Platforms such as Steam are ripe for discovering hidden gems, especially from indie developers. While this can often lead to some superfluous purchases, there’s also the potential for niche games to find and develop a strong following. The Age of Fear series is no exception. Three games in almost seven years is nothing to sneeze at, especially given that developer Leslaw Sliwko has also released various expansions and bundles for the series. Despite this, the third title in the series, Age of Fear 3: The Legend, isn’t just something that any casual player can drop into at a moment’s notice.
Age of Fear 3: The Legend is a turn-based tactical strategy game. Players expecting to find a typical hex-based or grid-based battle system will be pleasantly surprised to find that Age of Fear 3 eschews these more typical styles in favour of open traversal. Units can move in almost any direction across the map, although that depends highly on what type of units are being used. Smaller recruits won’t have as great a range of motion, and it’s quite easy to end up with a severe case of traffic jam if you don’t plan ahead properly. It doesn’t those who don’t understand the ins and outs of tactical RPG’s; then again, there isn’t a lot about this game that does works in the favour of those unfamiliar with the genre.
There are two main campaigns to choose from, and the disparity between story tones is worth taking note of. Nature of the Monster puts players in charge of a dryad by the name of Nairi, and her reluctant ally, Balvar. While Age of Fear looks like typical fantasy fare, the introduction of Balvar as a sort of half-night elf, half-giant spider was a breath of fresh, dank, dungeon air. This terrible twosome escapes from a disturbing gladiator-style bloodsport and goes on the run from the evil dwarf king who imprisoned them. It’s the darker of the two campaigns, with a lot of emphasis being made on revenge and death. The second story, Legend of Gilrock, is more lighthearted, as players follow a drunken dwarf lord and his band throughout the kingdom. There are plenty of fart jokes and drunken escapades in this story, so it’s really the best palette cleanser of the two.
Despite the addition of fantasy tropes not often seen in even the most praised of entries into the genre, the story isn’t really fleshed out as well as it could be. The bits of dialogue between units fall flat, as do the attempts at humour. However, Age of Fear doesn’t really seem like a kind of game too invested in its story. Instead, the lengthy battles are really where the game shines.
Up to ninety-nine units can be recruited to a party over the course of the game. To start, players are allowed eight slots to be filled, but these quickly open up as more and more campaigns are completed. The option to rename units is a charming touch, and does create a strange bond between player and what could have been just another recruited, snarling, slurping plant mutant. Statistics, items, and abilities have an extensive array of options to choose from. The list is, in fact, so expansive, and the information so detailed that novice players might find themselves intimidated, or even bored of having to read so much.
Time is really of the essence in this game; players will need to have at least a solid half hour to devote to any map after the introductory stage. The game’s AI is also quite punishing even on the lowest of the four difficulties; enemy mobs have their own special abilities and equipment, and players will have to keep their wits about them if they hope to make it through a map. Even with a stacked party, battles can go from being a walk in the park to a nail-biting struggle for survival. This is to the game’s credit, but again, anyone looking for a quick play should do so elsewhere.
While the top-down, tabletop game perspective does make for a nostalgic throwback to older games, there isn’t enough happening visually to hold the interest of those with wandering attentions. Even the simplest of animations would have spruced the battles up a little bit. For an indie game, it’s impressive, given how much is packed onto a battle board at a time, but there’s still something lacking in the overall design.
Age of Fear 3: The Legend is definitely a game for people who have the patience and penchant for strategy. While the story comes off as a bit shoddy at times and the overall look leaves something to be desired, anyone looking for something they can really take their time with will be right at home. Massive units mean that those who stick around for the meat of the game will have a plethora of recruits to choose from. It’s a niche game, really, but for those willing to put up with the difficulty level and the pacing, it’s a pretty rewarding experience.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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