An itch I didn’t know needed scratching was a dogfighting flight game where instead of controlling some boring starfighter or airplane, I get to ride a fire-breathing dragon into battle. Century: Age of Ashes flies in to deliver some magnificent scaly reptiles torching each other with fire vomit, which always made me laugh hysterically until someone did the same to me. That part was less funny but still looked cool. It’s a bit short-lived due to the tiny number of maps and a glaring balance problem for its main mode, but this free-to-play, dragon-centric dogfighter largely succeeds in fulfilling the fantasy of riding atop the most legendary of flying beasts.

Age of Ashes is a team-based competitive multiplayer game where you take on enemies on dragonback, which is up there with the greatest game premises of all time, so we’re off to an excellent start. Flying around and breathing fire on your rivals is almost never not fun, due in no small part to the excellent flying mechanics and clever level design that has you ducking around castles, flying through tunnel shortcuts, and turning on a dime to give your pursuers the slip like no airplane ever could.

Burning enemies to a crisp is made all the more enjoyable by the fact that Age of Ashes is just absolutely beautiful to look at. Dragons are colorful and detailed, and navigating them through each of the four elaborate fantasy arenas is stunning.

There are three dragonrider classes, each with a unique role and set of abilities, though sadly they’re not all created equal. My personal favorite, the Windguard, is a support character who can heal and buff her allies and leave a trail of poisonous fog in her wake to harm and blind pesky followers. Unfortunately, she also tends to be the most underused since her abilities are fairly situational and plenty of attacks can take a dragon down in no time at all, which makes healing feel pretty useless.

Age of Ashes is just absolutely beautiful to look at.

The Marauder, meanwhile, is your standard murder-focused class that’s all about dealing damage and can enter a rage that lets him rain a ton of fireballs on enemies in a matter of seconds (one of those abilities that makes healing irrelevant). He’s a well-rounded character and a great option if you need a break from strategy and just want to beat the enemy into submission with brute force.

Finally there’s the Phantom, the stealth-ambush class that has the annoyingly good abilities to become invisible, deal extra damage when striking as a surprise attack, and set traps in the form of explosive mines. In my time with Age of Ashes, most lobbies were filled with ~60% Phantoms – sometimes even higher – especially in the Ranked playlist. It’s just really hard to beat invisibility, especially in the sole ranked objective mode that has you collecting gold coins to store in your vault for points. I can’t count the number of times I was hot on someone’s tail as they fled with their gold, only for them to vanish and sneak away to their base. There’s just no counter for that, and it means that Phantoms are so good at this that you won’t see too much of the other two classes until there’s a nerf to balance the (dragon)scales.

Microtransaction Reaction

Century: Age of Ashes is a free-to-play game that offers microtransactions to unlock cosmetics and XP boosters that help with level progression. If you’re interested in customizing your character and unlocking some awesome-looking dragons, your dollar goes quite a long way, as even the $5 starter pack gives you 800 “gems,” which is more than you need to unlock some truly badass stuff. As is typical of the genre, most content can be earned in-game by grinding silver coins, but doing so takes hours of grinding. XP boosts can also be purchased, but only help you progress along the battle pass-like progression system that also only unlocks cosmetics. My personal favorite items available are the dragon eggs, which are cheaper than buying fully grown dragons outright (~$8 vs. ~$14, typically) and give you something to chase as you complete challenges to hatch and grow your dragon to maturity.

At the time of this writing, there are no items in-game that give paying players an advantage over free players and, although the grind can be pretty oppressive for free players hoping to unlock cool cosmetics, none of it impacts the game itself in a meaningful way. Have at it, freeloaders!

That said, even if the Phantom is irritatingly dominant, all three classes are a blast to play and the variety between them forces you to adapt your playstyle to make the most of each character’s unique abilities, especially in the two objective-based game modes where more than brute strength and quick kills is required to claim victory. I absolutely love creating a thick cloud of poisonous fog behind my teammate carrying the flag in Gates of Fire, forcing the enemies in our rearview break off pursuit. And going berserk as the Marauder is a great way to take out enemies just in the nick of time in a close kill-based match.

Speaking of game modes, Age of Ashes has four in total – Skirmish, Carnage, Gates of Fire, and Spoils of War – and they all have the potential to be great once the balance is worked out. Skirmish and Carnage are mostly the same in that they’re both straight-up street fights where the most kills wins, only Skirmish is 3v3 while Carnage is the standard size of 6v6. Both are entertaining dragon bloodsports where each kill you get puts a bigger bounty on your head that gives the enemy more points for taking you down, but there’s understandably not much to them aside from just freeform combat. Gates of Fire, on the other hand, is an original take on capture the flag where teams compete to gain control of a flag and carry it through a set of gates before its stolen and claimed by the enemy team. Success requires much more teamwork, and the back and forth is usually fierce to the very end of each round since completing a single lap without losing control of the flag to win the round outright is quite hard to pull off!

Spoils of War definitely does the heavy lifting in Age of Ashes, as it’s got the most depth and strategy involved.

Lastly there’s Spoils of War, which can be played in the social playlist but is also that singular game mode used in the ranked playlist where you hunt down gold-carrying, bot-controlled dragons to steal their loot and deposit it into your vault. It’s a simple enough premise, but made more complex by a bunch of interesting mechanics like the ability to steal the enemy’s vault key so they can’t deposit their gold – or, if you manage to grab a bomb that spawns on the map and carry it to the enemy team’s base you can blow it up, sending their hard-won gold flying all over the place to be stolen. Spoils of War definitely does the heavy lifting in Age of Ashes, as it’s got the most depth and strategy involved, but again, it’s so tilted toward Phantoms right now that I wouldn’t recommend going near it if you prefer a different class.

Although all four game modes, three classes, and four maps are a blast, once you’ve played them all you’ve more or less seen all Age of Ashes currently has to offer. There just isn’t much in the way of variety at the moment, especially since Spoils of War only has one map. If you plan on climbing the ranked playlist, you’ll be playing the same game mode on the same map over and over again, and that got stale for me after about 10 hours of fun. The only other thing to do was repeat the same content to grind out the 100 battle pass-like player levels to unlock cosmetics and in-game currency that’s used to buy even more cosmetics and XP boosts.

Another common irritation with Age of Ashes is the fact that its matchmaking doesn’t seem to take your region into account, so I’ve often ended up playing against players on the other side of the planet. As you might expect, this creates some lag that’s unpleasant to experience – there’s really nothing worse than dragons teleporting around the map when you’re trying to track them down. Hopefully matchmaking will add some geographical filtering in the near future to mitigate this issue – though I imagine that will require more people to give it a shot and stick around.

It should be said that the cosmetics in Age of Ashes are pretty awesome. They include new looks and weapons for your dragon rider, titles and emblems to personalize your online persona, and best of all: different dragons. I’m a big fan of the Sarghildian Squall, a green dragon that looks like something out of Jurassic Park or Aelion, somehow resembling a massive, angry, reptilian cockatiel. Some are unlocked in their adult form via in-game effort or making a purchase, but the more interesting dragons are acquired as eggs and must be hatched into baby dragons and then cared for into adulthood. This is by far the most interesting progression system Age of Ashes offers, as hatching a dragon and raising it to maturity requires completing a series of challenges before the dragon can at last be taken into battle. Sadly, getting eggs is a bit of a grind unless you’re prepared to spend money, and most of the time I spent playing I didn’t have any eggs in my nest to work towards.

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