This weekend I had the chance to play Dead Age, an early access game on Steam that was released earlier this month. By indie developer Silent Dreams, the game aims to mix zombies, “Final Fantasy” turn based combat, and permanent death to make a Survival RPG. Every time you die, you’re returned to the beginning but with the benefits of some buffs.
I really tried hard to enjoy this one, and I can say it does have possible potential, but that’s asking for a lot at this point. I played for an hour before I couldn’t take it anymore. This is a rather long preview and I couldn’t quite cover everything I wanted to say, but I tried to break it down. This preview contains very minor spoilers, all happening within the first ten minutes of the game.
Starting off, you choose your name and occupation (restricted to student for Early Access). A survivor of the recent zombie outbreak, your sister is missing. After confronting a small horde, Sheriff comes to your rescue and you head to the survivor camp. On the way, you discover your sister is a zombie and your party murders her. Then you’re at camp and head straight out with a new partner, Bill.
So first off, the character selection screen is extremely minimal. You can only play a male (as a woman, this was a bit annoying) and you cannot change your appearance in anyway whatsoever.
I’m hoping this is changed with future updates as it would be nice to have a little control over what I look like. Even a standard “woman” avatar would have been good for some selection.
The story is a major weak spot for Dead Age. It’s dull, unimaginative, and uninspiring. An avid reader, I found it difficult to stay interested. It had a lot of potential too, but definitely falls short. For example, the game informs you that you killed your brother after he turned. Why does it tell me this? Isn’t the first rule of storytelling “show, don’t tell”? This is exactly where the story should have opened. Give it the interesting punch it needed right off the bat. It would have been amazing to have a cutscene of your brother being attacked and you fighting his shambling corpse. Or even make it the first fight of the game. Instead, we’re given “Where’s my sister?!” dialogue and a Sheriff that literally appears out of nowhere to save the day.
That’s only the half of it. Halfway to camp, your party comes across your zombie sister. You’re knocked out while your members revive you and fight themselves. Then she’s dead (rather uneventfully – I didn’t even get the killing blow), you’re sad for a total of two seconds, and then you just continue on. You spent the entire time up until this point “Where is Lilly?? I need to find her!” only to say the equivalent of “Ok, whatever. I don’t want to talk about it.” when she’s dead.
I won’t get into the story much after this except for some minor points as I found nothing of interest and I’d rather avoid any potential spoilers. However, Dead Age can seriously benefited from some cut scenes or at least internal dialogue that is moving and captivating. Instead, we’re treated to, “Okay, go here. K. Go here. Oh no, this happened. K.”
Gameplay vs Zombies
Monotony was a major reason I put Dead Age down. After heading off with Bill into the woods, all we ran into were zombie cheerleaders and zombie nurses. Every. Single. Fight. They were all a zombie cheerleader/zombie nurse combo. WHAT happened out here? Was there a cheerleading squad lost in the woods and an army of nurses looking for them when zombies attacked? I can’t imagine why there would be over 11 cheerleaders and 11 nurses all out in the woods together.
The gameplay was even less inspiring than the story. It’s touted as “Final Fantasy” turn based. Oh, it’s turned based alright. Final Fantasy? Not so much. It stands on the edge of monotony for a long time before finally taking that leap. By the end of my play time, I was reduced to a melee weapon as I was out of ammo. The game became “Melee> Attack > Zombie Nurse” or “Melee > Attack > Zombie Cheerleader” with the occasional buff. That’s it. That’s the whole game at that point. Rinse and repeat.
Having enough bullets for my gun came down to scavenging (which feels like finding items in Oregon Trail) and crafting. However, I found no bullets on my trek and in order to craft them, I had to be at town. I was at part 10 out of 20 when I had to stop because of this monotony. Why force me to go back to town to make bullets? Why can’t I craft them on the road? If I could have made some items during the quest, I could have seen myself continuing the game. I just couldn’t stand one more click of “melee.”
I really think the gameplay needs a real look over. It was too easy and too quick to fall into the melee, melee, melee format. And on top of that, the monsters. Please, give me something else to look at besides Zombie Nurses and Cheerleaders. They’re not even sexy. Those two aspects combined killed any motivation I had to play Dead Age until some updates arrive.
Graphics and Audio
Graphics was actually an area where Dead Age did well. It has interesting, detailed scenery. I enjoyed seeing the zombies rip apart people in the background.
Audio was another spot the game did well with. The developers did an excellent job of keeping the music and sounds a seamless part of the background.
Dead Age IS a game with plenty of potential there, but the developers really need to realize it and realize it fast. Cleaning up the story to make it more gripping, changing the gameplay and crafting system so it isn’t a monotonous melee fest, and adding some variety in the monsters could really turn this Strategy RPG around. And of course, add some personalization to the character selection. I would have loved to play a woman or at least had the option of creating my own character! I will be keeping an eye on the updates to see if any of these changes come to fruition!
If you want to check out Dead Age for yourself, you can find it on Steam. However, I would recommend waiting a bit to see what updates arrive in the next few weeks.