We tried to get the demo out in Dec, but we aren't there yet. I'd say we're 2-3 weeks of work away from the release, so most likely we'll release the demo in January.
What? This update sucks? I know, I know. One can read "yeah, we, uh, still working on that bitch" only so many times before going postal, which is why we asked the testers to share their updated impressions with you guys. Yeah, you're welcome!
Now, keep in mind that we asked them not to sugar coat anything and that they've been playing it for 4 months now, so the fact that they don't hate it with passion is already something. Yay!
Without further ado:
* * *Starwars:
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.
All in all, one thing I tend to look for in RPGs is times where I think A) "Fuck yes, I'm glad I invested in this skill" and B) "Fuck, I wish I had invested in that skill". AoD supplies that a lot.
Combat in AoD is punishing, fun and sometimes rage-inducing. It feels really good when you beat some encounters, and oft-times (as people who have played the demo will know) you will notice big differences in how things play out when you switch strategies, invest in some items that will aid you in combat and so forth. It feels quite rewarding when you find a strategy that works really well for a fight.
There are pretty much no filler-encounters in AoD. This can be a double-edged sword but it's absolutely a large positive overall. You don't want to get too arrogant overall, even if you're a tough combat-character. If you make a dumb move and sometimes if you have a bit of bad luck, you can get screwed over really quickly.
The negative thing about this is that sometimes, when you're playing a diplomacy focused character, and if you somehow end up in a fight, a lot of times you're fucked. In most games, even your diplomacy character can make it out most encounters, but in AoD this is simply not always the case. It can take some time getting re-adjusted to this type of thinking, though like I said, it's absolutely a net-positive if you ask me.
This doesn't mean that you can't go through the game without combat though. The demo can be completed without combat, and I think the full game can as well. But you shouldn't mistake that for "just because I have high Persuasion, I can bypass every combat-encounter in the game". It requires more than that, and sometimes careful maneuvering by the player.
This is definitely being worked on, with the addition of the side-encounters, filling up the world with "commoner NPCs" and so forth so it's not finished yet.
But the graphics are good, as most people have seen from screenies and vids. The world looks really nice and some of the combat animations are very satisfying when you manage to critically kill some dude. The music is really nice but gets repetitive in Teron I feel. I hope this can be alleviated somehow by the addition of another track to the loop or something.
The sound is lacking at the moment. It feels very sparse as of now but there was an effort to fix this in the beta forums a while back and I hope that's still going or is planned.
The writing style is pretty different, especially when compared to other RPGs. If you've seen Vince's interviews or forum-posts, you can get a sense of the tone that way. Liberal use of sarcasm and quite "harsh" in many ways. There is the odd sentence where you can tell that English isn't the writer's mother tongue but most of the time it's really entertaining to read. The descriptive text for when you use skills successfully for example are very good at stroking the player's ego, describing the intricacies of sneaking or whatever skill you're employing. This is important since much of the game is about the text-adventures, and the writing makes it feel very satisfying at times.
All in all, I'd say that the game is definitely a good game and very satisfying if you're looking for hardcore roleplaying. But I will also say that one should read up on the game and get your expectations set straight. If you go in expecting a traditional RPG (even something like Fallout which AoD is quite inspired by), you will have to readjust your views a bit on how things work. It feels like a pretty unique game and it will definitely rub some people the wrong way.
* * * Vahhabyte
My 10c, randomly ordered observations
- the bugs and glitches are many. It is predictable there will still be bugs in the full demo, so it would be good to release it within the AoD community first and work on them, before actively spreading and promoting the demo among global RPG fans.
- after these weeks and weeks of playing the beta I'm still playing the same drifter fighter/crafter line, trying to achieve the maximum SP, optimizing the build and striving for maximum combat efficiency. And when I tried other backgrounds it felt like playing a different game in the same setting.
- the options in TAs can be criticized for omitting some pretty obvious solutions. For example, if you enter guards' quarters you cannot kill them in their sleep even being an expert archer with enormous CS level. Additionally, some of the 'slides' accompanying the TAs are not too vivid, only displaying the PC ducking in front of someone or something.
- some of the mini-quests are rather useless for certain builds, and the rewards are not worth of SP you invest to resolve them. An average RPG player expects all quests around to be solve-able, even if that involves considerable investments, and can get frustrated when certain builds cannot resolve a quest under any circumstances. Later, they will simply avoid the mini-quests' locations.
- in the team-fights e.g. 6 vs. 6 nothing depends on the player, the allies always kill all the enemies easily, and the only mission for the player is to survive the fight. In these fights an epic fighter does not achieve more than a lame fighter with defense sufficient to survive the battle.
- I think it would make sense to limit the diversity of weapons and armors sold by the merchants, as currently it does not take any effort to get the weapons and armors fitting your combat build best, and they are also very cheap. Additionally, I'd rather avoid using throwing weapons, because they are too expensive and too heavy for an average-Str (or a heavily armored + using a shield) build to carry. Also, I think it would be great to get them back after looting the dead enemy's body.
Anyway, if we put the bugs/glitches, the balance issues and other shortcomings aside, the game is a gem. It just requires more polishing.
* * *GhanBuriGhan
Age of Decadence surprised me. As I wrote in the forums earlier, I was expecting a classic, Fallout-style RPG. I feel that at its heart, AoD is something different, although a lot of inspiration is certainly derived from these classics. It is, for me, a hybrid of classic RPGs and interactive fiction, and strikes me in some ways as a re-imagination of RPGs from the P&P template, tossing away many of the tried and true conventions of the genre – sometimes to great effect, sometimes to its own detriment.
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.
In general, I found that the game provides too little room for player initiative and ingenuity - you usually know pretty well what you are supposed to do, and your character’s skillset will decide how you can do things. But there is few situations where the player has the freedom to seek an unusual solution by careful exploration and pretty much never through emergent gameplay – because as many options as they provide, the quests and stories are ultimately quite rigidly scripted. Because the skill checks are rigid, and because the game doesn’t mind to leave you stranded with a borked build that cannot proceed, you may also find yourself playing “guess the skillset needed” for certain paths, where to proceed or to achieve a certain desired outcome, you have to carefully assign your SPs just right to proceed. So in short, while I like the outcome, the open and branching and highly reactive narrative, I do not necessarily enjoy the process that leads to it.
That is why I generally found playthroughs with partial or full combat builds more interesting. Here the second big gameplay element comes to bear, the Turn Based combat. This is overall great. To the beginner it is quite a shock. If you are like me, you will die. A lot. Again success depends very strongly on the way you build your character (and your choice of equipment). Nothing is easier than to create a totally useless character that gets utterly slaughtered. On the other hand it is really motivating to finally beat a tough fight that you initially considered completely unwinnable. There is just one thing I really miss in the combat system, and that is positioning. It plays a bit of a role for certain builds (spear wielders and ranged), but overall, it is often a game of standing in one place and choosing the best combo of attacks. I think it would have been even better if movement would have been given more tactical meaning, providing an additional layer of choices to be considered. Still, I enjoy my time with combat, and it’s fun to try out which kinds of characters are successful. A single palythrough of the demo may often consist of no more than a 2-5 combat scenarios – there is no filler combat at all (great in some ways, but it also makes it hard to “learn the ropes” for beginners).
The world of AoD is bleak. Teron is quite a shithole, yet the denizens have nothing better to do, then to plot murder against each other. Homo homini lupus est. Everybody you meet is a hard-boiled jerk, and you are basically expected to be one too. While this may be fitting, I found it makes the characters a bit same-y. I would have liked to meet some more sympathic or charismatic characters, even if they get destroyed, if just for some emotional color. But I guess these genetic traits have died out in the harsh world of AoD a generation or two ago. The world is amoral. This is a game that will ask you to commit murder in the most off-hand way, and reward you well for it. Making a moral choice will rarely even get you a pat on the back, but frequently will let others judge you as weak, and leave your character a couple of SPs short. AoD has a bleak view on humanity that can stand toe to toe with the best (or worst) of post-modern writing. It can be quite interesting to look back on a playthrough and ask yourself – what the fuck have I just done? However, I would have prefered a bit more contrast, I guess, a bit of light in this moral darkness.
AoD as it is now is a game that has rationalized away many things to a larger or lesser degree that I love about the genre – the exploration, searching chests and barrels and shelves for loot, the flavor dialog, applying your skills in the world, the monsters. It’s not a game I would have made. What it has achieved though, is in many ways equally good – It’s a very focused game about the character you make, and about making many characters and seeing how they impact their world.
* * *Wrath of Dagon
Ghan hits the nail on the head on pretty much everything. I would just add that AoD has all the elements an RPG should have, but feels a bit bare bones at times. Some of it is understandable, there's obviously no time or resources for things like physics or NPC VA, but it's also a matter of philosophy and emphasis. I guess what I miss most is character development, like Ghan says everyone is pretty much a bastard. There is some character development in NPC's like Aemolos or Miltiades, but I wish there was a lot more of that and it was more long term as well.
Anyway, what I mean is that I like it when facets of the character's personality are revealed throughout the game, preferably as the result of player's actions. In AoD, pretty much all you know about them is the summary you read to start with, after that, once you see that they're bastards, they pretty much stay the same bastards. Also it feels they are there for gameplay purposes, not that they have a value in their own right. True, you do see a different side of Antidas to some extent when he's reluctant to slaughter the IG. Basically I want the kind of dialog and character interaction you get in KOTOR, but that may not be something you're interested in doing, it's just something I usually look for in a game.
May be this thread sounds more negative than it should be, I should add my favorite thing about AoD is how you get to play the same events from so many different perspectives, that seems very fresh and original.
* * *
Sounds like a very exciting game, doesn't it? I need a drink...