Century: Age of Ashes Review: High-Intensity Action with the Trappings of a Typical Free-to-Play Game

I’ll be honest, this is a difficult article to write, because I’m not the target audience for this game. I tend to bounce pretty hard off of multiplayer games, especially of the free-to-play variety. I just want to pay $40-$60 for a game that contains all of its content and not have to deal with grinding during limited-time seasons against other players who are just plain better than me.

I bring this up at the beginning so that my complaints about this game have context. This game was not made for me.

Despite this, Century: Age of Ashes is one of the dragon games I was most looking forward to trying out when I kicked off this blog. Century is a free-to-play multiplayer dragon-riding arena battle game developed by Playwing Games. I went into this one with mixed expectations (due to the aforementioned reasons) but the gameplay looked so smooth and satisfying that I just couldn’t resist. Plus, dragons!

I started out playing on the Xbox One version and switched to PC at a later time, so this review will contain a bit of both platforms.

AGE OF ASHES

First impressions upon booting up the Xbox One version of Century weren’t great, as the animated cutscene introducing us to the world stuttered all the way through (fortunately, this wasn’t a problem that persisted through the actual game). You’re sort of introduced to the world and background conflicts, but most of the game’s lore is given through walls of text in the game’s menus. Unfortunately, like in most modern console games, the developers don’t seem to think it’s worthwhile to make text that is easily readable on a TV from five feet away.

The game takes place over a number of PvP gamemodes, including classic deathmatches, a gold-hoarding mode (very appropriate thematically), and a sort of capture-the-flag match. In each of these modes, various powerups spawn throughout the maps, such as shields, extra boosting power, or health pickups. Spoils of War, which involves collecting as much gold as possible and returning it to your base, has extra items that spawn during the match, like a bomb to blow up the enemy team’s coffers, or a gem that grants additional points to the team holding it at the end of the match. These bonus items help to break up the standard gameplay loop, making Spoils of War more interesting and my personal favorite game mode to play.

It’s my understanding that the dev team is working on a highly-requested PvE mode to be included in a future update, which I’m very much looking forward to.

THE DRAGONS

Currently, there are four playable classes in Century, each with their own unique species of dragon (technically speaking, wyverns, but we use dragons as a catch-all here, for simplicity’s sake). Three are available from the start, but the most recently added class, the Stormraiser, must be purchased. As far as I can tell, the dragons all control the same, with the only differences being aesthetics, health, and special abilities. All dragons have a basic fireball attack and a closer-range flame breath. Each class has a main ability, a passive ability, a berserk/rage mode ability, and an additional power that is selected from two options at the start of each match. The devs intend to keep adding classes in future updates, with the next due with the launch of Season 2 sometime later in October 2022. For now, here’s your options:

Bloodchaser – Marauder Class

The ultimate alpha predator, capable of smelling the scent of blood from the top of the mountains where it resides.

The Bloodchaser is dragon of choice for the Marauder class, and my personal favorite dragon design of the game. They’re the stockiest of the three free classes and just a beautiful example of a pretty classic dragon. Their thick head and large jaws definitely give off the appearance of a powerful hunter (though I lean more towards my dragons having lips as opposed to exposed teeth, which was likely the case for most dinosaurs).

Marauder’s are the tankiest class in the game, built almost entirely for killing. Their powers focus on dealing damage efficiently and slowing enemies with frost bolts, though you can go for a slightly more defensive build with the Gust ability which allows you to repel incoming fireballs. It’s an all-around good class to play, especially when starting out, since you can pretty much focus on hunting down enemies.

Ironwing – Winguard Class

It is said that seeing them in nature brings good fortune.
They rescue the brave in the darkest hours.

The Ironwing is a dragon obviously built for speed and maneuverability, with it’s smaller head, longer neck, and finned tail. It’s a bit sleeker than the Bloodchaser, with a bit less vicious nature and a lower tolerance for combat. Aesthetically speaking, this dragon falls just behind the Bloodchaser for me; overall it’s a strong design, though I feel like it’s blunter face makes it look a bit, I dunno, goblin-y? Which turns me off a bit.

That said, the Windguard became my most used class. This surprised me because it’s the game’s main support class, with abilities that heal, protect, and augment other players. The Windguard’s main ability is her Salvation Surge, which sends you careening across the map to heal and shield an ally player (I found this also incredibly useful for quick getaways). Otherwise, her Smoke Trail ability is fun and highly useful. I found this class to be the most all-around enjoyable and satisfying class to play because you can still hold your own in combat, while providing some valuable support to your teammates.

Nightsnagger – Phantom Class

A stealthy and terrifying creature.
Those whom she spares eternally fall into madness.

The Nightsnagger takes last place on my list of preferred Century dragons; I just am not a fan of bony, frail-looking, emaciated dragons. I like my dragons with a bit more meat and muscle on them. Overall its design is fine. It’s spiky and evil looking, and it does sell the concept of its class very well. It’s almost spectral in a way. Ok, maybe I do appreciate it more than I thought. But again, and I’m just noticing this as I write, why does its head also look like a goblin?

The Phantom class also ranks last for me personally, but a well-played Phantom is definitely a force to be reckoned with. It’s physically the weakest class in the game, with the lowest health, but its strengths lie in its stealth and sneakiness. The Mystic Shroud ability allows the player to go invisible for a short period (crucial for when someone is tailing you), and your first fireball from this stealth mode is more powerful. They also have the ability to drop mines to blow up unsuspecting enemies. I didn’t play the Phantom much – I struggled with using its abilities effectively – but I was taken out many times by a Phantom player.

Stonesnout – Stormraiser Class

With their burly physique, such dragon could crush an adventurer’s skull in a single blow. Don’t leave unattended.

The most recent dragon (and first class requiring purchase) added to the game, the Stonesnout is a drastically different design from the other existing dragons. It’s much thicker in the chest and neck, with a huge rhino-like horn on its snout. The number of straps around its neck definitely give it a bit of a barely-controlled beast vibe; it’s truly a fearsome opponent.

I didn’t go up against many Stormraisers, and have not purchased or played the class myself. It doesn’t seem like very much of the playerbase has either. And honestly, every time one showed up on the enemy team, I found they were quite annoying to play against, with their Chain Lightning ability that rocks your whole screen, and their Blinding Wave that does exactly what’s on the label. Playing against them isn’t so bad to be rage-inducing, but could be a bit frustrating.

The dragons in Century are beautiful well-designed in my opinion, with a diverse range of colors and appearances across all the available skins (see below for an assortment of skins I’ve earned). I only wish there was a more quality photo mode in the game so that I could admire them even better outside of menus or attempting to snag lucky screenshots during matches! The best we get is the “Overview” option when customizing your classes, but that’s limited to a dragon and rider stationary on a cliffside. I’d love to be able to turn off the HUD (if there’s an option for this, I couldn’t find it for the life of me) during free flight mode, just to enjoy admiring my hard-earned dragons.

GAMEPLAY

The gameplay is where Century truly shines. This may be one of the first games I’ve played that straight up feels like you’re playing an action movie. Flight and combat is fast-paced, intense, sometimes nerve-wracking, and at times frustrating. But I legitimately had more than one occasion of jumping off the couch and yelling because I pulled out of an extremely tense moment. The way your dragon dashes around the map is viscerally satisfying and the devs were successful in making their dragons feel like huge, strong beasts with their powerful wingstrokes and whipping tails. The animations can get a bit wonky if you’re swiping quickly back and forth, but otherwise his is the most fun I’ve had in a long time when it comes to purely controlling a dragon.

The high-intensity action is unfortunately difficult to capture well in a low-res, low framerate gif.

The level design is strong; every map has a plethora of nooks and caves and ruins to dive through while in pursuit or while being pursued. And the powerups scattered around the levels encourage some degree of exploration. There’s a bit of resource management in play as well: you’ll spend a good bit of time boosting around the map at full speed, but that requires a careful balance of picking up boost powerups, or navigating to specific sections of the map to recharge your boosting abilities.

Level design is varied and interesting. Having a good knowledge of the maps will serve you well.

On the negative/nitpicky side: with all the intricate level design, I’d love the ability to stop and land, or to grab onto the sides of cliffs as a defensive/strategic measure. With the main gameplay loop being so focused on speed and agility, this could possibly open up some interesting gameplay variety. I’ve seen players try to pull something like this off anyway by hiding in a corner of a cave and hovering in place, or by flying directly into walls to cause your pursuer to do the same. I’m also starting to feel at this point that I’d like a few more maps to play on, but I think we can expect more with future updates.

As mentioned before, the dragons themselves have good visual variety, but I wish there was a bit more customization in terms in dragon/class abilities. Not so much between classes, but I wouldn’t mind some extra options when choosing your abilities, even if these were locked behind leveling up or otherwise acquiring them.

You can get new dragons in a few ways: hatching dragon eggs, or purchasing adult dragons in the Dragon Pass or in the store. You’re given three free eggs right off the bat, one for each of the free classes. After hatching them, you must complete a series of simple quests (such as achieving X number of kills and so on) to grow your dragon into adulthood. First of all, the baby dragons are adorable and I want more of them. I also felt more invested in the dragons I had “raised” than any ones I’d purchased from the shop/Dragon Pass. Now the only way to get new eggs is to grind enough silver coins to buy one of the few available on rotation in the store (or purchase them with gems, the real-money currency), and then you have to grind more to hatch and raise it, which soured the experience a bit. Overall I like the egg hatching mechanic much more than just buying dragons, but I don’t like how much of a grind it is to get an egg and then get it to adulthood.

So stinkin’ cute!

A few short notes on the differences between the Xbox One version and the PC version: it plays and looks better on PC, unsurprisingly. I’ve seen a bit of an argument within the playerbase that PC players don’t have an inherent advantage while using mouse and keyboard with the ability to change your mouse sensitivity. Having put some time in on both systems, I have to say that’s a load of BS because I was almost immediately a noticeably better player when I swapped off console. I found I could turn way faster and more easily keep enemies in sight than I could while using a controller. The Xbox One version is also disappointingly low-resolution when compared to PC. I’m not sure how this compares to current-gen consoles, but I noticed a lot of texture pop-in, and the carrier dragons in the Spoils of War gamemode were so low-poly they looked like they could belong in the PS2-era. The game is prone to crashing on both versions, moreso on Xbox, and I saw various visual bugs and glitches on both. But I never felt like it was unplayable either way, and the Xbox One version is perfectly serviceable if that’s what you have.

MONETIZATION

The Dragon Pass is Century’s solution to monetizing the game.

So I want to reiterate the point I made at the beginning of this article: I am not a good target for free-to-play games. I am not what one might call, a “whale.” I spent a whopping five US dollars on this game, just to get enough gems to unlock the Dragon Pass so that I could say I could.

Alright, I’ve mentioned it a few times, so, what is the Dragon Pass system in Century: Age of Ashes? Added along with the start of Season One, Dragon Pass appears to be the game’s take on the monetization aspect of free-to-play games. All items in the pass, which range from new dragons and dragon armor, to customization options for your rider and profile, can be purchased with stars earned from leveling up. And you can even buy a limited amount of items without putting any actual money into the game. However, the vast majority of items require you to buy the premium pass before using your earned stars.

The Dragon Pass is separated into a number of tiers, with various rewards spread across them. You can reach higher tiers by purchasing a certain number of lower tier items first, or by leveling. Somehow I missed this fact at first, so I spent all my stars on various lower-tier items I didn’t really want to try and unlock the higher ones. Eventually I realized and grinded it out until level 20, only to learn that the dragon I wanted, being the highest reward for that specific tier, required purchasing all other items on that tier. So back to grinding to get enough stars to get even more items I didn’t want, or couldn’t even use. Because, you see, some of those items are class-specific armor and weapons which might not be for the class I primarily use, and some of them are even for the class that I don’t even own (the one that requires actual money, or 20k silver coins).

It’s my understanding that you need to reach level 100 to purchase all items in the pass, including the bonus tier items.

I felt like this monetization scheme was pretty unfair at first, but my opinion did shift a bit when I picked the game up again on PC about a month later. I’d binged pretty hard for a few days when I first picked the game up and wasn’t completing any more daily and weekly quests, which ground my XP gain to a halt. But with Season One still ongoing when I returned to the game, I was able to level up enough over the course of a few days to get the second dragon I really wanted from the pass, and I still have a while to go if I want (with Season One not ending until sometime in mid-October). So, even if it’s still a bit of a grind, it seems like there’s plenty of time for most players to get at least some good rewards from the pass.

Otherwise, antsy players are welcome to spend real-world currency on gems to buy new dragons, armor, etc. in the shop. I’m in no way opposed to throwing down $60 or so, as if I’d paid for a full price game. But most dragons in the shop are $15-$25 worth of gems for a dragon, an armor set, and a weapon for your rider. I’m going to hit that $60 limit pretty quick. And I’m sure each new season is going to be bringing shiny new classes and dragons to tempt players with. Some shop options are available for purchase with silver coins, which you earn from gameplay, but those are also quite expensive and you’re much more limited in your options.

Even on sale, I feel the shop prices are too high when you already have to purchase the battle pass each season.

Overall, I find the Dragon Pass system confusing with too many layers. I like hatching eggs more than buying adult dragons, but it feels entirely too grindy under the current system. This season’s pass is also heavily weighted towards the new class; most skins and rider customization options are for the Stormraiser, leaving those of us who like other classes a bit in the dust. I feel like one of Century’s biggest issues is not being new-player friendly. There’s not enough drip-fed content to keep new players interested, and monetization aspect is a bit too confusing at first. There’s already a very small player base post launch; as of August 31st, 2022, the game had an average player count of approximately 175 on Steam, peaking at 312 for the month. Season One launched in July which brought an large influx of new players, but the player base (at least on Steam) dropped over 30% by August.

I don’t have much experience with free-to-play games, so I don’t have a great basis for comparison for Century’s monetization scheme. And I don’t know enough of the behind-the-scenes numbers to know if this game is profitable for Playwing at this point. But despite some really fun, unique, intense gameplay perfect for dragon lovers, I just don’t think new players have much incentive to stick around long, especially when the small player base results in a bunch of highly skilled users that stomp newcomers right off the bat. I can see myself picking this game back up occasionally to fulfill that high-intensity dragon dogfighting urge, but I tend to lose interest after I’ve done a lot of grinding in a short period of time. That said, it’s free, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you love high-intensity dragon gameplay. Maybe the free-to-play model will work out better for the devs in the long run, but I can’t help but be left wishing that Century: Age of Ashes was simply a polished single player experience at a good price point.

Century: Age of Ashes is currently available on PC and Xbox platforms. Playstation releases are incoming, hopefully by the launch of the next season.

3 Comments

  1. Duple Dragon says:

    Hi! Just noticed you follow my twitter account, and my interest was piqued by your twitter handle, so I had to come see what your blog was about.

    Wow! I’m super impressed by the in depth analysis you wrote here, and the length you went to get good screenshots for what you we’re discussing.

    Wish I would see quality game reviews like this more often out in the world. Have you done other writing projects? You’re a great writer.

    -Souren

    Like

    1. Kendra C. says:

      Thanks so much for the comment and the kind words! I hope to do some more broader analyses outside of game reviews as well. I haven’t done much writing outside of school and for fun, but I’ve always enjoyed it and got good grades on papers. 😂

      Like

  2. Mixed Emoticon says:

    Thank you for bringing this game to my attention! I’ve been enjoying it a lot since discovering it.

    Like

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s