interactions.
Hell, you need to be able to just explore, deal with dwindling resources, overcome setbacks, and have at least some degree of freedom. As it stands, your airship is less of a ship and more like a sky train, going from point A to point B and then to point C along a set route.
And for the most part, this isn't even an exaggeration, as your ship has a limited amount of fuel that gets refilled every time your reach a settlement. And usually, with the fuel you have, you can only reach two settlements from any given point - the one ahead of you and the one behind. Occasionally you have a side option, but those are fairly rare, especially in the later stages of the game.
Initially, you think that once you upgrade your engine, you'll be able to fly further. But that's not the case. The initial fuel limit is there to stay. Which can really grind your gears when a quest sends you across the map, forcing you to trudge along your sky rails as you get constantly assaulted by absolutely non-threatening but time-consuming outlaws. It's all just a giant slog.
At least the game's settlements have a decent number of NPCs for you to interact with. And while at this point this may come as a bit of a surprise, these interactions tend to be pretty engaging and very much appropriate for the game's Wild West setting.
You get to meet half-deaf prospectors, fat-cat businessmen, snake oil salesmen, career gamblers, sky pirates, the works. Their respective quests range from simple tasks to complex political machinations, but usually in the end boil down to going to a certain place and talking to someone, and maybe fighting a few ships along the way. But it's all written in this old-timey Western dialect, I guess you'd call it, that makes the whole thing feel alive.
The game's UI is also doing a lot of heavy lifting there. Sure, it's not especially functional, but in this age when even fantasy games tend to have flat and lifeless UIs, having one here where it's all gears, brass piping, and various clockwork contraptions, well that just makes you forget about a lot of the gameplay-related annoyances for a while.
The unfortunate thing about the game's dialogue is just how much there is of it. Especially when you consider that it's usually fed to you at a snail's pace, with you having to manually advance things constantly. In a way, this makes Age of Grit feel like a voice-acted game that forces you to listen to all of its dialogue, only here there is no voice acting.
You also don't get that much input on how the actual conversations unfold. Sure, occasionally you can choose between several options, but as I understand it you never get to roll any dice there. Things just happen as they're supposed to. You can choose to be rude or polite, but you'll end up in the same place anyway.
Now, the game's actual story has you stumble onto what looks like a conspiracy with ties to your painful past. Naturally, you set out to investigate, yeeing and hawing and being a gruff cowboy along the way. Eventually, you'll have to deal with plenty of traitors, old friends, plot twists, and even an ancient technologically-advanced civilization.
While it's not exactly original, I enjoyed the game's story a great deal. It was pretty much the only thing that kept me going when just about everything else served to annoy me in one way or another.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see how it all ends, as near what I thought was the end of the game (based on Steam achievements and the general trajectory of the story), I ran into a fairly nasty bug. A particular conversation screen wouldn't turn into a scene transition, essentially softlocking my playthrough. And seeing how the game only offers autosaves you have no control over, and there's only one save slot, I wasn't able to reload from an earlier point to try and avoid this bug.
Now, once again according to Steam achievements, some people have apparently been able to finish the game, so this may very well not be a universal issue.
If I were to summarize this entire game, I would have to reach into my bag of elaborate metaphors. You know how back in the day we usually had family PCs? And in a larger family, the older brother got to play games, while the younger one got to watch? Well, this feels like a game designed by those younger brothers.
The developers here clearly have enthusiasm and appreciation for the genre, and they're skilled enough to design unique and interesting systems and great art. But it's like they have no idea what makes games fun to play, and it shows in just about every aspect of Age of Grit.
The game's 2D visuals are simple, but possess a certain charm and fit the setting. Its soundtrack is similar in this regard. This is a steampunk cowboy game, and it feels like a steampunk cowboy game.
I have already mentioned the fact that the game only has a single autosave slot. But I should also point out that at least you can also save when quitting the game.
The options menu is honestly laughable. When launching the game, you get the standard Unity prompt with resolution options and visual presets. I'm not sure the latter actually change anything. Inside the game, the options menu allows you to adjust the volume, and that's it.
This being a Unity game, despite not using that many resources, it suffers from that thing where after you go through enough loading screens, everything slows down to a crawl, which is especially noticeable when you try to manage your inventory where it feels like you're getting seconds per frame, not frames per second.
With how much text there is in the game, you can't seem to have a conversation without a typo of some sort. It's not the end of the world, but it's very much noticeable.
And while the game never actually crashed or froze on me, some of the gear you can find clearly doesn't work. And without a stat screen, it's hard to tell how much of it actually does anything.
With game-breaking bugs, poor performance, a general lack of polish, and underwhelming systems, I can't in good conscience recommend Age of Grit to anyone. That said, some of the game's elements, namely its writing and weapon design, did manage to impress me. Meaning that if the developers here take this game as a learning experience, I firmly believe they're capable of producing something great in the future. But for now, you best give this project a wide berth.