As the free-to-play format has grown over the years, it’s become full of games that might be well-meaning but ultimately still either end up feeling like knock-offs of the big guys or just don’t have enough going for them to really stay on players’ minds. It’s really only a handful of games every few years that end up making the kind of splash they really need to, in order to sustain a healthy, long-term community and thus ensure their own longevity. While only time will truly be able to tell us whether or not Century: Age of Ashes has the ability to really stick, at this early stage of the game’s life, it does seem to have enough going for it in terms of vigorous gameplay, addictive systems, and a meaningful sense of identity to at least have a substantial shot at being a thing.
"While only time will truly be able to tell us whether or not Century: Age of Ashes has the ability to really stick, at this early stage of the game’s life, it does seem to have enough going for it in terms of vigorous gameplay, addictive systems, and a meaningful sense of identity to at least have a substantial shot at being a thing."
At first, it seems that what you have with Century: Age of Ashes is a traditional aerial dogfighting game that just plops dragons and a fantasy setting into the slots where you would normally see fighter jets and modern warzones. While that might still ring true after getting to know it better, it does quickly become apparent that developer Playwing has gone out of their way in a number key of areas to really make it feel like more than that. Age of Ashes wastes little time before getting you into the action. After a brief but necessary tutorial, you then start down a road of different modes becoming available to you as you level up and progress, and the process is paced out quite well as I found new interesting elements of the game making themselves known right about when I was naturally starting to look for them.
The 3v3 rookie mode is first up, and it offers a simpler version of the 6v6 carnage mode to get your feet wet. Mastering the ins and outs of the game’s three classes is paramount, so you might as well get that done first. The healing and illusive windguards, stealthy yet powerful phantoms, and the well-rounded assault Marauder class all feel like meaningful additions that complement each other well without falling too far into the familiar class tropes that so many free-to-play multiplayer game characters do. Getting to know all of their passive abilities, active attacks, and unique rage powers is quite the thrill, as none of them made me feel like I wanted to go back to some comfort zone. That said, I did find the cloaking abilities mixed with the high damage attacks of the phantom perhaps made it a tad OP, but not by so much that a well-balanced opposing team couldn’t still give me plenty of trouble – and that is a good sign that the game has been through a lot of testing and adjustments. Overall, I’d say each of the three classes are well-balanced and leave little room for further tweaking. This makes me all the more curious about what the mysterious future fourth class that the game’s main screen hints at might bring to the table.
Much like the classes, I’d say the three primary game modes are also a nice mix of ideas. The 6v6 carnage mode – which is essentially a basic death match – might feel like the main pillar of them all to some, but I think I enjoyed the Spoils of War most. In this mode, players are scrambling to acquire gold from NPC dragons as well as opposing players and bank it in their nest. Protecting the nest while making sure more gold is being brought in to maintain your lead is a fun back and forth than can flip the dynamics of any match on a dime.
"Much like the classes, I’d say the three primary game modes are also a nice mix of ideas."
On top of that, there’s Gates of Fire which ultimately functions as a slight spin on “capture the flag”. Here, you can fly through multiple gates while holding the flag to keep racking up the score for your team, but of course the more you do that, the more of a target you become. The matches here can turn around quickly as well if either team slips up too badly. Having helpful items like armor and stamina boosts scattered around the maps also help keep things interesting. Unlike the variety of modes, however, the maps themselves all bleed together a bit for me. An effort was clearly made to give them all a different feel in terms of their arrangement of objects, but there’s really only so many ways you can rearrange the same-looking rock formations. Some more variety here either with different weather or times of day for the maps – if not just different types of locals altogether – would have really gone a long way. But as it stands, map variety is probably the game’s weakest point at the moment.
Thankfully the game doesn’t just leave you hanging when it comes to different metrics to build on and things to work toward. Customizations for your rider and your dragon are just interesting enough to be worth tinkering with, although I never came across any one piece of clothing or armor that really made me feel like I had a particularly unique look. However, I did get a nice sense of progression and meaning out of acquiring dragon eggs, hatching them, and accomplishing various “growth steps” so they would grow into an adult that I could actually ride into battle. The growth steps themselves are little more than generic tasks to accomplish in matches – usually, along the lines of “killing x number of enemies in y fashion” and they don’t really make a lot of sense in the context of raising a baby dragon to an adult, but they do give you something to work toward that isn’t just different colored helmets and saddles. Hopefully the variety of dragon types can continue to be iterated upon because I think this is where most of the potential for expressing yourself seems to lie. It’s also important to note that the game’s many available in-game purchases – including other dragons – are cosmetic only.
Given that games with 360 degrees of movement can so easily slip into complete disarray, the moment-to-moment gameplay of Century: Age of Ashes is where they really needed to get it right and it seems like Playwing was very aware of that. The game is smooth and responsive all while still keeping the feeling of controlling a giant flying monster at the forefront of the experience. Being able to brake in mid-air to slow down and take sharper turns is great, as is the ability to utilize a soft-locked close-range fire breathing attack that ensures you have options at all times in battle. The locking on for ranged weapons is similarly soft and feels just right to me in terms of giving me the right sized window to land shots on enemies while evading theirs. That’s not to say I don’t think there are some spots where the gameplay could further be improved though. Smoothing over some of the collision detections of various surfaces – especially in tight corridors and tunnels – could be a tad more liberal as these areas can become a mess if not navigated 100% perfectly, and I would have also appreciated less of my screen covered up by the dragon’s more flamboyant animations – especially when suddenly changing direction as I’m trying to evade enemy fire. As much as I like how the dragons look, I still think seeing as much of the battlefield as possible is more important.
"Century: Age of Ashes is a game that has the benefit of sharing some great gameplay ideas from other genres, yet also manages to use enough of its own twists to feel like its own thing and carve out its own lane."
The epic music that accompanies the menu screens as well as the final moments of battle really sell the overall tone of the game. The soundtrack falls short of the fantasy movies and TV shows it seems inspired by, but not by much. More importantly though, it fits the game’s visuals and action about as well as you could expect.
Century: Age of Ashes is a game that has the benefit of sharing some great gameplay ideas from other genres, yet also manages to use enough of its own twists to feel like its own thing and carve out its own lane. This is a rarity in the free-to-play world. It also has several layers of extra effort put into its gorgeous graphics, tight gameplay, and fun progression that greatly enhance the overall experience. The lack of variety in a couple key areas and some mildly annoying sections of the maps do hold it back some, but not nearly enough to keep it from being a game that you should absolutely try.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Gorgeous graphics; Great sound design; Well-balanced gameplay; Fun combat.
Variety in cosmetics and maps is notably lacking; Dragons can take up too much of the screen at times.