The Nightmare reared up on its spider-like legs, chest cavity splaying, revealing an unnatural green glow within as it prepared hurl a ball of destructive energy from its very core. It never got the chance. A crossbow bolt, shot with unerring accuracy, hits dead-centre. The result is dramatic: the light instantly dies as the Nightmare folds in on itself, collapsing in a tangle of legs. Another Nightmare, this one a wraith-like being with scythes for arms, swims through the air towards my defences, only to be greeted by a hail of bolts. This one, however, doesn’t fold-up. Instead, an eerie cry emanates from it as dark energy swirls around it. A moment later, it detonates, releasing a wave of evil which would cripple any soldiers nearby. Fortunately, all of my soldiers are a fair way off, defending my walls from thousands more Nightmares. Sturdy, stocky men push carts outfitted with huge bellows that spew flames at anything that gets too close. Catapults hurl rocks over my walls, as Arbalists pick off the more dangerous threats at long range. And should these fail to stem the tide, I still have my walls, my Hero, and a handful of elite troops.
Age of Darkness: Final Stand is one of the latest entries in the horde-survival RTS genre. The premise is simple: build your base, assemble your forces, and survive as long as you can against wave upon wave of foes. With up to 100,000 enemies at a time coming the player’s way, this is definitely one for those who are after a challenge.
For those who have played the brilliant They Are Billions and are worried that Age of Darkness: Final Stand may just be a clone of that game, worry not. This game is very definitely its own thing. Set in a fantasy world where darkness coalesces to form monstrous entities, players are engaged in a race to build up their defences as best as they can, before the dreaded timer counts down and unleashes increasingly large and powerful hordes of beasties towards your precious headquarters. So called ‘Death Nights’ are heralded by a nasty penalty (such as all your buildings now take 25% more damage) and a rolling, evil fog that obscures everywhere you haven’t supplied with lighting. Marching your soldiers through this miasma quickly inflicts ‘horror’, drastically reducing their ability to fight well. Manage to survive the night, and you’ll be rewarded with a ‘blessing’ to help you scrape through the next wave. If you fail, well, at least you get a score to show you how well you did.
Sometimes failure is because your defences just simply weren’t strong enough. Other times it’s due to failing to plug all the routes leading into your base. And sometimes it’s because you’ve unwittingly unleashed destruction upon yourself by trying to be too clever by half (hint: don’t smash the red crystals unless you’re really, really ready to face the next wave).
While the Death Nights are a nail-biting spectacle, they are also the acid-test of both your strategic and economic nous. While you can try to micro-manage combat, this is a game which definitely rewards the broader view of how well you can manage your resources, whether these be time, money, manpower, building materials or, crucially, space. Some buildings, like farms, take up valuable space and force you to risk spreading your base too thin. Others, which provide a production boost to crucial quarries and mines, can chew up an enormous amount of manpower, forcing you to build more houses, more farms, and take up even more space. And that’s before you even consider the elite troops so vital for your survival, which carry a premium on every resource but land. At each point you’ll find yourself asking just what is the best use of everything at your disposal, all with the goal of building your defences strong enough before the time runs out and the next Death Night starts.
For players who enjoy this kind of challenge, it’s a definite treat. The balance has been well worked out, and the UI makes decision-making and strategic planning easy – you know just when the next Death Night will occur (even if you don’t know just which direction it will come from), as well as being able to see at a glance just how long it’ll take for your resource-generating structures to ‘tick-over and cough-up the goodies’. Also, the ability to pause time to issue orders means juggling all the pieces becomes a considered task, rather than a mad scramble.
Currently in Early Access with a playable survival mode, Age of Darkness: Final Stand is already extremely polished, looks great, and thanks to the extremely active devs who regularly release updates and listen to player feedback, can only get better. Fun, compelling, and tough as nails, this is highly recommended and is guaranteed to have players coming back again and again. ■