When the trailer for Century: Age of Ashes premiered at The Game Awards in December, I was blown away. Dragon riding games have enchanted me going all the way back to Panzer Dragoon on the Sega Dreamcast. There’s an incredible power fantasy inherent to taming and riding a beast of impossible power. Plus, dragons are fucking awesome.
Century: Age of Ashes is the second title from indie studio Playwing Games. Playwing ran a closed beta for Century ahead of the Early Access launch later this month. After spending a dozen hours with this team-based dragon fighting game, I’m already convinced it’s a winner. I’m not totally sold on some of the meta-progression systems, and I think there are some collision issues that need to be worked out, but overall, it’s exactly what I wanted. The controls are tight, the competition is fierce, and yes, you get to hatch eggs and collect tons and tons of dragons.
Century controls like a dream. It’s really a make-or-break thing for a competitive dragon-riding game, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that controlling your dragons feels fantastic once you get the hang of it. The learning curve is pretty steep, so you should fully expect to get demolished in your first dozen matches (or more). But once you understand the fundamentals of managing stamina, tracking targets, and juking opponents, Century controls exceptionally well. The dragons are absurdly fast but equally agile, just as you would expect. Environmental objects like jet streams and air vents can help you reposition even quicker as you weave in and out of structures and around pillars to try to get into advantageous positions. The game does such a good job of balancing the speed of the dragons with the size and shape of the map. There were only two maps available in the beta, so hopefully, the rest of the maps are as good as these.
The only real gripe I have about the controls is the collision. When you run into walls, you take damage and get disoriented — as you should — but the interaction feels less like an intended balance decision and more like the game engine totally freaking out. Your camera goes nuts as your dragon bounces around wildly. If you clip the wall in a tight corridor, your best bet is to just hold the boost and hope for the best because there’s no way to regain control. I would much prefer if the dragon would just cling to the wall temporarily when you collide with it rather than bounce off of it. This is the only time when riding the dragon feels like driving a Mario Kart, and it’s not good.
The combat in Century is more engaging than I expected, in part thanks to its unique take on the class system. The beta included three unique classes that each have a very different playstyle. The Windguard is a support class capable of targeting teammates and rushing to their defense ala Overwatch’s Mercy to provide a health boost before spraying a stream of green smoke behind them to quickly get away. This class is meant to be played defensively and requires a lot of team awareness. Meanwhile, the Phantom class has the ability to turn invisible, sneak up behind enemies, and hit them with a devastating shockwave. This is an assassin class that is particularly good at finishing off weak opponents. The third class, the Marauder, can target enemies for quick, sustained damage, and also has access to an instant cast anti-fireball ability. This class is meant for brawling out in the open. Each class has a choice between a pair of abilities, making character customization even deeper. There is at least one more class coming soon, and I hope new classes come regularly.
Each of the game modes represents an evolution to standard FPS modes like capture the flag and team deathmatch. The standard TDM mode has a number of interesting wrinkles, including the occasional spawning of a one-hit-kill ability called the Drakepiercer, and a special NPC dragon that gives whoever kills it several seconds of berserker rage for extra-strong hits. Capture The Flag only awards points when the flag carrier flies through gates scattered around the map, which leads to some really exciting chases. There is a single-elimination game mode called Survival, but it wasn’t available in the beta.
The microtransactions are driven by the cosmetics, which I’m already salivating over. There are 11 gear slots between your dragon and rider, and every piece of armor you buy or earn is specific to one class. Every time you level up, you’ll get some combination of armor and currency, which you can use in the shop to buy specific gear. You’ll also occasionally earn dragon eggs, which will hatch after you’ve earned enough XP. New dragons seem to be color swaps, but I’ve seen a few with patterns so unique they actually did look like different dragons.
There are weekly missions to complete for additional XP, as well as daily missions that reward keys. Once a week, you can open a reward chest with your keys., The more keys you’ve earned throughout the week, the better your chances are of earning rare items. The card game Runeterra uses this system, as does World of Warcraft, but I’ve never seen it used in a shooter-type game before. My first daily was way too hard, and missing one key locks you out of the best rewards, including a dragon egg. That doesn’t feel great.
I love a competitive game with a high skill ceiling because it feels like no matter how long you’ve played, there’s always more to learn. Century absolutely feels like that kind of game, but it’s also a lot of fun to play even if you’re bad at it. Chasing (and being chased) through the rubble of an ancient sea-side castle, diving low and skimming the ocean to recover stamina, and unleashing a wave of hellfire on your enemies is a great time. One of my favorite techniques I’ve found is to soar straight up into the air to watch the battle from above and wait for an enemy dragon to try to limp away from the fight. The quick pace of the rounds and pulse-pumping score make each skirmish exciting. I primarily played one game mode on one map for a dozen hours and it never got old. If Playwing can continuously add new classes, new maps, and new cosmetics, I can easily see Century: Age of Ashes maintaining a dedicated player base for years to come.
Century: Age of Ashes launches on Steam in Early Access later this month. Wishlist Century today by following this link to get notified when the game goes on sale.
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Eric Switzer is the Livestream News Editor for TheGamer as well as the lead for VR and Tech. He has written about comics and film for Bloody Disgusting and VFXwire. He is a graduate of University of Missouri – Columbia and Vancouver Film School. Eric loves board games, fan conventions, new technology, and his sweet sweet kitties Bruce and Babs. Favorite games include Destiny 2, Kingdom Hearts, Super Metroid, and Prey…but mostly Prey. His favorite Pokémon is Umbreon.
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