Strategy games are my great love (next to RPGs). It's safe to say I cut my teeth on them. I grew up playing the Age of Empires series, I've spent hundreds (if not thousands) of hours with all installments in the Total War series, and the games from Paradox Interactive have no secrets before me. However, beyond these established, long-running series, I have always tried to seek out interesting productions that have an original idea behind them. When I heard about Age of Darkness: Final Stand, I had no doubt that it was a must-play for me.
After a couple/dozen hours? I've honestly lost count of the hours I've spent with this game, but I can say that it surely is difficult. Very much so. I ended a session tired and feeling cheated by this game more than once. However, I always persistently returned. Each time, I told myself "this time I will defeat the next wave of enemies" and I mostly succeeded. These victories brought me much joy and a sense of accomplishment. I can confidently say that despite early access, the production already has a solid foundation. However, as any souls game, this won't be up everyone's alleys, and it generally requires some more polish.
Courtesy of PlaySide studio, I was able to play Age of Darkness: Final Stand a few days before the early access release, but I suspect that the final version will not be significantly different from the one I tested. This game also recently debuted in early access. For the moment, players can only enjoy the survival mode – the full version is expected to have a story campaign as well.
They Are Darkness
Age of Darkness is a game about developing a settlement and preparing it for subsequent hordes of monsters, whose sole desire is to kill everything alive. If at this point you are having flashbacks from They Are Billions, it is a correct association, because the game is perhaps the biggest inspiration behind PlaySide's work.
We start the game in a typical way – with a single building, which we have to defend at all cost, a few soldiers, and a lot of work to get done. With a band of brave warriors, we explore the map, pushing the creatures of darkness out and expanding the borders of our domain. At the same time, we search for deposits of valuable raw materials, such as stone, iron and gold, which are necessary to create more advanced buildings and units.
What sets Age of Darkness apart from most other RTS games is the extremely hostile environment. As in They Are Billions, we have to fight for every piece of land, and natural bottlenecks present opportunities to set up fortifications and take a breather, if only for a moment. However, these moments of respite are, unfortunately, quite rare, because if we want to prepare for the next waves of enemies, we face a constant shortage of resources.
Alan Wake's Age of Darkness
However, the game is not a mindless carbon copy of They Are Billions and it does stand on its own legs (or rather: original ideas). The day-night mechanics prove to be of particular importance. During the day, the hordes of enemies are weaker and less eager to fight. So, this is a good time for initial boundary expansion. Night, on the other hand, makes enemies stronger and more brazen (hence the Alan Wake reference). Instinct tells you to hold on to your base and enhance walls. However, we must quickly abandon these thoughts if we want to survive – the rewards for exploration are better after dark, and we must also keep time in check, as the next wave is always on the move.
Every few days (the number increases with each wave of enemies), one of the crystals located on the map cracks. This occasions much fiercer attacks at night. If we feel we can make it, we can destroy the crystals ourselves. When I first accomplished this, I was hoping it would stop the attacks. I was wrong though, and it only sped up the raids and cut down on preparation time... I wasn't ready for this turn of events.
During these attacks, it is not only the enemies that pose a threat – even the fog of war becomes dangerous. When our unit enters a dark space, it receives a debuff that slows down its movement and health regeneration (some enemies can also impose it). This can be cured with bonfires and the fortress. Light is friend!
Minibosses also appear on the map at night. We will know the places where they materialize by the obelisks. These monsters are very strong and leave behind a special resource that allows us to buy upgrades for our soldiers. Be careful though – some of these creatures can be much more powerful than others. An army that has dealt with one creature without much trouble can be annihilated in a matter of moments by another.