Jeff Vogel’s Spiderweb Software has been putting out some of the best indie role-playing games for 20 years. The Avernum and Geneforge franchises rank up there with some of the best commercial games made through the years. Back in 2011 they broke new ground with the Avadon franchise; now the sequel arrives, improving on the original in every way.
Type of app: Role Playing Game
Developer: Spiderweb Software
Avadon 2: The Corruption Features:
– Epic fantasy role-playing adventure in an enormous and unique world.
– Five different character classes, with dozens of unique spells and abilities.
– Uncover the fascinating histories of Avadon and the many lands of Lynaeus.
– Many different endings. Will you be loyal to Avadon or switch sides and bring it down? The choice is yours!
– Dozens of side quests, dungeons, and secrets to discover.
– Hundreds of magical items to find. Use powerful crystals to make your artifacts even more powerful.
– Huge adventure with lots of replay value. Experience with Avadon: The Black Fortress is entirely unnecessary to enjoy Avadon 2.
Because most people interested in a game like Avadon 2 are concerned about some of the deeper and more technical aspects of the game I will delve into those in some detail. But for everyone else I’ll just do a quick summary of features.
Spiderweb Games are best viewed as ‘classic RPG elements, reimagined for new audiences’. They are isometric, turn-based third-person games that look more like games of the Baldur’s Gate era, but offer huge and sprawling stories with interesting characters and choices that allow you to shape the experience. Combat is challenging and strategic and requires thought and planning – both in terms of your party members and specific battle preparations. Right up through the end of the game you are part of an unfolding plot and can have a major impact in how the world turns out. It takes the solid foundation of Avadon and improves everything about the experience.
As we prepare for the latest stampede of ‘next gen’ consoles, Avadon 2 reminds us that graphics are not everything. Not that the game is ugly – in fact, I was astounded at the detail levels Jeff is working with at this point. These are games that do not push the state of the art, but instead continuously refine the state of indie isometric games.
But let me be clear – the technical areas of graphics, sound and music are not where the major investments of time and money go in Spiderweb games. The graphics look very good as you move from area to area – they evoke the condition and status of each region, from dank dungeons to sprawling farms to the horrors of the Corruption.
The environmental sounds and music are sparse, and are similar to what was present in the original game. The important thing for me was that it was well done and appropriate – and that was certainly the case.
Recently I’ve been playing a number of older RPGs and have been reminded of a pet peeve: games that make you totally invest yourself before you have a clue what you’re doing. For example, the Realms of Arkania remake has you forming a party and stepping through pages of character options before you can even get started.
How do I know if I am stepping into a world like Gothic where being a mage is terribly difficult, or one like Torchlight where I am a walking assault battery from level 1? In Avadon 2 you start u off with a choice of four character classes: Blademaster, ShadowWalker, Shaman, and Sorceress. These are roughly equivalent to fighter, rogue, summoner and mage classes … but with some significant differences and overlap.
The goal of the game is to get you going quickly, so once you choose your character you are launched into a slideshow of screens describing the backstory and then dropped into a tense scene where you need to get out quickly and seem to constantly find more trouble. There is a familiarity established between the two characters you control, and a hint of romance to provide even more of a connection.
The point is – by the time you reach a place where you can rest, you have gone through intense scenes, heated battles, made choices, and gained a significant investment in the game and the characters. Contrast this with the opening vignettes for most games …
The Story and Characters
One thing that you get in trade for the ‘next gen graphics’ when you play a Spiderweb game is excellent writing and an intricate story with fully formed characters.
Whereas with the original Avadon you are immediately given the coveted status of a ‘Hand of Avadon’, here you are just a scout – a status well below that of ‘Hand’, something you are reminded of frequently in dialogues.
The world of Avadon is in shambles as the game begins – chaos and destruction comes from all sides, and threats seem to multiply and expand constantly. And in some cases, ‘expand’ is a very appropriate word for what is happening to the threats!
I noted that from the very start of the game you will meet characters who are interesting, conflicted, deeply flawed, and not drawn at all from the typical Bioware cast of characters that have felt overplayed in recent years. As a result I always loved meeting new characters – you didn’t know if they would be crass, earnest, pompous, ordinary, or just plain crazy!
Combat System & Battles
The Avadon games use a turn-based combat system that will be immediately familiar to anyone who has played a Spiderweb game in the past, and easily accessible to fans of turn-based role-playing games in general. There is a combat mode and adventure mode you can toggle with a keypress, and choosing adventure mode allows real-time movement and unrestricted action. Once an enemy is in range and has spotted you, the game automatically drops into combat mode.
In combat mode each character (ally and enemy alike) has a certain number of action points and initiative. Initiative (speed) determines who goes first, second and so on. Once it is your turn in combat, you can spent your action points between movement, attack, spells, skills, potions, equipment changes, and so on. When you no longer have any actions remaining, turns pass to the next character and so on. Attacking will automatically end your turn (unless you have a ‘Haste’ effect allowing more than one attack per round), so if you want to move or do anything else you need to do it prior to an attack. When all characters have exhausted their turn, a new round begins, and this continues until one side is defeated.
Your encounters will have you facing off against so-called ‘trash’ mobs as well as more dangerous enemies, against giant rats to mages and warriors and deadly giant creatures, and will range from quick & easy to nearly impossible – and every single one feels like it matters and adds something to the experience. Wait – doing trash battles ‘adds something’? Yes – any RPG fan knows that you will need to engage in combat as well as quests in order to gain experience to get new levels and skills. Vogel has been battling the monotony of the ‘trash mob’ in recent years, and compared with many games I have played recently he is absolutely succeeding.
As you work your way through Avadon you will encounter many boss and sub-boss characters who will present a greater challenge to your party. This is a good thing – unlike the ‘trash’ mobs, these encounters will force you to use your skills and tactics, and perhaps occasionally fall in battle once or twice before defeating your enemies. If you choose a lower difficulty even these battles will be trivial, but on Normal difficulty these should be a satisfying experience for most gamers.
There are a couple of brutal battles in the game – the sort that reminds me of facing Jon Irenicus at the end of Badur’s Gate II. You will need to really prepare and think your way through … and probably still die in your first attempt! But the battle isn’t impossible, and as a result the end game is satisfying … instead of like the end of Risen!
Spiderweb’s older game series – Avernum and Geneforge – took different party approaches: Avernum had a balanced party without a main character, whereas Geneforge was very much single player focused. Avadon forges a middle ground, with a clear main character acting as the leader in a party-based adventure. You manage all of your party’s development, which lets you focus on taking them in certain directions in order to form a well-balanced party.
As you gain levels you are granted points to put to attributes such as strength, intelligence, dexterity and endurance. These impact the damage you do with melee or ranged weapons, your defenses and resistances, and your magical abilities. These points have an immediate impact on gameplay, where a single point to strength can make the difference between taking out an enemy in one round versus two.
You also get to allocate points to your skill tree along several branches with dependencies for many of the skills. If you are a mage you might take a firebolt spell, and then advance it for several levels to make it more effective. You could also choose Focus Mastery, which makes all of your magic more effective, but not as much as just putting points to a single skill.
Taking criticism from the original Avadon, in Avadon 2 there is expanded use of lockpicks and the lockpicking skill. Generally you will have someone in your group with the skill, but you also need a stock of lockpicks – but again in most cases there is a lockpick in a chest or barrel in any area where you need one. Also, the game expands your ability to use your primary dialogue skills to influence outcomes in situations – this now makes sense since the balance of power in the world has changed.
Long-time fans of the RPG genre have certainly seen branching elements in games pruned through the years. It has been explicitly stated by game company executives that it is simply too expensive to produce the assets required for a number of branches that will never be used. As a result you see what I call ‘phantom branching’ in many AAA RPGs – small things that look like significant choices but that all lead back to the same point and use the same core set of assets.
The original Avadon felt somewhat constrained in terms of choices – at least compared to the Avernum and Geneforge games. So I was glad that in Avadon 2 from the very start I felt in control of my character and destiny. Of course, there are a few key moments where you really have no choice on the outcome at a high level – but can likely impact the relationships with characters involved. And that is exactly what happens: you are ‘turning left’ no matter what, but how everyone feels about each after that left turn depends on your choices – oh, and the impact of those moments remains throughout the game!
I have to say that it is a breath of fresh air that you truly make changes and choices in Avadon. There is a certain overall linearity to the game as you are headed to the same final confrontation regardless of the path you choose (though there are many way to resolve that final confrontation), but as you make more and more choices in one direction or the other they add up, your reputation is altered and the world before you subtly shifts. It is wonderful to have a game so focused on your experience as a gamer.
Ease of use/Overall performance:
Avadon 2: The Corruption took me more than 40 hours on my ‘review playthrough’ – and that is after already being familiar with the entire game. I would estimate that it is ~25% larger than Avadon in terms of real-world scope. Still not as big as a game like Avernum VI, but much larger than many of the RPGs we are seeing released in recent years.
One thing I really appreciated as I played was the care taken in balancing the combat systems and character classes. In nearly every encounter with disparate enemies, you will find some challenging and others trivial. Similarly your individual characters will at times be attack leaders and at others be nearly ineffective. It forces you to think about how you distribute the responsibilities of the party and brings even more strategy to the game.
Would use again/recommend?: Definitely! I have already started a new game with a different character type and plan to take a different path this time. It is a game that I will return to frequently … and since I know it is coming to iPad early next year I can’t wait for that experience as well.
In his personal blog Jeff Vogel reflects the values of loving gaming, but as a developer, husband, and parent he lacks the time to do all of the gaming he wants. I find that reflected in his development sensibilities – I never felt like he was wasting my time: by allowing me to enter regions from various points I don’t have to do excessive backtracking; by balancing the need for combat with the boredom of trash mobs my combat time felt well spent; and I never felt the need to go around bashing every barrel looking for gold nuggets like in Neverwinter Nights.
My time was appreciated, and as a result I felt constantly engaged even during short gaming sessions. It made for a very rewarding and easily recommended gaming experience.
Suggested changes/wish list for updates: Nothing
Source: Publisher provided review code
Here is the trailer: