Preview: Age of Darkness: Final Stand

2022-10-25 by George P

Surviving and Expanding

Age of Darkness: Final Stand is a challenging survival-based RTS/ Tower Defense hybrid with roguelike elements that entered its Early Access Phase on the 7th of October 2021. In Age of Darkness, you enter a grim world standing in the ruins of a fallen kingdom that has been devasted by an ancient and enigmatic enemy. You are in charge of managing humanity’s last survivors and kindling a spark of light against the game’s main antagonist: The Veil, a malevolent supernatural fog responsible for plunging the world into an eternal night. In Age of Darkness, you spawn in a procedurally generated map with nothing more than your hero, a handful of soldiers, and a singular building, “The Keep”. The Keep is the heart of your town and your only fighting chance against the Veil, if it falls the game is over. Through the Keep, you will expand your town, boost your resource gains, discover new technologies, grow humanity’s population, reinforce your defenses, and much more. Considering that the game is still in Early Access, there is a good total amount of buildings available. These are designated into 6 main categories: “Population”, “Defence”, “Resources”, “Military”, “Light”, and “Advancement”. What really surprised me in Age of Darkness is how the game initially starts off as a pure struggle for survival and then slowly develops into something much more as the player grows stronger and transitions from prey to hunter.

Many years ago, when I used to play Age of Empires on an almost daily basis there was a popular meta tactic in the game known as “turtle strategy”. The strategy revolved around prioritizing defense and maximizing resource gain in the early game, slowly building up to a massive large-scale assault in the mid or late game. The logic behind Age of Darkness’ core gameplay loop feels like a fleshed-out version of that basic RTS concept. You start off vulnerable and with nothing more than your Keep and a handful of troops. Your first goals are gathering resources and developing basic defensive capabilities to protect the little that you have. But as you build up your army, infrastructure, population, and technology, you will embark on a more offensive approach and you will start expanding outwards in order to repel the Veil and illuminate the map.

A Safe Bet

Age of Darkness currently offers three factions, that you can choose before starting a run, each with its own unique active abilities, passive traits, and heroes. These factions are: The Order, led by Edwin, a gritty veteran who commands the power of fire; the Rebellion, led by Aelis, a charismatic leader who excels in supporting her troops; and the Violatists, led by Vizargo, a corrupted vampiric sorcerer who has harnessed the power of the Veil. Age of Darkness also includes roguelike elements that aim to increase variety and replayability such as procedural map generation as well as a randomized temporary progression system. Every so often the Veil will attack your base with full force in what the game refers to as “Death Night”. When a Death Night begins you will receive a random de-buff known as “Malice”, but if you survive the event, you will be able to choose from 3 random permanent buffs known as “Blessings”. This is a system that fans of roguelikes will be very much familiar with, and one that ultimately helps expand the potential strategies and make each run more unpredictable. All the above elements and the game’s interesting progression curve make Age of Darkness an engaging experience and most importantly a very well-designed one.

Many games in adjacent genres commonly suffer from issues such as unintuitive interfaces, convoluted systems, or overwhelming levels of micro-management. It was therefore an immediate relief for me to see that both the design vision and execution of the game were polished and wellthought-out and that such common issues were either not profound or not present at all. Additionally, through its very fitting dark fantasy setting, stylized art style, and great visual presentation, Age of Darkness enhances its refined design vision and its core gameplay loop. However, with all its positive and engaging elements, Age of Darkness is also a game that feels quite tropey and generic. The base mechanics, the “dark vs light” premise, the unit and enemy designs, the building types, and plenty of foundational concepts, will all feel very familiar to fans of the genre. My general impression of Age of Darkness is that it is a game that aims to be a “safe bet”. As a result, it succeeds in creating an experience that feels fun, polished, and high-quality but at the same time, it fails to forge a unique identity and does not feel as fresh as other similar games that have emerged in past years.

A Good Start and an Ambitious Future

Age of Darkness is not a revolutionary game. If you have even a limited amount of experience in the genres that the game is based on you will immediately recognize almost identical systems, buildings, mechanics, and concepts that previous titles have utilized. And while Age of Darkness is not a groundbreaking title, it is a highly competent one. It is a game that borrows mechanics, patterns, and concepts from the RTS, survival, and base-building-sim genres, and uses multiple previous titles as inspiration, to forge a coherent and wellstructured design vision

. In a way, Age of Darkness aims to utilize the successes and drawbacks of previous games as a foundation in order to build a polished and modern final product that showcases the best aspects that these genres have to offer. It is very clear that the team behind the game is filled with very talented and skilled developers in all departments, from art to game design to technical execution. However, if Age of Darkness truly aims to be a modern and polished next-gen title there is still a long way to go to achieve that goal. Many of the game’s central RTS elements such as the combat, the unit management system, and especially the movement and pathfinding, do not feel as snappy and smooth as they should and will certainly need further refining before the game’s full launch. In the near future, the developers also promise the inclusion of a “Scenarios” game-mode with handcrafted levels and stories, as well as the addition of the much-wanted co-op Multiplayer mode. Overall, Age of Darkness is a fun game with a sturdy and engaging initial foundation as well as a promising future as long as certain design aspects and technical systems are either ironed out or completely restructured.