Avencast: Rise of the Mage Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Lighthouse Interactive
Developer:ClockStone Software
Release Date:2007-11-16
Genre:
  • Action,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric,Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Introduction

Avencast: Rise of the Mage, the debut effort from Austrian developer Clockstone Software, is a difficult game to characterize. It starts out like it's going to be funny (the first time you see your character, you're sleeping in class), but then it tries to be serious and overly weighty. It looks for all the world like it's going to be an action role-playing game, but then it plays more like a tactical one. And it employs a fairly simple point-and-click interface, but then it manages to include some clever and complex puzzles. Sometimes incongruities can be good, because they make you think, but in Avencast I felt like I was adrift in a game that didn't know what it wanted to be or where it wanted to go, and the journey to find out wasn't a lot of fun.


The Story

In Avencast you play an apprentice mage at a prestigious magician's academy. As fate would have it, on the very day when you're slated to go on your trials to become a full magician, demons burst onto the scene, and they quickly overrun the academy, trapping you with a few other survivors (including a convenient shopkeeper) in one of the academy's study halls. With most everybody else dead, that leaves it up to you to push back the demons and eventually take the fight to them.

Does that premise sound familiar? If you change a few words here and there, it would work to describe just about every action role-playing game ever produced. Worse, early on you learn that your character is an orphan, and that you were discovered as a baby wearing a mysterious amulet. Gee, do you think maybe those little tidbits will turn out to be important? Just once I'd like to play an orphan in a role-playing game and not have my uncertain heritage be the deciding factor in whether I can defeat the demon horde or the evil magician or the insane god.

Clichés aside, the writing in Avencast is not especially good. For some reason, characters never talk to you; they always orate at you, and they never say in one sentence what they could spew out in about three paragraphs. I'm not sure how much of this has to do with the translation from Austrian to English (maybe all the words cut out of The Witcher during its translation were tracked down and tossed in here), but whereas usually I want people to talk more to flesh out who they are and what's going on and things like that, in Avencast I just wanted everybody to shut up and give me a quest already.


Characters

Avencast uses a classless system. Each time you level up, you get ten points to spend, and you can use those points to learn new spells or to bump up your attributes. There are two schools of magic in the game: blood magic and soul magic. Blood mages use their spells to improve their melee attacks, while soul mages fling spells in the usual way. There are also some summoning spells available, which allow you to summon creatures to help you out.

In other words, despite being forced to play as a mage in the game, you're still given some options for how to go about your business. Soul mages, with spells like Inferno Wall and Ice Meteor, play like typical mages, and they're best off staying as far away from their enemies as possible. Blood mages meanwhile get spells like Inferno Lash and Hammer of Rage, which means they need to stay in melee range of their enemies. You can learn spells from both schools of magic if you want, but clearly they're at odds with each other, and so you're best off specializing in one school or the other.

Unfortunately, characters in the game are not very complex. They only get four attributes -- health, mana, soul magic and blood magic -- and each school of magic only gets about 20 spells. Once you've purchased the spells that you like (maybe a dozen of them), there isn't anything much to do other than dump points in your particular school of magic (since that attribute increases the damage that you do), which is sort of boring.


Mechanics

Avencast is played using an isometric view, but instead of pointing and clicking to move your character around, you have to use the WASD keys. Fortunately, the game includes three different control modes to choose between -- for example, in one the W key moves your character towards the top of the screen, while in another the W key moves your character forward -- and so one of them should be comfortable for you.