Tacticular Cancer: We'll have your balls

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Preview RPG Codex Re-Preview: The Age of Decadence

Discussion in 'RPG News & Content' started by Crooked Bee, Mar 25, 2015.

  1. Crooked Bee pro-vacation Patron

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    Tags: Age of Decadence; Iron Tower Studios

    It's been a while since we last previewed Iron Tower Studios' turn-based, Rome-inspired postapocalyptic RPG The Age of Decadence. Now that the game has been in Steam Early Access for quite some time already, esteemed community member MasterSmithFandango has decided that the Codex needs to re-preview what has traditionally been the second most anticipated game around here. (The first being, of course, the legendary Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar). But whereas the golden baby is still caught up in the net of 19 micro-issues preventing it from taking wing, Thursday feels like it’s just around the corner (again) - so let's hear how The Age of Decadence is shaping up.

    Before you read the article in full, here's something to get you started:

    For the uninitiated, The Age of Decadence is an RPG developed by our very own Vault Dweller. Set in a low fantasy, post-apocalyptic Rome-inspired universe, the game is developed with a particular focus on choices and consequences, branching storylines, and multiple quest solutions. The intention is for there to be no “right way” to play, but rather to give the player enough flexibility to find his own path.

    In an attempt to provide a Fair and Balanced™ preview, I want to look at each system individually then talk about how they mesh together. This preview will be spoiler-free and, other than generally, I won’t comment on the actual content. Right now there are two completed cities (essentially quest hubs), with a third currently being tested before being added to the regular EA release with a bit more to come after that.

    [...] Ultimately, the character system as currently implemented (and this late in the game it’s probably close to set in stone) is effective, if not perfect. I do feel there are some things missing that could greatly improve the system. More synergies as mentioned above would add some depth, especially between the civic skills and the civic stats. Having a high charisma giving a slight bonus to persuasion, or having high intelligence give a bonus to lore just seems like another missed opportunity. This isn’t a system that I feel would be fun to spend hours just building characters on, but for the purposes of providing decent effects on the game world, it does the job.

    [...] If you haven’t invested fairly heavily into combat skills, don’t bother. This game is very much one that punishes a jack-of-all-trades play style, and nowhere will that be more evident than in combat. Each point in dodge, block, or your weapon skills will have a big effect on your ability to survive. If you do invest heavily, combat can be challenging at times but generally isn’t too difficult, although some encounters you may lose just due to the numbers game.

    That actually may be the problem – often when I lose a fight I feel that it’s not because I played the fight poorly, but rather that I got screwed by the random number generator. When I reload to do the fight again, I don’t really do anything differently to adapt to the battle – I just hope the RNG doesn’t screw me as badly. I have no problem with dice rolls, mind you, but I like feeling that when I lose I’ve learned something new that will allow me to be better at the game, and I just don’t get that here.

    Combat is one area where I feel that there is so much promise, but in practice it lacks a certain satisfaction. On the surface it’s got all of the pieces a great combat system would require. You have a variety of attacks, each with their own pros and cons and utility, you have the ability to move around tactically and exercise your brain a bit, and the stats and skills translate in a clear way to your performance on the battlefield. Still, after a heavy dose I feel like I want something else. I would say this is an area where the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Part of it is because when you engage an enemy you just stand in the square next to him, going back and forth until one of you doesn’t get up. Moving away from someone who's beside you in combat gives them an attack of opportunity, so your best bet is almost always to engage unless you need to retreat to your support to prevent being totally overrun.

    [...] The writing is top notch. I found myself reading in great detail all of the stories from the storyteller, and all the related conversations. The descriptions of what was going on in the world were just fantastic, and the setting really feels fresh. There is an air of ambiguity to everything that is so refreshing in this age of “GATHER ARMY TO FIGHT DARK EVIL”-level of storytelling.

    Additionally, the quests are designed to be radically different each time you play through them. You can choose to piss everyone off – and there are multiple ways to do that. Each character I play through feels like I’m just getting one piece of a larger story, and playing through the same area with a different character you can see different angles and how things can play out differently.

    Vault Dweller has always been about choices and consequences, and this game tackles that in spades. It seems like every little thing you do will have some effect on the game world. Sometimes it’s small, sometimes it’s massive – it’s always interesting, though. The way you treat people you meet, the decisions you make when deciding who to side with in conflicts – they all have long-term effects. Forget seeing all the content in one playthrough. Shit, forget seeing half the content in one playthrough. This is a game that will cut off quests as you go. But where a door closes, another one opens.​

    MSF's conclusion is ambiguous, but I'll leave you to read it yourself in the full review.
     
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  2. Jaedar Arcane Patron

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    A repreview eh...

    Games should not be in development long enough for this to be needed :M
     
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  3. Make America Great Again LeStryfe79 Wino Patron

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    I'm allergic to bees.
     
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  4. Vault Dweller Ubersturmfuhrer, Iron Tower Studio Developer

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    More like an ambitious re-imagining for the modern audience.
     
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  5. Gakkone pretty cool guy eh Patron

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    Codex 2013 Codex 2014 PC RPG Website of the Year, 2015 Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Codex USB, 2014 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2
    :nocountryforshitposters:
     
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  6. TripJack Prestigious Gentleman Hedonist

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    mastersmithfagdango come here and have a brofist :salute:
     
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  7. Make America Great Again Ninjerk Arcane

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    Fast travel needs to go!

    Personally, the combat does feel pretty random until you start buying nets/bolos and making the fire bomb thingies. Poison is underwhelming. Still fun. That's it for now.
     
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  8. MasterSmithFandango Arcane

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    What a shitty, over-apologetic re-preview.
     
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  9. Goral Arcane Patron The Real Fanboy

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    Fixed.

    We've clearly played very different games. The only thing I agree is that it has superb writing.
     
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  10. hiver Guest

    hiver
    Perish the thought! That would mean that crude one dimensional skill checks blocks would not work!

    Same thing as above. We cant have that, can we? If a skill check wants you to have some specific number of skill points then by golly you better know that before you start playing.

    Hard to do with just four people in the team, in all fairness.

    design for casuals,

    Without it,there would be no way to mategame the game crude skill checks.


    Teleporting becomes a pretty useful feature when you play more re-play the game a few times, but its true it has negative effects on the player immersion into this world, as well such abrupt changes of scenery through dialogues, but what else can you expect from some PR salesman?


    Yeah, writing is good, but you should have talked more about branching gameplay.

    You actually need to play the game with every background - several times - to see all of the content.



    Wouldnt agree with you on the combat. Your problems with RNG are an old and well known thing that players inflict on themselves. You simply didnt try to do anything else.
    Its true that environment doesnt play almost no role at all in it, but there is plenty of things to do other then just going for RNG gambling.
     
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  11. MasterSmithFandango Arcane

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    Yeah - I didn't mean to say that there weren't tactical options, and I probably sold it short there. I guess I don't feel it encourage a player to play around with the different tactical options. Later on, when your primary weapon stat is higher, using different attacks is viable, and often preferred as long as the accuracy is high enough.
     
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  12. crawlkill Kill all boxed game owners. Kill! Kill!

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    I find narrative games frustrating to play in early access, and as interesting as it is, AoD was frustrating enough just on its own merits. Look forward to it being finished, but it does sound like some of the things that bothered me about it are still there.
     
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  13. Absinthe Erudite

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    I rather share that criticism of divided pools, especially given that there are fighters who would use Crafting and Alchemy for combat skills and there are thieves who will use dex for text adventures but get combat skill points instead of sneak and steal. I would also point out that AoD is currently gravitating towards harshly punishing hybrid builds which is less than pleasant for Praetors with their hybrid default stats.

    I would also say that in my experience while AoD shows a great deal of decision-making, it does not feature a lot of problem-solving. By and large, either it is handed to you in a text adventure or it isn't there. In the former case skill checks are no brainer success options, and in the latter case I recall it was possible as a non-combat Praetor to defect to Imperial Guards and convince them to give Antidas the throne, but then in Maadoran you're supposed to protect Strabos. There are mercenaries in the city but you can't hire them, so failure is the only option.
     
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  14. hiver Guest

    hiver

    How about using nets? How about using alchemy? Different ammo? Different types of weapons within the same weapon group all having with different effects? Its all very viable.
    Of course you cannot expect the more complicated attacks to have high scores to hit at the beginning. And how about every weapon having different effects? knockdowns, armor bypass, free attacks that make enemies step back, shield splitting, etc, etc ?

    Also, fucking synergies were first suggested by Hiver, yours truly. Not that anyone ever said thanks.
    Which one would expect from indies if such basic behavioral decency was a feature in those heads, if its not in the heads of AA-ASSHOLES.


    btw, good suggestion for points pools from Attributes there at the start. And for synergies of civic skills.

    Not that that blockhead will ever get it.
     
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  15. MasterSmithFandango Arcane

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    I talked about those things, albeit briefly in the pre-review/re-preview (at least I think I did - I at least intended to). The weapon variety is nice - my issues with combat aren't the options that are present. There are tons of options present. It just wasn't something that really evoked the fun for me. All the options, but I still felt like I was just standing a square (or two) away and banging away with sword/axe/spear/hammer.

    Edit: And in all fairness - that may be more of a problem with me than with the system itself, but my impressions were more of a "I mean, this has all the parts of a good combat system - so why am I not loving the combat like I thought I would?" And I tried to explain why I felt that way.
     
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  16. Elhoim Iron Tower Studio Developer

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    Nope, unless you define "failure" as him getting killed. Your non-combat praetor can convince Strabos to give you the info and then you let Hamza kill him. You successfully complete the quest and move to Caer-Tor.
     
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  17. Absinthe Erudite

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    That is what I meant, yes. You're supposed to protect him and your only options are how he dies. There are a few occasions where I feel compelled to wonder why you can't just pay for other men to do the fighting, like with Strabos or even in Teron if you just want to pay a premium and hire the boatmen to wipe out either camp.

    Ah, I also recall when you were doing the Thieves Guild questline in Teron and you redirected the shipment, you still had to succeed at sneaking checks as a grifter which was really odd considering there were a bunch of thieves right next to you who could've done that job themselves. I'm sure you could have the reward decrease if you're not putting in the effort to steal it yourself, but it was odd how you didn't have that option to let someone else take care of it.
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2015
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  18. hiver Guest

    hiver
    Okay.
    Yeah well... you really do need to use all the options, else the combat quickly starts to seem like just standing in place swinging away, gambling the RNG.
    Of course.

    I think a lot of potential players will run into that due to simply being used to more visual interactivity in more modern games.

    Which i really dont give a fuck about one way or the other. Im just discussing the review points - because im strangely bored and reluctant to do anything else for some reason. Must be the decline infestation from the codex.

    fuck this shit.
     
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  19. hivemind Arcane

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    Eh I kinda don't really want to fanboy too much so I'll just respond to a few things that ticked me the wrong way.

    MasterSmithFandango

    >This isn’t a system that I feel would be fun to spend hours just building characters on, but for the purposes of providing decent effects on the game world, it does the job.
    >That actually may be the problem – often when I lose a fight I feel that it’s not because I played the fight poorly, but rather that I got screwed by the random number generator. When I reload to do the fight again, I don’t really do anything differently to adapt to the battle – I just hope the RNG doesn’t screw me as badly. I have no problem with dice rolls, mind you, but I like feeling that when I lose I’ve learned something new that will allow me to be better at the game, and I just don’t get that here.

    These two things are the most important bits of the whole thing.
    These two things show that you have a very shallow understanding of the game, at the very least from the perceptive I, as someone who has about a 100 hours into the various AoD version since the Teron demo, have.

    So in the first bit you say that creating characters is "not fun" in the character system.
    In the other you say that when you reloaded a fight you learned nothing new about the system and it was all about RNG.

    These things have something in common, that mysterious something is your misunderstanding of the game systems. The character creation system doesn't exist in vacuum and neither does the combat for they are both tools used to explore each other(and so is the non combat part of the game of course). When you lost a combat and especially if you lost combat several times over and your tactical play was on point instead of thinking "I played that perfectly, there is nothing I could have done! The AI had the perfect RNG! The system is faulty!" you should have realized that perhaps you "missplayed" already in the character creation screen.
    Creating characters in AoD is different than creating them in other RPGs, because you are not really making that one character that sounds super cool judging from the things offered to you in the isolated char creation, no, you are making a character to beat the game, and to be more accurate to beat the game in the one particular way you desire for this character(as he is, or at least should be unless you are a retard, one of many). I think that's where the "not fun" bit comes from, you are not having fun because you are using the character creation system just plainly wrong, you are looking at just the options provided in the char sheet, looking at basically the keys of sorts that you are offered without taking the locks, this being the actual challenges in the game whether of combat or non combat nature, into consideration.
    I've had immense fun in creating character to beat the game in specific ways but the fun came not simply from putting points into various stats and attributes, the fun came from seeing that particular allocation of points beat the game in my desired way. So yeah, try to not consider the 3 parts that you mentioned as separate bits but think of it all as a single game, a single system to explore, learn and master.



    You also mentioned lack of interesting tactical options.
    This I'm torn on slightly, now obviously there are tactical options and in many cases it's these tactics used in efficient ways that allow my hybrid builds to continue.
    What I'm torn is that whereas tactics are important for the sort of fine tuning of your build it's true that there are in all cases sort of stat hard limits, what this means that you will lose the fight regardless of positioning or weapons usage or alchemy usage or whatever if your stats are simply bad. I think that this what happened in most of your cases, your stats were either good enough to simply smash your way through an easier encounter or just simply bad and no tactics could have helped.

    But I find that tactics made me beat the game many times, a case in point a build I did in a version few months back was basically a combat/talking hybrid, something almost unholy to consider if you have played the game. My build was unable to beat the hardest fights in the game, it didn't have to though. There was one fight that I had to beat because my speech skills were too low to pass the alternative as I have invested into combat previously. The fight consisted of 3 guards a house and my poor character. I used several(purchased) alchemical tools(namely liquid fire, bombs and poison) to help tip the edge of the fight in my favor.

    The fight started with me switching places with one of the guards who stood in a hallway which allowed me to have them not surround me(I would die 100% of the time if they surrounded me), I had enough to dodge to allow me to survive safely for the next turn the guard attacked me. Then I threw a bomb at him and while he was on the ground(and unmissable) netted him. When he was in such a precaution I was safe to approach him and poison him, I then did what any brave hybrid would do and started to run back and throw nets at him. When he was 2 turns away from losing his current net(this was because my chance to hit was enough to pretty much guarantee a hit in 3-5 net throws and I had enough AP to do I think 5-6 net throws in the two turns). Then I kept bravely stabbing him and running away until he died, at that point his comrade was upon me, so I did pretty much the same thing again bomb>net>poison>kite, I also had to kite him into one specific room in the house where I could block the entrance by liquid fire and have the third guy be unable to touch me while I was throwing nets at him(I think I had no more bombs for the last one, or maybe I had one but I had to use it beforehand as I missed a bomb on one of the previous ones) and then poison him and run away again, buying time for the poison to work with more liquid fire.

    This(very lackluster from my side) description of combat is of course nothing compared to a true tactical game like JA2 or whatever but I felt that the tactics I had to use in order to win this fight were challenging enough to compliment the rest of the game systems without needlessly overshadowing them.



    >This plays out even more jarringly within certain quests. You’ll be in the middle of a conversation and the quest objective will shift to "go and speak to someone else". Instead of you participating in the game world to get to the second location, the game just transports you there and you have no idea where “there” is. There’s no sense of movement, nothing in between – just dialogue box to dialogue box with a different face talking to you. Speaking to VD about this, he hopes he’ll have time to go back and change this element, but there is no guarantee (and it’s probably not likely).

    With this I disagree wholeheartedly, the "teleportation" in certain quests is important and fitting because it keeps the narrative tension intact instead of having you pointlessly look at your character running about town for half a minute. I mean like when I'm in the middle of a conclusion to a tense political situation do I really care about running about from A to B ?
     
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  20. Absinthe Erudite

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    If you're talking narrative purposes, hivemind, then immersion serves a valuable narrative purpose too.
     
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  21. hivemind Arcane

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    Well yes, and the "teleportation" during a set of narrative scenes without them being interrupted by walking helps to keep that intact.
     
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  22. Absinthe Erudite

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    No, that's daft. The teleportation reminds you that you're dealing with abstractions, which by definition lowers immersion.

    And when it comes to tactical options you often have to tune your combat build to obtain them. If you just get a weapon skill and armor plus some block (one of the most reliable combat builds in the game) then your combat is really just going to consist of hitting a guy over and over again until he's dead. You're probably not even going to try aimed strikes much because to hit aimed strikes you want a crit skill, which feels rather like a luxury compared to your necessities of hitting shit and not getting hit.
     
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  23. Elhoim Iron Tower Studio Developer

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    No, you are supposed to get the info from him, which at first the only way to achieve that is to protect him. If you get the info, protecting him is more about your honor than getting the quest done.

    In any case, I agree with you that some quests can use some mercenary hiring, and we talked many times about implementing something like that (which is a nice money sink as well). No promises about the implementation, though, we want to finish the game as soon as we can.
     
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  24. hivemind Arcane

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    So moving from a scene to scene with a written description of what has happened reminds me that in fact I'm playing a game but watching my character take 30 seconds to walk from one part of the town to the other keeps everything fine because instead of reading about it actually saw my character walk there?
    idk maybe in the sort of extreme nit picking sort of way where the immersion is lowered by 0.02 immersion points instead of it being lowered by 0.01 immersion points.
     
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  25. MRY Prestigious Gentleman Wormwood Studios Developer

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    If this is true, then I think it stands as a huge barrier to AOD's popularity. I cannot imagine playing a narrative-heavy, non-procedurally-generated RPG in which losing a combat is best remedied by restarting the game from scratch. (Before you cite Neo Scavenger to me, the games are on different levels in terms of narrative and Neo Scavenger has a different world each time.) I've previously heard haters criticize AOD in that way, but I've never heard fans praise it as a core feature. The lock-and-key dynamic you describe is basically the worst kind of Sierra "walking dead" adventure game design -- "Now that you've learned you needed one half eaten apple, you'll make sure not to fill up on oranges next time, won't you?" I'm skeptical that things are as cruel as you say.

    AOD is one of the few games I intend to make time to play (once it's been released and has a year of patching to achieve some level of stability, which seems required of any RPG these days), but if this description is accurate, I probably will not have to make much time for it. :)
     
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