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A 2020 Review - The Age of Decadence (PC, 2015)

Updated on March 10, 2020

A few tag-words that come to mind are:

Unbalanced

Dialogue-Heavy

Cheap

Mediocre

Quick Take:

Play the demo first. For the intention of being redundant for effect, if there is anything you should do before buying, it is to play the demo. This game is both very difficult and very easy. Rather unique in its approach, within The Age of Decadence you can 100% avoid all combat in the game by taking a more charismatic-stacked approach in your character build. What they don't mention is how incredibly simple the game becomes when you go for this non-combat route. It turns into a dialogue-heavy, point-and-click game where if you make the wrong choice you likely will be thrown into a combat situation where you will surely, and cheaply, die. Go with the combat route, and you are faced with a stacked-against-you RNG-based combat which is difficult to the point of coming off as both brutal and cheap. The one thing both routes have in common is the smoke-and-mirrors masking the cheap game-ending situations it constantly throws your way. In complete fairness reading reviews, watching let's plays, playing the demo, or even the reading developer's own disclaimers - potential players have been warned that "there is a good chance that you won’t like it, precisely because we took too many liberties with the established design". I can't help but feel like this is akin to being told "Here's the really over-cooked steak you ordered. There is a good chance you won't like it, but since this is all intentional - we've taken an extra heavy-handed approach with its blackened design." Yet here I am, disappointed that I paid for a really over-cooked steak that has an impressive char-broiled aesthetic.

Pros:

- Has an honest demo.

- Multiple routes may be taken to beat the game.

- Incredibly funny and useful skill/ability descriptions. More games should take inspiration from this.

- Some hilarious ways to find yourself dying, made out as a fool, or being separated from your money.

- Budget-friendly in cost and in required/recommended system specs. 

- NPCs are hilariously evil, greedy, untrustworthy, and always out to get you. 

Cons:

- Cheap situations made to make you fail while masquerading as being a feature.

- RNG in combat is unfairly stacked against the player.

- Non-combat path becomes a point-and-click game, leading to instadeath anytime you clicked the wrong dialogue choice and end-up in combat.

Once you set your attribute points at the start of the game, there is no deviating from that path. You're locked in and can't later improve your stats. 

- Lacks equipment options to suit your character with. Far too shallow.

Game Components

Concept:

Throwback to the days of the classic-RPG. A bit experimental in its choice to take the focus away from combat and places it on the decisions and paths you take within a brutally corrupt and greedy society. Strongly driven by narrative with a big emphasis on dialogue (over 600,000 words of dialogue alone). Name of the game is, survive or die. Expect the unexpected. Unless you're not expecting to die. You're gonna die.


Graphics:

Nothing award-winning for sure. Still seems dated for 2015-standards, and even more so for 2020. Keep your expectations reasonable, and it will be fine. Good enough so as not to detract from the gameplay.


Sound:

I'll hand it to the audio/sound team - they did a stellar job. Great music and sounds are very fitting. Unfortunately for the rest of the game, for me, this might be its strongest aspect. No voice-acting though.


Gameplay:

Narrative-driven gameplay where your choice can either get you killed, your pockets emptied, or if you're lucky - you'll come out on top as champion. Classic, turn-based RPG elements push you to become a character of your own. The variety of skills and abilities adds to the enjoyment of seeing your character progress throughout the game. Become a master-manipulator or a bag-man for one of the many houses of power. Your choices will never be quite as black or white as you'd first think.


Entertainment:

The best parts of the game for me was letting my guard down only to be tricked again by another shady commoner within one of the towns. The game did have many enjoyable moments, mostly in the form of laughs at the sticky situations I'd incidentally put my character into. The frustration of too much dialogue mixed, or on the other hand the frustration of one-sided combat, far too often soiled the good times that I found elsewhere in the game. I had a hard time finding a point where I felt the game was balanced. It was either too easy or too hard. Call me Goldilocks.


Replayability:

At a minimum, this game has enough variety in your character-build options to have two playthroughs. One combat-oriented, and one non-combat oriented. There are some more granular choices or even skills that could push some of the bigger fans to further runs through the game.


Cheats??:

Yup! To be honest, this is one of the few games where I did not find additional entertainment value in them. Feel free to try them out for yourself and be the judge.

    • Add skill points
      • dlgaddskillpoints(x)
    • Change stat points (Can place a - before x to lower the stat by that number. Replace y with one of the following: str dex con per int cha)
      • dlgChangeStat(y,x)
    • Change a specific skill (Can place a - before x to lower the skill by that number. Replace y with the skill name)
      • dlgChangeSkill(y,x)
    • Add Gold
      • dlgChangeMoney(x)
    • Set Full HP
      • CheatHP()
    • Add item via Item IDs
      • dlgAddItem(x,#)
        • Complete lists of IDs can be found via Google or DuckDuckGo

Full Detailed Review

I get concerned when a game is overall and recently rated as very positive, but the first several reviews in the "most helpful" category are overtly negative. To me, this immediately means it's a more divisive, polarizing game - typically on a "love or hate" scale.


I'll give big props to the devs for making a free demo, strongly recommending people trying before buying, as well as provide much insight and caution to the difficulty of combat. After-all, combat tends to be a major selling point for many games - RPGs included. With all of the existing warnings and disclaimers, no one should be surprised by the difficulty. You've been warned by practically everyone.


What they don't mention is how incredibly simple the game becomes when you go for the non-combat character build. It really becomes a point-and-click game with a really, really heavy amount of dialogue and lore. It's trivial. Which isn't a bad thing necessarily, it just gets a bit too drab for my liking. Becomes an interactive book - which again, isn't an insult just a distinction.


This game is highly acclaimed for its wide variety of choices and how they affect the game greatly. I disagree. If you choose a combat-based build, you can't deviate without near-guaranteed failure. Vice-versa with non-combat/civil builds, getting into combat is a sure way to die. This forces you to make far more linear choices and sets you on a path that will corner you into only being able to succeed in a few ways. It's certainly realistic, but not something I'd tout as being non-linear and that "choices matter". They only matter in the immediate sense of fail or succeed, die or survive. It would appear your choices made an impact, while somewhat true - most of this is decided at the very start of the game; attribute point distribution.


I finished the game in a single evening [5 hours with breaks, maybe??]. Which seems...very fast. So I looked into speed runs, and without gross exploits - it can be beaten in under 5 minutes. Technically - no combat is even required from what I can tell, which again is not an inherently bad thing, just an unusual one. I did find the game rather...boring overall. I found myself dragging my feet to continue playing through to the end.


One bone I would like to pick is character creation. There is a complete exclusion of black or dark-skinned racial choices. I mention this as it does let you choose skin shades, but only of the white variety. Take this as you like. It doesn't affect gameplay, just something of note.


$15 USD is a good, reasonable asking price for the game. If a sale put's it at 50-75% off, then all the better. Great budget recommended system specs and even better minimum. If you've got an older, or perhaps simply not as high-performance of a computer, this game would be a great fit and all the more worth the price. That being said, I don't know that I can put much more than maybe 10 hours into the game. Sure - there's some replay value but the same NPC conversations and quests get dull rather quickly. It's simply not something I'd generally recommend. Only with asterisks. I can't broadly recommend The Age of Decadence. Only for certain people.

Score: 4/10 - Mediocre at Best. Strangely unbalanced. It does some things really right, and some things really wrong.

2 stars for The Age of Decadence

What's your take?

How would you score The Age of Decadence? Have more to say? Put it in the comments!

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