Avadon: The Black Fortress Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Independent
Developer:Spiderweb Software
Release Date:2011-02-28
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Yet I have to put yet another "but" here. In Avadon, your hit points regenerate outside of combat (at a fairly high rate), while your vitality can only be restored through potions or by going to the traveling pillars. These pillars aren't always available, meaning the difficulty in many parts of the game should stem not from the fight being hard to get through, but rather the fight being passable without using up too much of your precious vitality and items. So far so good, there's nothing wrong with that in principle and it works well for the tougher fights.

Jeff Vogel seemed well aware of the necessity of preserving vitality, not wanting to force players to regularly slog back to the pillar, which is just boring. For that reason, skills do not use huge amounts of vitality and there are regeneration pools at key points. That said, the value of vitality over health means trash mobs are exactly what the name implies: overly easy fights that do not require you to use any skills or items to get through. This sounds great on paper, until you realize exactly what it means. Whereas in Avernum such fights were all about preserving HP and using skills cleverly for every fight, in Avadon you can freely sacrifice HP even if you (die) the character just pops up after combat as long as one is left standing. This encourages careful players like myself to drag out trash combat, consisting of nothing more than you clicking on enemies to chip down their HP. I didn't experiment with difficulties and this problem deep into the game, but early on torment I could go up against an army of wretches can be passed without using skills more than a few times. On one side this is sensible within the system, and better than forcing the player to travel back to rest all the time, on the other hand this is a major mistake, as it drains trash combat of the already bare bits of fun they usually provide. As mentioned, there weren't too many trash mobs for me, and combat tends to be over quick which alleviates the problem, but if that's the best you can say about the majority of fights, then that's a problem. The decision not to regenerate vitality only serves a purpose if it leads to a difficult long-term battle against attrition, rather than encourage the player to keep trash combat as boring as he/she can.

Conclusion

Considering I spent a good part of this review highlighting some major problems, you might have the impression that I disliked the game. I did not. It is still a typical Spiderweb RPG at its core, and shows a lot of what Jeff Vogel learned in writing, pacing, and encounter design to its fullest. Whether or not you like it depends on two things: whether or not you like Spiderweb games, and whether or not you like a lot of BioWare's typical design choices. Because that's what Avadon is: Spiderweb at its core, but with a big BioWare pap smeared over it, with its greater accessibility, its use of followers, its cosmetic dialog choices, and its heavy emphasis on a linear narrative.

Avadon has a few big disadvantages that keep me from embracing it fully. For one, Spiderweb's previous two titles, Geneforge 5 and Avernum 6, were outstanding RPGs, Geneforge 5 being one of their best and Avernum 6 a Game of the Year candidate here on GameBanshee. Those are some lofty heights, and it might be unfair to expect Jeff Vogel to match such heights while simultaneously launching a whole new property. For example, a lot of its core systems and design decisions feel a bit rough, the vitality regeneration or limited class/skill system are decent starts for a new IP, but I think they need a lot of work to be really enjoyable rather than just functional.

The last disadvantage is a more personal one, and thus one that depends on your personal preferences. Spiderweb always filled a specific hardcore niche, and Avadon is one step outside of that very niche that his previous titles filled.  It has a less unique setting and a more accessible RPG system, which aren't what I was hoping for with a brand new franchise. Jeff Vogel has stated his admiration of BioWare before, and perhaps with the company becoming even more casual he fills a niche that BioWare is now leaving, but I feel like I can get RPGs that protect me from my own choices and offer a linear narrative and simple RPG system anywhere, while Avernum and Geneforge offered more unique content.

That said, a lot of the problems I listed are fringe problems that can be resolved with further refining, so I can't pretend the Avadon franchise has no potential. Rather, I can only hope the next title has more complexity and less hand-holding. With that being said, the extent of the game's accessibility, and the way it paces the introduction to the setting while taking a big step forward in the graphical department, makes this one of the easier Spiderweb games to introduce to newcomers.  And that was probably the exact intention.