• Dead Age review by Rick Moscatello

    Turn Based Zombies

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    I lurves me some zombie games. It’s enough of an established genre that we can identify what every zombie game must have:

    1) A variety of zombies. Even Walking Dead puts some variety in the appearance of their zombies, but for a game, there’s needs to be some functional differences between the zombies, they can’t all just be mindless homicidal shamblers.

    2) Limited Resources. A zombie apocalypse where we can just pop down to the local pawn shop for guns and ammo, then pick up medicine on the way home…just isn’t a zombie apocalypse. Resources should be scarce, with scavenging a viable option for getting the many things you don’t have.

    3) Characters. It’s ok in a wargame to have faceless troops, but in a zombie apocalypse, every remaining human life counts, and you need to feel the loss when a character dies.

    There’s also a horror component to zombie games, but it might not be absolutely necessary. Sure, creeping around in the dark with zombies around is scary, and the “Boo!” factor is best when you’re playing a shooter-type game, but I’ve wondered how well the whole zombie apocalypse thing would play out as a turn based game, with only minimal scare factor.

    Dead Age attempts to answer that question, and gets praise for doing a heckuva good job as a turn based zombie game, or at least for being the first good attempt at one.

    Zombie variety is over-the-top in Dead Age. Sure, you have the oversized thugs and berserker types, but there are also zombie cheerleaders and zombie nuns, among many other varieties, each with special powers and traits. The game takes many cues from Walking Dead, and so you’ll also face punks and heavily armed soldiers.

    Resources are quite limited, although mostly the game is focused around food, (basic) materials, and tools. It’s a little too tight—all characters start naked, and even things like flip-flops and baseball caps need to found (if very lucky), or crafted. Crafting requires base resources, as well as special resources, and your character needs to have the skill to do it, as well.

    Characters are critically important, and you’ll need to develop them carefully. If your blacksmith dies, you’ll hate not being able to make bullets, and similarly the loss of your gunsmith, outfitter, hunter, and all-important camp guards will all weaken, if not annihilate, your chance of survival. Characters also develop combat skills, and while losing a particular skill here isn’t bad, you use the same pool of points for combat as job skills, so you have to exercise care when developing your characters.

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    Fighting a punk and her dog.

    Combat is turn-based, but you have so many special abilities and powers going off that it doesn’t get dull. It’d be nice to have the option to run away or at least protect a wounded character, however, but every fight must be to the death and you always have to fight in a lined-up formation. Oh well, I guess those are personal quibbles, and I wish that’s where my complaints ended.

    While there are numerous cool ideas here, a number of design flaws and missteps mar what could have been a great game.

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    Most of the game world is reached from here.

    Dead Age is something of a rogue-like game, the better for you to care about keeping the characters alive. This is a good decision, but the game only saves at the beginning of the day, and you can’t save at any time of your own choosing. This could work, but you can’t do anything right before the forced save. After the save, you then must go through a few random events and story/quest assignments…every day. Then, and only then, you can exit out. So, when you come back to the game, you have to go through those random events and story assignments…it’s bloody annoying, especially because the inventory system requires micromanagement, best done right after you’ve finished your latest quest (so you can distribute the loot)…but you just can’t do that, you have to go through all those random events while trying to remember the little details you need to remember, and you can’t just do what you want to do and save off.

    Yuck. It’s a real turn-off and keeps me from playing the game as I kept forgetting little things (like equipping those gardening gloves I found) as I’d just want to click through all the random events and messages I’d already read before and get on with the game.

    The wonky save system is the worst of it, but there are many other annoyances. You can be attacked by soldiers, who’ll happily shoot you repeatedly. Kill them, and you get no guns, no ammo, you can’t even take their caps or shoes or something. If you’re lucky, you get a scrap of cloth that with the right skills and a day of work can be turned into a t-shirt.

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    I hit the wrong button and accidentally didn't assign enough guards. Oops.

    Mysterious scavengers attack your camp at night. Even if you post guards, you can lose 1/3 each of your food/materials/tools…it’s stupid that there’s no way to protect the resources you fight so hard to get. If zombies attack at night, your guards will fight to the death rather than alert the camp…if the guards die to the zombies, the zombies will also kill someone randomly in the sleeping camp as well. Jeez…at least this sort-of explains the endless stupidity of the Walking Dead cast—they’re playing in a game designed like this, where you’re forced to behave incredibly stupidly. The guard system and its failings are the worst overall game design feature here, as there’s no point in doing anything else until you post as many guards as you can…but if you do that you can’t do anything else. Eventually you’ll get 7 survivors (3 for guards, 3 for your questing party, and 1 to actually do something), but up to that point it’s just pure annoyance.

    While not a great game, Dead Age is a pretty good game, and worthwhile for those wanting to see some possibilities for the zombie game genre.

    Overall Rating: 80
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Dead Age review by Rick Moscatello started by Doom View original post