Preview: From a Solar Empire to the Sins of a Dark Age

7:00 PM on 03.17.2012

Daniel Starkey

PC Contributor

I sat down with some people from Ironclad Games earlier today to discuss their new fantasy real-time strategy game, Sins of a Dark Age. After getting a good look at almost an hour of actual play, I can firmly and resolutely say that it is not a MOBA clone.

Sins of a Dark Age is a forthcoming "hero and commander strategy" game from Ironclad. The project is an attempt to fuse the MOBA and RTS genres by having four players on each team take up the role of a hero (à la League of Legends, Defense of the Ancients, etc.) and another player working as a commander, doing typical RTS stuff (i.e. gathering resources, building a base and units, etc.).

The commander also has global powers that can have an enormous effect on the field. These powers can be anything from turning large swaths of the enemy army into spiders or summoning massive dragons to tear them apart.

Sins of a Dark Age (PC)
Developer: Ironclad Games
Publisher: Infinite Game Publishing
Release: 2012

A lot of the media out there about SoaDA is wrong. That's not PR spin, either. The game is a very different animal than either pure MOBA or RTS. I previously covered a few of the strategies that Ironclad is using to fix the glaring and apparently intrinsic flaw of the swarm of DotA clones: atrocious communities.

The team is planning to encourage experienced players to help out new ones by having them join losing games if someone rage quits, and giving community-based recommendations for the best items and builds based on what the current state of the meta-game is. It is all designed to be more open and inviting to players that have been turned away from other MOBAs (like myself).

Stylistically, Dark Age pulls away from its more cartoon-y semi cel-shaded counterparts. Drawing inspiration from surrealistic work, SoaDA has a myriad of truly varied playable characters -- more than just the smorgasbord of humanoid playables from other games. There are four-armed dudes, cave spider queens, and ridiculous snake-man creatures. All in a visually striking package. 

The total package reminded me of an artful patchwork of Age of Mythology, Rise of Legends, DotA, Sins of a Solar Empire, with a dash of Portal 2 co-op. There is real potential here, but I still have a lot of concerns. SoaDA is yet another free-to-play title, and I am genuinely unsure about the long-term viability of that model when pitted against so many others that are vying for the same space.

The amalgamation of pieces they are trying to cram into the game is at once delightful and unsettling. We don't see too many studios taking on that kind of project and there's a good reason -- it's a huge risk. As with most other F2P games, Ironclad plans to sell skins, colors, and accessories as well as factions for the Commander (roughly equivalent to selling access to the different races of StarCraft, I am told).

Look for Sins of a Dark Age to come out sometime this year.

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