Rise and Shiny recap: Golden Age

Golden Age screenshot
I tend to think of myself as a connoisseur of MMORTS games. If you are not familiar with the genre, imagine an MMO that plays like a city-building sim combined with open warfare and sometimes trade. There are a lot of these titles out there, maybe a lot more than in other genres, and the popularity of the MMORTS seems to be growing. Every week I read about a new one or try a new one out. They are usually browser-based, so it's very possible that this low barrier to production allows for such mass production.

Usually I play one and my love affair with it hardly gets off the ground. Generally I find much of the same design and gameplay I have found in dozens of titles. Sure, there are some subtle differences, but overall the gems in this category are few and far between.

This week I tasked myself with playing Golden Age, the new MMORTS published by Aeria Games. Was it the same as every other one I've played before? Click past the cut and find out.

Golden Age
At first glance, Golden Age is the same game I have played before but with different graphics. It even features helpful pop-ups that are so easy to follow you could literally avoid reading a single word in the help text and just click your way through it all. This isn't complicated stuff: build up your resources, (your resources are the "fuel" for building), amass an army, fight stuff. The typical assortment of MMORTS-genre bits is evident in Golden Age as soon as you log in. In other words, I've played this game a few dozen times before.

Or have I? Wait a second, why am I now inside a side-scrolling town with other players? That's right, this MMORTS also allows players to go to a public area with other players to gather materials, sell items, and obtain quests. Granted, many of the other MMORTS games I have played have a similar mechanic, but quests and information are handed to players while they are inside their own towns. In Ministry of War, for example, I went to a war room to send off troops, and I had a personal set of assistants who would help me along. So really, the only difference is that in Golden Age, I appear in a town with other players instead of never leaving my own city. It's a small difference but a refreshing change. It was cool to see other players, many of them who looked as though they had customized their outfits and weapons, walking around and chatting with me. It was more like a standard 3-D MMO experience had been combined with this MMORTS. A gimmick? Possibly, but it was nice.

Also, the game is well-made and looks great. It runs in Flash, but it does run smoothly. Extra points go to the developers for including some basic graphics options, including one that fits the game perfectly to my laptop's resolution (a common one of 1366x768). There are a lot of the flashing, slightly annoying buttons that you will find in many of these newer MMORTS games, including prizes boxes and daily quests. The flashing becomes only so much background noise after a while, but it still feels a bit cheap. Otherwise the UI is easy to follow, full of information and generally easy to understand. I spent most of my time just burning through daily quests that are leading me down an obvious path of generic success, but as with most games in this genre, you have to become very specific in your goals or risk spreading yourself too thin.

"The funny thing is that I can see a lot mechanics in Golden Age that are similar to those in other games. Any fan of the MMORTS has seen these mechanics hundreds of times."

Unfortunately my time with the game was cut a bit short when the closed beta switched over to the open beta. I lost an entire day and a half. Luckily it took no time to get back to the point I was before. The funny thing is that I can see a lot mechanics in Golden Age that are similar to those in other games. Any fan of the MMORTS has seen these mechanics hundreds of times. What makes a game stand out from the others is sometimes indescribable and sometimes obvious. For a game like Illyriad, for example, the spectacular community and cool, hand-drawn "old map" feel of the game makes it stand out for me. And although I do not play it anymore, Ministry of War stood out for its sheer size and scale -- that game is huge!

So what is it about Golden Age that seems different? Well, besides the obvious town areas that allow for real-time socializing making it closer to a "standard" MMO than others, it's hard to say. There's something there, though; I can feel it. I like the fact that the town plots are already pre-planned for me. While I enjoy placing buildings where I want, I almost inevitably place them and later want to change them around. So it's nice to have the game tell you where to put the buildings. The world seems very large, massive even, but I haven't yet experienced trade to see how that applies to such a large area.

The combat is not really unique as much as it feels unique. You form an army and can go through what are essentially instanced dungeon adventures. These adventures are broken into tiers so that an army can take a rest and come back to the dungeon later. The combat can be viewed in a turn-based simplistic battle that looks essentially like two sets of stats clashing, or you can see the battle results immediately. Either way, I enjoyed the art style and ability to take a break in the middle of a massive campaign. Sometimes you just need to take a break. It also helps that I get more excited about some 2-D card battle with tons of things to tweak than I do about any massive 3-D client. I absolutely love it when a game makes me feel as though there is an entire world in my laptop, waiting to be explored. The board-game-like qualities of an MMORTS gives me that "epic" feeling. Not all of them do, but some do. Golden Age seems like it might just work out that way.

I'll need to play more, period. I lost a day and a half of my standard five days or 10 to 15 hours of playtime, so I'll keep it in my bookmarks and keep up with my city. The game looks good, offers choices for gameplay, and is certainly easy to get started in. The goals of the game seem pretty open, which I like, but there seems to be some linear path to follow as well. That's new in a genre that is normally very sandbox.

Next week I will be look at Warrior's Saga, a game I stumbled across on the front page of this very site. Join me in game!

Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email! You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook!
This article was originally published on Massively.