Dead Age is a turn-based zombie RPG for PC with nonlinear storytelling and multiple endings. Developed by Silent Dreams, it tackles the familiar zombie video game themes but from a different perspective.It's currently in Early Access, and available on Steam for $14.99.
Dead Age follows the story of your custom-named character as he attempts to survive a worldwide zombie outbreak. It begins with you losing your sister Lilly in a scrum with zombies, and having to ally with the living in order to reunite with her. You do find your sister soon after, and create a settlement for other survivors.
You'll be fighting the undead as well as the living, and managing the camp you've established. Careful allocation of resources is crucial to maintaining a healthy settlement. The story progresses as more survivors start pouring in, and you often have to juggle the longevity of your camp with the needs of quest-givers.
Dead Age is a hard mix of zombies and turn-based RPG mechanics, and unfortunately this particular combination of those elements does not yield anything worthwhile.
The narrative is framed like a tabletop board game, as the expository text accompanying the still images during cutscenes paints a picture of what you're seeing in front of you. In lieu of full-motion video, the descriptions do a decent enough job of complementing the rudimentary comic-inspired stills.
Adding to the D&D aesthetic, random events occur in-between rounds of combat where a percent chance determines your success; for example, your party may come across the trunk of an abandoned car. You can try to open the car, but depending on your character's level of Cunning, you may set off the car alarm and attract a horde of zombies. It adds a bit of character to the world, but after a few in-game days you'll begin to see the same events over and over, which quickly takes the charm away.
As a whole, the plot is extremely utilitarian. It's not clear whether this is deliberate, but the writing is stock and uninteresting. Each of the survivors you pick up are admittedly varied in their appearance, but from a characterization standpoint, they're all pretty weak.
Dead Age is designed for multiple playthroughs. There are a number of endings, and it's doubtful that you'll reach the good ending on your first run. If you end up dying (which is permanent), you do get some bonuses on your next attempt, and get to start with a better skill-set for your starting hero. That is, if you even want to trudge through the game again to begin with.
There are two aspects to Dead Age's core game: combat and settlement management.
The fighting is pretty standard for a turn-based RPG. Depending on how you've allocated the skill points for your survivors, they'll unlock the standard healing, knockout and debuff abilities that are staples of the genre.
The biggest problem with combat isn't its lack of depth, but its structure. A standard day has you fight zombie group after zombie group with little to no context or motivation. Often these battles are the same exact combinations of enemies back to back, which wears thin very quickly.
Sometimes you'll be forced to grind these fights for materials you're blindly hoping the enemies will drop, which can mean 20 minute increments of clicking the same actions to perform the same strategies over and over. At least in a similar RPG there'd be an open world to explore in-between the monotony, but Dead Age just lines these battles one after another, killing any momentum the game might have earned with its mediocre story.
Not much better can be said for the management portion of the game. You must choose which survivor performs which duty every day, and depending on their level of that job's related skill, they'll perform proportionately well at that task.
This system isn't exactly bad, but it's hurt by a confusing UI. Assigning the survivors to their job must be done through this sloppy, confusing menu. It'll take several in-game days before you get the hang of the game's rules, and even then you don't ever feel a strong connection between you and your base of operations. The fact that you never actually get to see your camp save for on a map only makes you feel more detached when something happens to it.
Graphically, the game looks pretty good for an indie title. The 3-D models aren't animated fantastically, but they get the job done. There are some impressive shadow effects in the environment, and the few backdrops that you fight in are pretty to look at the first few dozen times you see them.
Probably the biggest flub with the visuals is the models themselves, namely the survivors. There's a disconnect between the hand-drawn portraits of each character and what's represented during combat, and it takes away the tension of seeing them in danger.
The music is also fairly stock.There's nothing catchy to lighten the monotony of the encounters, and nothing memorable when you're regrouping in your base.
There's likely a good reason zombies and turn-based RPGs aren't combined very often; this style of combat adds nothing fulfilling to the fantasy of surviving a zombie apocalypse. It's an interesting idea, but in practice and especially on an indie budget, a simple, retro-style zombie shooter works way better than an ambitious turn-based adventure.
Dead Age is still in early access, so there's still a chance to fix some of the smaller issues like the clunky UI and character models. But the fundamental idea of a zombie turn-based RPG is inherently flawed and unsalvageable in this case.
|+ Ambitious story||– Grindy Battles|
|+ Impressive visuals during combat||– Stock Writing|
|– Sloppy UI|
|– Poor Execution|