Whenever I play an RPG on the computer, since the days of Baldur’s Gate I’ve employed a simple and effective system. At any point in a game where I’m about to take action, or have barely succeeded in some risky maneuver by a lucky roll of invisible dice, I make a separate save file. To keep things straight and organized, I name the files with keywords relevant to what I’m doing, so the next time I try something as equally risky I already have a file waiting to be overwritten. For the last fifteen years, “main,” “pre combat,” “post combat,” “thieving,” “lockpicking,” “trap disarming,” and keywords related to plot decisions have all served me well, in a save-naming system I intended to use in perpetuity. But now The Age of Decadence is making me change all that.
The game gives fair warning that the best way to win a fight is not to participate, and that while avoiding conflict may not be the warrior’s way, it is in fact “the staying alive way.” Still, all those old habits are hard to break, and there’s admittedly a little ego involved in thinking that if I can just min/max my stats the right way I can in fact play this new RPG the way I’ve always done. Wrong. And the moment that finally dawned on me was when I realized I had to change those save file names.
I found myself in a dark, post-apocalyptic, Romanesque world, where thieving was a way of life. Consequently, every save I made involved some element of immediate danger. So rather than being moments few and far between where I was doing something risky, which I could revert back to later if I wanted a different outcome, I had to simply accept being in constant peril, parsing out those truly significant moments where outcomes were radically divergent.
Because the hazard of “walking down the street” happens so frequently (where you’re bound to encounter someone who intends you harm), I instead found myself marking the happenings of the world with phrases like, “negotiating,” “trading,” “crafting,” and “charming.” Those things bear much more significance in the world of Decadence, where conversations end more lives than your sword can, the coins in your purse are coveted by lying merchants who exaggerate the value and rarity of their “goods” and your ability to repair a small switch can lead to big treasure.
More often than not, I take to playing the good guy hero, where my strategy to succeed in an RPG is to find some form of sustainability – whether that’s health or mana regeneration, or even the ability to make my own healing supplies. As gamers we’ve been trained for years to anticipate conflict and injury, and to focus our efforts toward achievement in the combat arena. But after an unsuccessful attempt to live the honest life of an armor-clad, charismatic praetor, (who lost all his money and was thrown on a corpse heap countless times) I turned in my golden cloak. And for the first time ever I created a starting character who was shrewd, self-serving, prone to wearing black, and pretty good with a dagger. Who is still healthy (and wealthy) to this day.
Still under construction but available through Steam’s Early Access, The Age of Decadence strives to be the sort of RPG that changes the way you play the genre. Similar to the way that Dark Souls wowed gamers years ago by bringing difficult combat back into fashion, The Age of Decadence is making huge strides in creating a world so brutal that it’s impossible to be the knight in shining armor. It gives you something you’ve never experienced before, in a way that forces you to wake up, pay attention and adapt to the game world around you. I tried to resist the force of that change. But I’m glad I saved my game first, because as predicted, I died. Now, I encourage you to take on that same worthy and exhilarating challenge.