Titles are a tough thing to get right, and I like there to be an interpretable meaning behind them. I can understand the Age of Ashes part — it’s very draconic — but I don’t understand the Century: it’s superfluous and doesn’t capture the main selling point (dragons). This is a theme throughout Playwing’s Century: Age of Ashes. There’s a range of ideas, some of which work very well, some less so, and some seem absolutely insane. Century: Age of Ashes is also fairly thin at the moment, with only three main game modes (there are technically four, but I’ll explain that later). Player customisation is the main avenue for monetisation, though the dragon customisations seem to be general recolourings, and not anything more visually distinct.
I should first say that I did enjoy aspects of the gameplay of Century: Age of Ashes. Not especially, but there it is. The dragons handled well enough, bridging a gap between a verisimilitudinous dragon’s flight, and a more responsive dogfighter. There are three 6v6 game modes on offer: Gates of Fire is a sort of death race where players compete to grab a flag and fly it through a bunch of gates, which more often than not ends up being an incomprehensible mess; and Spoils of War is a more collaborative experience where players must kill “carrier” dragons to collect their gold and store it in their coffers, all while trying not to get killed with gold in your pouch; and the most straightforward of the three, Carnage, is a pretty standard team deathmatch experience but with dragons and power-ups (that “fourth game mode” I mentioned, Arena, is functionally a scaled-down version of Carnage). Of the three game modes, Gates of Fire is definitely the weakest. Every game I tried to play in the mode devolved into an incomprehensible mess, and some of the game’s maps didn’t feel like they were designed to accommodate the mode. Spoils of War is the complete opposite — it feels distinct, tonally appropriate and, although it can get pretty chaotic, it never feels beyond comprehension. It’s the closest Century: Age of Ashes gets to a novel idea while instilling a sense of dragon-on-dragon dogfighting, and it’s quite fun to play.
The visual design appears serviceable at first, and you can customise your dragon using rewards received from battle (or by paying real money, but we’ll get to that), but once you start playing you’ll realise that it’s… mostly pointless: you’re almost always moving too quickly to get a clear visual of your enemies, their dragons or their riders. As such, they don’t have much of an effect on gameplay at all, and they feel superfluous to the overall experience. The visuals as a whole are quite conventional, with the exception of the target-seeking fireballs the dragons breathe, and the same sentiment extends to the soundtrack, which is fairly standard orchestral fantasy fare. Neither of these things necessarily work against Century: Age of Ashes as a whole — and Playwing surely knew this — but with plenty of other free-to-play games out there with more effective mechanics and visuals, the game finds itself damned with faint praise.
Century: Age of Ashes does have some deeper issues. A consistent theme that I’ve heard from other players is that Playwing’s anti-cheating measures are lacking and, although I can’t personally confirm it, it does concern me that it comes up so consistently within the game’s community. In addition, the game’s matchmaking system is problematic, frequently failing to match players with opponents of appropriate skill levels. Of course, this means that players don’t spend too long idly waiting for a match; the community could deem that an acceptable trade-off for the occasional absolute hiding they might receive, but it could also serve to turn new players right off the game as a whole. Then there’s the monetisation, which is quite poorly thought out. There are XP boosters available for those who want to get started quickly, and you can buy an in-game premium currency (as with every free-to-play game), but the majority of the in-game purchases are cosmetic and, as we’ve established, those cosmetic upgrades are almost pointless. Playwing is selling these on Century: Age of Ashes’ Steam page for between AU$50 and AU$80, which seems an exorbitant fee for cosmetic upgrades and things you’d earn through gameplay anyway.
Century: Age of Ashes has a nugget of solid gameplay here, backed up with competent aesthetics and music. Unfortunately, for all of its competencies, Century: Age of Ashes suffers from a handful of technical faults, lacks in meaningful content, and what’s available at the moment doesn’t justify putting any time or money into it.
I really want to like Century: Age of Ashes more than I do, but dragons alone can’t sustain a player base; here’s hoping Playwing can make some meaningful additions before the rest of said player base realises that.
Callum reviewed Century: Age of Ashes using a retail Steam code and a Founder’s Pack provided by Playwing.
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