You can almost hear the familiar movie voiceover…”In a world… destroyed by the forces of magic and the power of greed... comes a hero to fight the darkness and restore the lands… by talking a lot, and reading a lot of text”
Age of Decadence is an isometric, turn-based RPG that has been in some form of development for a very long time. It doesn’t look great, if that matters to you, with graphics that wouldn’t have been bleeding edge a decade ago. And it doesn’t hold your hand, either. Sure, it gives you the absolute basics of movement, combat, and interaction, but it then throws you off the boat and points in the direction of the shore. “Swim.”
So, Age of Decadence is not Pillars of Eternity. There are no parties (though you will get assistance from NPCs now and again), no classes, no imaginative monsters, and very little magic or even combat, if you elect to bypass it. Instead, there is you, having to negotiate a path of intrigue and alliance between three powerful Houses in a semi-fictional period roughly equivalent to the early period after the fall of Rome. Security, power, order, and meaning are all up for grabs.
Compared to some RPGs, Age of Decadence is not geographically huge and sprawling, with only three main cities and a mainline quest that will take approximately a dozen hours to complete. There is no lack of side quests, though, and thanks to the skill based system and the viability of many builds, plus the hundreds of potential dialogue choices and multiple endings, the game factors in a lot of replayability.
Combat -- should you try to approach the game with a combat-oriented build -- is turn based, very specific, and extremely challenging. As in most RPGs, there is gear to collect and upgrade, crafting, and skills to learn, but it is a game that truly rewards min-maxing and a very cautious and thoughtful progression. While a “little of this, little of that” build works well in a game like Skyrim, Age of Decadence seems to want the player to really be good at one thing, whether that is combat or speech and persuasion. Death is a constant companion, but there are frequent auto-saves so generally the penalty for failure isn’t too harsh.
If reading text bores you, stay away from Age of Decadence. The text is essentially what carries the game, and most of it is well written, with layers of moral ambiguity built into the choice you are asked to make. As noted, the graphics are not the game’s selling point. There’s nothing wrong with the artistic choices or design, both of which do a good job of suggesting a fallen, Roman-styled empire without being too specific. It’s just that the textures lack detail and sharpness, and the color palette is a bit drab and monotonous.
Age of Decadence is a thinking person’s RPG, and rewards patience and attention to detail. It doesn’t waste your time with meaningless tasks or busywork, though ultimately, pouring time into crafting or alchemy or weaponsmithing and combat are just as viable as developing persuasion or talking your way out of conflict. It’s hard to talk about the game’s story except in general terms because each play-through will forge a relatively unique experience, but Age of Decadence is a welcome alternative for players a little tired of fighting mages, dragons, and orcs, having to manage an unruly party of specialists, or intimidated by the prospect of a vast open world with too much to do and not enough direction.