Age of Darkness: Final Stand is brutal, cold, and unforgiving, all at once. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.
While the game wears its genre inspirations on its sleeve, this strategy title is no walk in the history museum. Age of Darkness warns you of its difficulty well in advance but I paid no heed. I trusted in my RTS (real-time strategy) instincts, honed from a childhood of Age of Empires and StarCraft.
I watched as thousands of monsters mowed through a settlement that took hours to build.
The premise is simple: gather resources, build defenses, and withstand Nightmare waves. And no, these monsters aren’t tower-defense cannon fodder. Age of Darkness hurls thousands of glowing ghouls at you with the help of its custom Swarmtech rendering technique.
In no time, I was knee-deep in monster guts, diagnosed with “one more round” syndrome.
And things only get more interesting at night.
Age of Darkness’ nights summon the Nightmares
It’s easy to forget that this game is no traditional RTS. Hitting pause to recollect your sanity and rework your defenses mean the difference between a long night or a quick one. And at night, monsters called Nightmares pay short visits to your settlement.
And those little things pack a punch.
Nightmares cut through regular buildings quicker than an army of termites. In Age of Darkness: Final Stand, walls are your best friend. Don’t get too attached though, as bigger Nightmare variants can crush them to bits.
The chonky ones come to play during Death Nights. Said nights feature Malices, unique conditions that cripple your defenses.
While you do get some day/night cycle rounds to prepare, Age of Darkness surprised me with the sheer number of units it sent my way. You usually get a day’s notice to take away the welcome mat before a crystal explodes, bringing in a tide of monsters. Surviving a Death Night nets you a passive buff that helps you with future waves.
How does one survive a near-endless horde of glowing fiends?
Towers, troops, and tricks.
Age of Darkness has core systems reminiscent of WarCraft 3
Your hero is the best card at your disposal. Wielding a flaming sword and an experience system, Age of Darkness: Final Stand’s only available hero (there’s more on the way) is a chip off the old WarCraft 3 block. Speaking of blocks, troops and towers will cost you all kinds of resources.
Building and units don’t stay on the map for free.
Age of Darkness encourages you to sell off buildings that you don’t need.
Stats like villagers, food, gold, wood, stone, and iron will feel familiar to RTS players. Dark crystals (used to unlock endgame upgrades) are obtained from surviving Death Nights or Elite Nightmares (night-only bosses that are tickled by artillery). Age of Darkness doesn’t hurry tasks like resource gathering and construction.
After all, you shouldn’t be able to save yourself once you’re overrun.
Villagers are your bread and butter in Age of Darkness — they build houses, gather resources, and line up your troop list. You don’t control the villagers directly, you control who is deployed within farms and quarries. But be careful — villagers run towers and bear arms too.
You’ll need to split them between production and defensive measures.
Age of Darkness switches things up in the resource department by factoring in the environment when it comes to resource gathering. You can’t place two resource points too close to each other and the rate of resource generation depends on the trees/stone/land that surrounds them. The game encourages you to spread yourself thin and open yourself up to attacks.
That might not sound comforting when Nightmares walk around like they own the place.
Towers and troops are your only hope against impossible odds.
Line those towers up, or cower in despair
Walls, turrets, and troops are the only way you're going to survive a Death Night. Your hero’s flaming sword can carry a few rounds but take too many risks and he’ll be out to recover. Cover his flanks with the rest of your defenses.
Age of Darkness’ troops and towers are of the garden variety.
You start off with archers and swordsmen who can later be upgraded with more staying power. Ballista towers and a tower that spits flames are your main Nightmare hitters. Siege weapons that are basically moving ballistae and flamer towers round off the list.
Troops and siege weapons can level up to live longer and turn immune to Horror (an effect that weakens troops).
Exploring the map during the day is a safe bet. But Age of Darkness rewards nocturnal players with extra rewards and Elite Nightmare bosses. Don’t worry about exploring during Death Nights though. Troops lose health the moment they move away from buildings.
Survival RTS fans will dine well as they fend off Age of Darkness’ unholy crusades.
Age of Darkness is as polished as the best RTS titles out there
Parts of Age of Darkness: Final Stand reminded me of the best bits of WarCraft 3’s incredible campaign. A studio’s first game hitting such high notes is a feat worthy of praise and admiration. With a campaign and more content on the way, I love how well Age of Darkness: Final Stand is shaping up.
Its unforgiving difficulty means it doesn’t compete with mainstay RTS titles.
And it also means that you’ll spend dozens of hours before you finish it.
Age of Darkness gets brownie points (dark crystals?) for featuring several difficulty modifiers before you begin a game. Personally, I’d love to see bonuses that stack up into the next game. Despite staying away from punishing titles like Dark Souls and Nioh, I had a great time with Age of Darkness.
Don’t mind the Early Access bit, Age of Darkness is ready for a ballista ballet.
The question is, are you?
Age of Darkness: Final Stand is available on Steam as an Early Access title.
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