Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Having just been released into Early Access, PlaySide’s Age of Darkness: Final Stand is a real time strategy (RTS) with a single goal. Survival. Starting off with nothing more than a home base, an RPG like hero and a couple standard units, the clock immediately starts to tick down to your destruction against a horde of incoming Nightmares.
Set as a single player experience, the moment that you start the race is on. Deceptive at first with some bright sunny landscapes and a quite serene area that your forces call home, your base is in the literal middle of the map and it is surrounded by nightmares. Always just outside of your field of vision in the fog of war, you can send out your hero unit to start leveling up and clear out the way for things that you’re going to need to build and keep safe.
For anyone who’s played an RTS, you should feel right at home. You have your home base and you have your supply chains. Simplifying things a little bit, most of the resource gathering is handled by the output setup instead of having to build units to go and gather the resources. Lumber mills, farms and quaries need to be set up around the resources that you wish to gather and then your townsfolk will handle the rest. As long as you have enough of them to handle the work of course.
With the incoming darkness, nothing is easy. To get more townsfolk you’ll need to build houses. To build houses, you’ll need wood. To get wood, you’ll need townsfolk. To get more townsfolk, you’ll need food. To get more food you’ll need to build a farm. To build a farm… you get it. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s one that may take a few rounds to get right and even then, it’ll still be the luck of the draw to see what kind of environment that you start off in. Is it wide open and the trees are far from the base? Are there any ore deposits close by? How’s the land for food gathering? Each of these small things compound and when you constantly see the clock ticking down from day to night, you really need to get a move on and learn how to get set up fast.
So with the above all in mind, there’s a bit of a false sense of security as nightmares really just mill around in the sunlight before becoming a bit more aggressive at night. Here I was thinking to myself, that’s not bad, I can handle this, I just need to build a wall, research how to make giant light sources to help see better at night and set up a few archers in the towers and have the foot soldiers head out if needed. Easy. I wish. So with the giant catch-22 above, there’s also the added element that more people need more food and more housing but those people are what you need to train soldiers. So on top of resource management to keep upgrading and building defenses, you also have to worry about making sure you can train more troops as once the clock hits “zero”, the true nightmare known as the Death Night begins.
I was not prepared for my first horde. At all. I had a few walls in place, I was still trying to figure out the best way to place things in my base, hell, I didn’t even have extra fighting units. I probably should have run the tutorial. That said I survived somehow but seeing what was out there? There’s a reason that they are called Nightmares. Going through a few day and night cycles to start building up your base and training troops, you’ll soon get a warning that a crystal is unstable which thankfully tells you about where it is on the map allowing you to bolster defenses in the direction of that area. Ticking down to zero though, once that crystal breaks all hell is let loose and those few milling Nightmares in the fields become a true horde with a single purpose, your destruction.
If the sheer amount of numbers coming down and crashing against your defenses wasn’t enough, and it’s terrifying just how many enemies can be showcased on the screen at a time, you also have to deal with a debuff of sorts. Having first been hit with a malicious Price of Loyalty, my military unit upkeep was increased by 2 gold per unit which in the beginning isn’t so bad, but as time would move on it could have been much worse later on. If you survive though, this curse disappears and you can choose a blessing to help yourself out. 10% chance for units to do double damage, all new buildings cost 15% less resources or seeing a crystal a day earlier to give yourself even more time to plan. Each type of blessing is worth reading through and some will be more useful than others but being able to have a blessing instead of just stacking on the curses was nice.
From here, things quiet down a bit until the next Death Night and you go about doing it all over again. You keep gathering resources, keep adding to your military, keep expanding your borders and pushing forward and it’s exhilarating as you don’t know if you’re even going to survive the next night. That’s what makes Age of Darkness so damned good. It’s a hardcore survival real time strategy that will truly test you over time and whether or not you survive is entirely up to you. You can’t blame the system or the AI for being “broken”, you can only blame yourself for not properly using the time that you had properly, not building a proper defensive perimeter, not building backups to fall back to.
It’s a learning experience and there’s still more to come. Currently only one hero unit is available with another coming in the next future as well as higher difficulty modes and while there may be some small things that I would like to see done, for the most part I wouldn’t change what I’ve had the chance to sit down to. It all comes down to meticulous planning on a ticking death clock and you have to decide just how pretty your base is going to look or how functional it can be as things like lumber mills and farms cannot have overlaps in the areas that they are using to gather resources. This can make it quite hard at times but I enjoyed that it added to the challenge set out in front of me.
Finally, one thing that took me a few sessions to notice, and I’m certain it will change, but I loved that by opening up Age of Darkness, I was already at the main menu. Ready to go. There were no loading screens, no pre-credits, no splash screens, just the main menu ready to go. I think a lot of people could potentially learn from this and have the credits listed close by and such but it was refreshing to just click and go.
While just having kicked off its Early Access, PlaySide’s Age of Darkness: Final Stand is a brilliantly designed hardcore real time strategy survival experience. From building your base to trying to hold off the incoming hordes crashing against your walls, those looking for a challenge need look no further and fans of real time strategies will find plenty to love here.Score: N/A