Age of Darkness: Final Stand is very well performing survival RTS for an early access game and the death night and nightmare swarm mechanics are a fantastic concept.
Age of Darkness: Final Stand is a dark fantasy survival RTS game by developers PlaySide Studios, hailing out of Melbourne, Australia, and published by Team17. It releases on Steam early access on October 8th for us here in Australia and is single player only at present, with plans for multiplayer further in development. From first entering the game, we’re warned each death is a learning experience. Having watched the game’s trailer, I certainly had vibes of They Are Billions, especially as the team at PlaySide boasts technology called “SwarmTech” that can render 70,000 units on screen at once which is incredibly impressive.
Set in the remnants of a kingdom consumed by a deadly fog, you must illuminate, build and defend humanity’s last bastion against hordes of Nightmares. Being in early access, there’s only one game mode to play, survival, and one hero to play. Edwin, Wielder of the Flame, is an aggressive close-range hero equipped with a massive greatsword doing cleave damage to a wide area of attack. His flame based abilities include two active skills – crackfire and enflame, and a passive ability called enlighten. Hero abilities get unlocked by earning XP from kills and levelling up. There is a tease of a second hero called Aelis, Queen of Nothing, and a third slot says ‘more heroes will rise to stand against the dark.’
Age of Darkness: Final Stand starts off during day time and has your standard RTS elements. You start with a base keep which must survive, some starting units and an allocation of resources. You can build things like houses for more workers and farms, lumber yard and a quarry to collect resources. When you go to place the lumber yard or quarry, you’ll get feedback on the quality of the area so you can maximise the resource yields. Once you’ve got resources coming in you can build barracks to make soldiers/archers, defensive towers that can house two archers each, walls and doors.
There is a fog of war surrounding areas you haven’t explored yet so you send out your army to explore the lands. Very quickly you will come across small groups of nightmare mobs. Your hero makes quick work of them, as do the archers but your soldiers won’t last long if you don’t look after them. Any health you may lose can be replenished out of combat. If your hero dies, he will respawn after four minutes unless you have gone through some Death Nights and collected enough dark essence to revive them.
During the day, you will farm resources and work on exploring the map. You will first want to find access points to your base that you can attempt to block off with walls/doors and defend from nightmare attacks. While searching, you may come across points of interest that will give you bonuses such as rare resources if you defeat the defenders and hold the point long enough. Occasionally your troops may get horrified where they suffer slower movement and health regeneration. Horror is cured by light from fire towers or back at the main keep, and once your troops gain enough boldness points to become emboldened which makes them tougher, resistant to horrified and regenerate health faster.
At night, you will need to defend constant attacks from swarms of enemies that come from all open angles, spreading your forces to deter any stray nightmares, and repair buildings if required. Night time then becomes a matter of just surviving, while day time is when you want to gain resources and keep building up your defenses. On the fourth day, a darkness crystal rises from the ground at a random point on the map which is surrounded by nightmares. A countdown timer starts announcing the impending Death Night and the first wave contains 150 nightmares.
The location of this darkness crystal will indicate which directional area you need to fortify to defend from the nightmare swarm. Once the timer runs out, the swarm will head your way and a random affliction will affect you, such as weaken where your troops no longer regenerate health or the upkeep of your army might double in cost. The best laid plans can be affected by these afflictions and I loved the nightmare storm affect behind their army. My first game only lasted 30 minutes as I got wiped out on the first death night.
I thankfully survived the first death night on my second playthrough, but then underestimated the exponential growth of the swarm from the second death night that had 600 nightmares. When you do manage to survive a death night, you will be able to select between three random blessings for your next days ahead. Some blessings include buildings cost 15% less resources, a 15% chance to gain two units for every unit trainer, or increased building vision by 30%. All options are useful and can help your strategy, but you can only pick one. It means every player’s gameplay experiences will be relatively unique which is great.
Troops don’t gain XP through kills, rather they build up Emboldening which makes them tougher and regenerate health faster. I generally ran with twice as many archers as soldiers as the soldiers tended to be quite weak, but archers were very effective against the smaller nightmares. My hero unit was useful in doing aoe attacks such that the archers could just finish them off and once he got to level 3 and 4, the extra skills were very helpful in wiping out larger groups of nightmares, but you can still easily get overwhelmed if you’re not careful.
Overall, Age of Darkness: Final Stand is very well performing survival RTS for an early access game and the death night and nightmare swarm mechanics are a fantastic concept. Each game session is definitely a learning experience and it’s going to be great watching this game develop over time. The latest development roadmap is certainly exciting with the second hero coming soon and, in addition to multiplayer, new human units and more nightmare variations, I’m most excited to see a story campaign is being worked on too. Fans of RTS games will find the survival elements an interesting twist to the formula.
This review utilised a key provided by Team17 and Age of Darkness: Final Stand releases on Steam early access on October 8, 2021.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis