Age of Fear (AoF) is a throwback to the days when games were made by a guy in his garage. As far as I can tell, the entire game was written by Leszek Sliwko. He even wrote a paper, published in the Journal of Theoretical and Applied Information Technology describing a technique he used in building the AI. Any developer who can write a paper about the AI in his game can't be all bad.
As a small, indie game it is important to adjust one's expectations accordingly. Indie games, when they are good, generally excel at one of two things: either they have some innovative idea that mainstream games don't, or they distill a good mechanic/genre down to its essentials. AoF falls in the second category, focusing in on turn-based strategy in a fantasy setting.
The initial impression one has of the game is “This looks like the original World of Warcraft”. The basic setting is similar – there are knights and magicians and monsters all engaged in a grand melee to determine who is going to rule the world. There are also text-based story segments that explain what is going on (both to the world and to your character) so you get a feeling of actually being involved in the world. The story text can be a bit longer than that in many RTS games, and when combined with the turn-based combat the game projects a more leisurely, thoughtful pace than most.
The thoughtful pace carries over to combat. The story text not only provides exposition for the overall plot but also sets up the action (“You have been ambushed”, or “The king says to scout out the pas”). The action comes in the form of small-unit, tactical, turn-based battles that plays out like a cross between WoW and miniatures. The based WoW direct-overhead view is here, as are health and magic bars. The TBS mechanics bring the miniatures feeling.
The units themselves are rather standard fantasy units – knights, archers, magicians, skeletons, etc. You start out with just a few and can work your way up over the course of the game to command a fairly sizable group. Your units gain experience and abilities and can be upgraded over the course of the adventure (if they survive combat, that is) so it is a good idea to husband your units.
In addition to a rather standard unit management system, the units' abilities are rather standard themselves. Knights are tough melee fighters without and ranges capabilities, archers have ranged weapons but are terrified of swordplay, priests are made of tissue paper but can cast magic spells, and the like. You know the drill. There is nothing wrong with the attributes units have or how they are constituted, it is just that there is nothing new or interesting either.
The battlefield itself is well done, if a bit simple. The view is from straight overhead, so the units themselves can be pretty simple sprites. It can be a little disappointing if you were looking for a “Total War”-style experience, but is pleasantly reminiscent of the “Dominions” series. As a small, indie title on should not expect too much on this front in any case. Other than the sprites, the battlefield is a very clear and information-rich place. Each unit has a movement range (part of which may be inaccessible due to terrain or other units) which is shown on the map by a colored circle so it is easy to tell where units can (and cannot) go in a given turn. Spells work similarly, and spell choice for a given unit is provided in a menu when that unit is chosen. If a unit or spell can attack any enemy, the percentage chance for success is shown next to the unit in question. Combat resolution is simple – the computer rolls the dice and you either hit or not.
The actual experience of battle is reassuringly familiar – if you have played many tactical war games you should feel right right at home in AoF. The standard sword-arrow-magic-special ability mechanics are standard for a reason: they make for good battles. AoF is no exception in this regard, and you will find yourself deep in thought at times as the competent AI can play a credible game.
The game settles quickly into a rhythm: recruit troops, read story text, fight, repeat. None of these parts is particularly bad: recruitment is OK, the story is competently told, the fights are engaging if unoriginal. The game as a whole is slightly more than the sum of its parts, but when your parts are just OK, that makes your game good but not great. The experience works best in smaller doses, more as a casual game than a sit-down campaign in the “Heroes of Might and Magic” vein. Replay value is low given its story-based nature.
This would be a good game for the iPad. It has more strategic depth than all but a few casual games, and the pace is perfect for picking it up and setting it down repeatedly. Battles run between fifteen minutes and a half-hour or so, so it would be perfect for a gaming fix over lunch or on a short plane ride. With the recent addition of online play you could get a few friends together for a quick battle break.
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