Age of Fear is an ugly game. I’m not even going to sugar coat it and say “don’t judge a book by its cover,” because when it’s this bad, The shoddy animation and blurry blob character models does have a negative impact on how much you can enjoy the game itself.
Age of Fear is a fantasy strategy game that lacks the attractive fantasy setting. It’s a character-driven skirmish game without characters you can care about. But it’s not a bad game. Though it’ll be a real struggle to appreciate at times, the gameplay mechanics are sound and there’s an addictive mix of strategy and RPG on offer.
The game features a handful of “story” arcs that deals with the conflicts between humans, ‘greenskins’ (goblins and orcs) and the vile undead and demons and their necromancer leaders. It’s all typical fantasy stuff, and offers up a framework for three very different styles of play. In many strategy games, different factions are little more than palette swaps, but in Age of Fear, they do offer different strengths and weaknesses.
Through the campaigns you’ll be charged with recruiting units into a growing army, and then managing them through a sequence of battles. Those units gain experience based on their battlefield exploits, which levels them up and, though there’s little choice over the upgrade paths those units take, it’s a pleasure to see an army grow and develop from one quest to the next.
In battle, the game plays much like a table top strategy game, along the lines of games like Warhammer. Each turn, you can move each individual unit within a movement arc – fast units or mounted knights move more than shambling zombies, for instance. At the end of that movement they can attack the enemy. Archers have a firing arc further than their movement, but they can’t move and shoot.
The strategy comes from moving units around in an effective fashion to protect archers and magic users, while breaking through the enemy lines to hit their venerable units. Because units can’t move through one another, it’s an effective strategy to use the more armoured units to create human walls, while using the faster units to perform flanking maneuvers.
|What is fighting what?|
Each unit has an attack and defensive rating, and combat is a simple resolution - a ten sided dice roll, taking into account a unit’s attack and the victim’s defence. The likelihood that an attack will be successful is shown on the screen before you make the attack, so it’s an easy system to get into (again, just like Warhammer).
But the real strength in this game is that despite it being the work of just a few people, it offers some stunning AI. The game’s lead developer has published papers on AI, and not once when I was playing this game did I feel like the computer behaved in a strange or unintelligent fashion. On the higher difficulty levels you’re looking at a real challenge. If that’s not enough for you there’s also multiplayer, making this a full-featured package.
|The AI will make you think - it is honestly outstanding work.|
It’s just unfortunate that the game is so unattractive. Table top strategy games are fun because the miniatures are painted and arrayed across highly detailed miniature battlefields. Fantasy games are fun because they create an epic, sweeping world to explore and immerse yourself within. Age of Fear fails on both fronts, but if you can get past that, this is a game of true quality and stellar AI. Hopefully someone gives this team a bigger budget to do more with in a sequel, because as the developer’s website states, there just aren’t enough games of this kind around.
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