Age of Fear 3: The Legend harkens back to 90s era turn-based strategy games with the added benefit of more modern AI. Though combat is really the main focus of the game, adventurers can choose from two narratives: a dryad sorceress or the drunken adventures of a dwarf lord. As a fan of both Tolkien and the occasional good ale, I chose the path of the dwarves, one of whom is even named Gimli in an apparent reference to a dwarf of the same name from The Lord of the Rings. The developers clearly designed Age of Fear 3 as a sort of tongue-in-cheek homage to the high fantasy genre itself. This approach might be a little hit and miss for most players, but the combat and other RPG elements provide enough strategic essentials to make it a decent challenge for casual players, and the AI along with other RPG elements adds enough depth to draw some interest for more advanced strategy fans seeking something fun without a huge time investment.
Each tale plays out largely through pages of text that appears between battles, followed by some dialogue between characters displayed using the tried and true dialogue boxes of yore. There is also some in-battle dialogue using the same boxes. The setup perfectly fits the retro style of the game. Unfortunately, the writing too often falls as flat as the dialogue boxes. The characters and story felt rather generic and often not very compelling. The tone was also inconsistent, with words like “noob” and a rather unanticipated reference to Twilight sprinkled in with uses of the word “ye” and other old-sounding English terms. Obviously, the attitude is meant to be light and a mixing of tones is fine for comedic effect, but given the general weakness of the storytelling, it only made me feel like very little time was placed on the narrative. I too often just wanted to move on to the next battle, and the story sort of felt like it was only there to give me some sense of progress rather than a memorable adventure.
Of course, the combat system is the real focus of Age of Fear 3. The game boasts clever AI and a movement system that allows units to manoeuvre within a parameter rather than in squared off sections or set directions. Indeed, the AI proved clever enough to target my weaker characters, even moving past stronger ones to get to them. It would mob my more robust characters, move away when it could sense I was setting up for a major attack, and even target my spellcasters or units with ranged weapons to get them out of the way first. I was constantly forced to think ahead and be very aware of where all of my units stood at any given time.
Since each unit can only take one action per turn, even moving was a major decision. I could, for instance, move my spellcaster to get him out of the way of an enemy unit poised to attack or use him to cast a spell that would help simultaneously take out multiple enemy units currently surrounding my weaker guys – but I can’t do both. Since my spellcaster had low health, this was a dire decision. In the beginning, the only way out was to try again, and this time be more careful about how I arranged my units on the battlefield, making sure to protract my weaker units and better anticipate my enemies’ movements. The ability to move a unit in any direction within a certain range is great, but I would also sometimes arrange units in a pattern that would end up blocking another unit’s movement in a way I did not anticipate. Turn-by-turn movement is a little frustrating. It seems obvious why it eventually fell out of style. However, it also adds to the overall difficulty, making the battlefield more like a game of chess than simply a challenge of might.
As your units fight their way toward victory, they will collect gold that you can use to purchase items or hire new units, as well as collecting experience points that can be used to upgrade your characters. For example, I could use my XP to give one unit more health or give my spellcaster the ability to use a turn to restore some of their magic. I can use my gold to buy new weapons, purchase potions to heal or alleviate poison, and even obtain rings that up my abilities or help protect me from harm. Anyone familiar with older RPGs such as Final Fantasy will be familiar with this type of system. Since units, aside from your two main characters, can permanently die, it also means keeping them alive and being able to use a character long-term requires mastering or at least becoming very familiar with this system.
Age of Fear 3: The Legend is clearly a work of love for a genre that had its heyday in a bygone era of gaming. However, modern strategy-based RPGs are still alive and well, if not necessarily making up much of the AAA market. For fans of the genre, Age of Fear 3 might not quite stand out among the crowd. It is, however, a pretty good trip down the road of nostalgia for those who miss the turn-based era and are looking for a new trip down memory lane. Tabletop strategy fans might enjoy the experience as well. The story might not stick with you, but the battles are fun and engaging enough to keep you on your toes. The upgrades and items systems add enough extra depth to make up (sort of) for what the story lacks. And, if nothing else, just grab a good ole glass of dwarfish ale, kick back, and see where the road takes you.