As someone who’s waited in a really small line to grab a launch PlayStation 3 and dragon-back action lair, you could say that any talk of flying scaly wyrms fighting in a video game bristles at the times my scales and ignites my curiosity. After spending some preview time with Century: Age of Ashes, I’m once again optimistic that monster battles in the air don’t have to be just fancy takeoffs.
Century is a third-person multiplayer shooter that looks more like Ace Combat than Panzer Dragoon at first. Teams of three or six racers take to the skies to burn and detonate their enemies in order to get kills and objectives on a handful of maps and game modes. Before I did all of that, however, I had to move on. through tutorial mode, which does a great job of teaching you the many technical aspects of flight, as well as offensive and defensive maneuvers to dominate your airspace. I learned my keyboard controls first, but quickly switched to an Xbox controller with no downtime needed to readjust to the new layout.
Skip the tutorial at your own risk. Learning how to move your dragon is easy enough to figure out, but the trick to regaining lost stamina, for example, is a less obvious basic mechanic that you aren’t likely to stumble upon. The tutorial also gives you plenty of opportunities to learn how to shoot opponents, both in ball and tap form. Your fireballs act almost like bullets, automatically locking onto a target within range, so you can pepper them safely. Getting close always opens the Flame Breath option, which extinguishes your prey in a constant drop of flames that quickly depletes their health. In combination I found this to be my usual open / close. The auto-lock feature is welcome, as it puts less strain on you for quick reflexes and aiming, and more emphasis on positioning and maneuvering into and out of danger.
Classes include the damage-focused Marauder and Stealth Assassin Phantom.
This all heats up further when you factor in the classes of horsemen, their powers and abilities. Classes include the damage-focused Marauder and Stealth Assassin Phantom, but I liked the Windguard, a support-style class that can rush to rescue allies and protect them, or obscure you and team up with a trail. of smoke like a Bond gadget. Powers and abilities are skills that you must activate, but while the powers are static and entirely unique to the rider, you have a choice of a pair of abilities that you can roll into battle with, and some of those abilities are options shared between more than one class of riders. In that closed test, that meant that Marauder and Phantoms both shared an ability, and in a game with so little ability to go through at this point in development, that really didn’t help these two classes feel very different. ‘one from the other.
With the training wheels off, the Playwing team introduced me to the Rookie Skirmish 3v3 game mode. This is a best of three round deathmatch, but your additional skills gradually unlock over the course of each round. If a game reaches the final round, each player will have their complete kit at their disposal. It was an interesting way to relax in the sometimes chaotic combat, but potentially not even winning or losing at full power, is a bummer.
The Spoils of War mode was where player skills, map knowledge, and team balance all came together into a tactical and rewarding experience that stands out.
After a Rookie round or two, Playwing brought in a few heavy hitters from their QA team to join us for what would be my favorite mode of the entire demo, Spoils of War. In it, two teams of six dragon trees fight to accumulate gold from neutral loot dragons flying around a vast map. Every few minutes, new sub-objectives appear that make it easier to collect your horde or threaten it entirely. Maybe it’s suddenly locked and a floating NPC is carrying a key that you need to collect and return to your base to unlock it. A bomb could appear, and the team that can successfully secure it and bring it to the enemy horde will detonate it, spilling tons of gold into the air, ripe for theft. These kept the game tense for the duration of a turn, and this is where player skills, map knowledge, and team balance all coalesced into a tactical experience and rewarding that stands out among the free shooter offerings available nowadays.
When Age of Ashes launches on December 2, it will launch with a market brimming with cosmetics for your Horseman and Dragon available for purchase with real money or in-game currency earned by completing Daily Missions and weekly. Perhaps the most curious thing to tackle between matches is hatching dragon eggs and breeding new dragons. If you are lucky enough to receive a Dragon Egg as a reward after battle, you can equip it and complete its list of “Growth Stages” missions in order to raise it to adulthood. It’s an interesting, if not a little tedious, way to now earn research for your Scaly Mount.
If you’ve been burned by dragon fights in the past, or just looking for a new, original multiplayer shooter to kick off your winter, Century: Age of Ashes might be worth taking a full-scale tour. Its narrow offerings in terms of classes and abilities can make teams quite similar over time, but its Stellar War Booty adds enough frenzied objective chases that will surely keep the interest of adventurous action game fans out. looking for a new challenge.