Third-Person Isometric RPGs have been around for a long time. Some of the most famous are Baldur’s Gate, Planescape Torment, and the well-loved Fallout series. They’ve fallen to the wayside lately however, replaced with different styles. Even Fallout 3 now uses the same first-person system as Morrowind. Independent games have been taking up the slack, especially Spiderweb software, which has two series of games, concentrating on scripting with incredibly detailed character customization. Will their newest game; Avadon, be as good as Avernum and Geneforge?
The first thing that stands out in this game is the graphics. They are about at the level of early SNES games. Make no mistake, they aren’t bad nor does it really interfere with the gameplay. It’s just abundantly clear that the game does not have a huge budget. The sprites are amateurish but don’t have any obvious problems. The different stages feel copy-pasted, though the developers at least give each stage a distinctive look. The game has a very set number of character sprites, and in fact your main character’s sprite is just an unchanged version of one of the four companions. Sprites only really have walking, and battle animations. Still, you at least can see all the items you can pick up, and can tell the difference between friend and foe. The graphics never interfere with immersion, or gameplay.
The sound for this game is… well, to sum it up in one word, terrible. There is no background music in the game. No well-designed tunes to interest you during battle. There are sound effects, but they don’t interest. They have the clang of swords, the growl of enemies, and the background hum of conversation. But, while these sounds are present, that’s all they are. They don’t have a fire, or a sense of majesty. There is no voice acting, either. All in all, when playing this game, it’s easy to just turn off the volume and listen to a favorite song.
The scripting of this game, meanwhile, is superb. While it doesn’t have the sheer emotional impact of the Final Fantasy series, it is still well-done. The player has four companions, who bicker and talk with each other, comment on the environment, and have interesting motives, and even keep secrets that are only revealed when they learn to trust the hero. The NPCs as well have interesting characteristics, and even random quest-givers have motives and personalities. This is only helped, by the fact that the game is filled with text. Not in the sense of having lots of dialog, though it does. When you click on characters, a full window pops up on screen, and explains not just what the NPC says, but how they say it and their emotions as they do it. It’s detailed, feeling like a mini-novella. Even nameless guards get an explanation on how they’re tired and bored. The text actually really helps make up for the graphics, as the things that would normally be shown using graphics, are explained in the text. Even next-gen graphics are working hard to display the kind of emotions this gives.
The world that’s created is quite interesting, a group of nations held together by an ancient Pact, and the power of the Black Fortress. Yet, while the Pact protects them, it also takes away rights, some of which are sacred. The Pact is not perfect and those imperfections are only growing. Then the player enters, and does what all players do. Poke at things, and change the situation. The scripting alone would be enough to grant this game a 10/10.
Unfortunately, this is a game, and as such the gameplay is important. At this, the game…well, it doesn’t fail, but it doesn’t reach the heights of the script, either. The first thing to go over is character creation. Each character has four stats, and it’s generally clear which stat needs to go up to fight better. Melee Fighters use strength, ranged fighters use dexterity, mages use intelligence, and vitality increases HP. Since enemy damage is so low, vitality never really comes up. Generally, the best plan is to take the main stat and pump it up to the maximum every level. Each character has a large selection of skills; each of the four classes gets 11 skills they can pick between. Unfortunately, these come in three rows of three, with the bottom skill needed before the top skill. And, while the character gets two skill points per level, enabling a new skill costs two points. To get as many skills as possible, it will take the player quite a bit of time, especially since there’s an interesting pattern of prerequisite skills. The player generally has to get skills from two rows, to get the next in one row. The set-up looks nice, but in practice tends to push people to over-generalize. A reasonable plan is to just buy up two rows, to get to the ultimate skill at the top.
Now, while character customization is important, especially for a Spiderweb Software game, the important part is the gameplay. And most of it is well done. It has a large variety of quests, multiple areas to explore, and quite a few items to pick up. A nice touch that Spiderweb Software games have is junk items. Not just items that are junk to sell, they have true, honest to goodness junk. Bones, skulls, clay pots, all of these can be picked up. Considering most heroes are well known for taking anything that isn’t locked down, it is nice, right up there with Morrowind. Items that are not yours are also clearly labeled, so it’s much easier to avoid accidentally touching someone’s fork, and getting arrested. In fact, many junk items do not count as stealing, period, even if they would logically belong to someone else. The areas are also fun to explore, with a lot of neat secrets, and easter eggs. NPCs have plenty of options to talk about, and there is another major complaint.
The combat is problematic. As I mentioned before, there is a reason that the player should select as many different skills as possible. Cooldown times are INSANELY high. Generally, cooldown will be longer then the entire battle lasts. Furthermore, while health regenerates in a matter of seconds outside of battle, the points used to cast spells do not regenerate at all. The only way to recover them is to rest back at Avadon, the home base. This generally requires exiting whatever area the player is currently exploring, going to the pylon in another area, clicking on it, healing, and leaving. The net effect is to encourage rationing skills as much as possible. Besides, basic attacks will take out most enemies in one hit, and group attacks are generally reserved for one of the higher-tier spells. The characters even start out with one real attack skill and can have only four easy access skills. Most of the battles consist of a horde of enemies rushing towards the heroes, dying in one or two hits, and doing pathetic damage. Even on normal, the game is surprisingly easy. Enemies just don’t do enough damage to feel threatening. Bosses have surprisingly high HP, but once away from their minions, they’re quite vulnerable to surrounding them, and just spamming normal attacks. The overall effect makes the game rather like a trudge. Still, there are plenty of shining moments, such as an enemy mage, a three-on-three fight against boss-class enemies, a group of lizards that use a vanishing trick to jump up within range. It does not help that combat is nearly impossible to avoid, making up a significant focus of the gameplay time. Fortunately, there are no annoying random encounters, and once an enemy is dead, it stays dead. A cleared out level is safe.
Final Call: All in all, upon careful consideration, even the bad combat doesn’t make the game boring. The bad sound doesn’t even really matter either. Avadon is, ultimately, worth it, with an interesting story, good scripting, and a great atmosphere. This would be a perfect indie game if the combat was less of a trudge, and it felt less low-budget. It’s worth every penny, and is a game that should be played by anyone with the money to buy it.
- System that rewards exploration
- Plenty of side-quests
- High-quality script
- Lumbering combat system
- Bad Dated Graphics
- Boring sound