Grim Dark RTS Age of Darkness: Final Stand

We tend to think — well, at least I do — of real time strategy games as being equally divided between pleasantly mindless base building and resource gathering, and occasional but rarely tension-filled skirmishes. Certainly, there are exceptions. No one has ever watched a professional StarCraft match and thought it was a super chill experience. Age of Darkness: Final Stand amps up the angst by layering a Soulslike “You Will Die” difficulty on top of somewhat traditional RTS mechanics and the result is a unique and challenging shake-up of something familiar.

Now in Early Access, Age of Darkness: Final Stand is still missing a lot of features like more than a single playable hero, or the full campaign. It does offer, however, a pretty clear snapshot of what the gleefully sadistic developers have in mind. It challenges you to reach what just might be an unattainable goal (at least by mortals), which is to survive an onslaught by 70,000 enemies.

Gameplay in Age of Darkness: Final Stand is divided into daytime activities and “death night” survival. During the day, your hero and band of warriors explore the environment and earn points by dispatching the generally weak enemies that are neither very aggressive or found in large numbers. Back at your humble outpost, you do the kinds of tasks common to most RTS games. You chop wood, mine ore, gather food, and build walls against the coming evil forces. Mostly, you hope that you’ve made the right decisions because when death night comes and the Veil surrounds your camp, the Nightmares will emerge and attack. If you survive the night, you receive a choice of Blessings that will help speed your construction or bolster your hero or defenses. The night comes again and the wave of Nightmares more than triples in size. Fail and it’s game over. As if those conditions weren’t already challenges to your strategizing, every night you’re negatively afflicted by random Malices, plus contact with the death fog Void wall itself drains life from your forces.

Choices Matter

At least at the beginning of each game, base-building feels agonizingly slow and precarious, especially in light of what’s to come. Do you pour resources into building defensive walls or creating more workers? Do you divert your meager stores into creating a motley band of warriors to stave off the monsters of the first death night, or gather food and wood and hope that your hero and starting squad can keep things under control? How far afield from your base do you dare venture, knowing there are treasures to be had? Even as you become more powerful, the choices never become easier and the game intentionally makes you always feel at least somewhat unprepared.

At this stage of development, there are a lot of unknowns, like what the campaign will be like, how the other heroes will impact the game and whether the final product will onboard the player gently or not. Happily, the game offers a lot of options for both making things easier or, for the truly masochistic, more difficult. There are a lot of ways to adjust the visuals and controls as well. Speaking of visuals, I’m a sucker for dark fantasy vibes, so I really liked the art style of Age of Darkness: Final Stand, which looks like what you’d get if you took Age of Empires and passed it through a goth grim dark filter. The lighting is well done, contrasting rich saturated color against deep shadows, with a lot of detail in the units and structures. The orchestral score is moody and heroic by turn.

I appreciate any game where its mission statement and execution are in alignment, even if the mission is to kick me to the curb. Age of Darkness: Final Stand is off to a promising start. Although Age of Darkness makes no attempt to hide its difficulty, it’s more than just a one-idea game and it can be understood and mastered by mortals like you and me. I look forward to following its progress as it adds more content and features over the coming months.

***PC code provided by the developer for preview***

Thank you for keeping it locked on COGconnected.

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