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Gamebanshee Reviews Avadon

Gamebanshee Reviews Avadon

Review - posted by Jaesun on Sat 21 May 2011, 00:25:23

Tags: Avadon: The Black Fortress; Jeff Vogel; Spiderweb Software

Brother None has posted up his review of Spiderweb Software's latest cRPG Avadon: The Black Fortress. Here are a few snippets and his conclusion:

Spiderweb Software's Jeff Vogel is a veteran to the indie RPG industry of over 15 years. In that time, he has always stuck to making top-down, classic-style cRPGs, and he still hasn't deviated from that basic framework. Still, within that genre there can be a lot of variations. Linear or more free-roaming. Full of choice and consequence or more protective of the player. Party-based or single-player.
Avadon gives us fairly typical high-fantasy fare, presenting us with magic-rich, medieval-type nations struggling with threats of wretches (goblins) and titans (giants), as well as upholding unsteady alliances with dragons and other powerful factions. Even the world map looks like it could come straight from the inside jacket of a fantasy novel, with an alliance of five nations called the Midlands Pact sitting in the middle, bordered by fallen empires or wild lands threatening their security. 
Where Avernum had its underground prison setting and Geneforge has its geneforging and rebellion, Avadon doesn't have an obvious hook. The franchise is named for the large fortress that sits at the junction of three nations, a power independent of each nation that acts to see that every nation follows agreed-upon rules and to aid nations that need help with border issues. This makes it pretty clear that the Avadon franchise is focused on the Midlands Pact, its internal and external issues, and the position the fortress holds there. 
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.
The full Review is quite detailed and you can read all of it here.
Thanks Brother None!

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