Review: Avadon: The Black Fortress (PC)

Avadon: The Black Fortress
Publisher: Spiderweb Software
Developer: Spiderweb Software
Genre: RPG
Release Date: 05/02/2011

RPGs and I have a rather long and interesting history. I’ve actually played them as far back as when I was 9 and my cousin had table-top miniatures in a dungeon escape scenario, but also had them on his computer that loaded from a floppy, yes the big thin ones, not the hard smaller ones that vanished a number of years back. I’d ended up taking a short break from them, dabbling a bit again in high school with some friends and then jumping in feet first in college with a variety of play settings. I’d kept up with a few computer based RPGs up until that point and some of them still hold my attention even today.

So when I’m given an old-school style RPG, or one with a retro feel, I’m very much enjoying remembering back to the “Ëœold’ days. Avadon is one of these RPGs. It has that classic 2D RPG feel to it, like the old floppy disc RPGs like Curse of the Azure Bonds got together with Baldur’s Gate to make something that looks and plays like a throwback to the good ole days of PC RPGs, before the Japanese RPG invaded and everyone had a new console to play them on. Not that I’m knocking the newer RPGs, but a bit of nostalgia is good for the soul, and it’s even better when that nostalgia machine feels like something a bit older but plays like something new and fresh and isn’t something you’ve beaten a hundred times before.

The game starts you off as a newcomer to Avadon, but something has gone wrong and the prison is run amok and many prisoners that were never supposed to leave have been set loose in the bowels of the Fortress. You talk to a few people and are slowly introduced into the world. As a player you find out that Avadon is responsible for upholding a pact between rival nations and have pretty sweeping powers as far as keeping the peace goes. Your character has been brought in to be one of Redbeard’s Hands, which are basically the peacekepers but with pretty broad abilities to uphold the pact as they see fit. After quelling the outbreak you’re put about to making sure that the pact between the five nations is upkept.

The story-telling here is done pretty well, showing the player the strength of Avadon and then showing you people going against it and even where the Pact is at its weakest. There are lots of little hidden characters throughout the game with some great stories and it seems nearly everyone you interact with has some kind of backstory and really fleshes out the world. While not the most original or most standout RPG story I’ve played, the world and characters are very intriguing and seeing the subtle changes your actions make in the world come across as you play is always welcome.

While visually it’s not a powerhouse, the game is fairly pleasant to look at. While not as flashy as Baldur’s Gate as I’d mentioned earlier, it is maybe a step back. This doesn’t detract from the game, as much as it sucks you in, giving it this nice fantastic appeal that you can miss out on in the newer RPGs that go so far over the top you’re left wondering what you just saw or killed. The three-quarter isometric view is in full force and they do use something like the fog of war for enemies and your map you haven’t visited yet.

At first there’s a nice rousing title theme to get you all interested, but after you get into the game, that’s when the music dies and the ambient and fighting sounds come in. If you’re an audiophile this game is half for you. There’s no real music to speak of in-game. It’s ambient and action sounds and that’s about it. As far as sound goes it’s beyond basic. This can be good or bad for a lot of people. Me I tend to like a rousing soundtrack, but some of us have all our fantasy soundracks on our hard drives and can pop them on as needed. I do think having a soundtrack could have really made this a bit easier to get involved in, but on the other hand, it gives a rather unique feel.

From what I’ve read of Spiderweb’s previous games, using the class system here is a bit of a departure for them, but it’s something I actually prefer being a long time table-top player. Because of this you can select your character and start playing and not have to sit for a long while trying to figure out how to stat at the start as you’re a bit specialized to begin with. You also get party members so it’s not an entirely solo affair when you’re playing and you recruit them much like Bioware games RPG titles. Leveling up uses a branch system where you level up battle, power and utility. Battle goes for combat skills, Power deals with passive support skills, and Utility has different boosts and curses. Each class has two top tier skills that tie into two of the branches. There are also specializations that hit at different levels that add a bonus to one of the three branches. The biggest drawback to this system is that you’re either going to have one of two builds that cover two of the three branches or you’ll be very generalized which isn’t necessarily bad, but it could be fairly limiting if you’re playing on the harder difficulties.

One thing I did like is that it’s turn-based and really brought me back to the days when I first played D&D on the computer and you had to work your way into the fight turn by turn which is the case here. Combat is very much a point and click affair and so is moving and interacting and, well you get the idea. While the game does employ a fog of war system, one thing I did like is that you can click in the middle of nowhere and head that way and follow along and not have to guide your character with these short clicks that just gets you frustrated and annoyed you just can’t simply move across the map fast enough. Movement here is pretty smooth unless you run into something that wants to injure you.

I mentioned earlier that I like music in my video games, and this one has none and I found that very disappointing. The lack of a rousing soundtrack didn’t prevent me from enjoying the game all that much and I found myself getting sucked into the world as I moved about fighting mobs and interacting with it and hours just passed. My wife had to get me out of the game as I was going to be late for a DDO raid we’d signed up for and if I hadn’t needed to pass out afterwards would have gone right back to this. It’s a great bit of old school feel with some modern mechanics that don’t feel out of place at all and really make for a solid RPG experience that I couldn’t put down.

While I have played similar games, this one has quite a bit going for it as far as background and story. There’s a rich new world to play with here, and with all the choices to make really having an effect as you play and further into the game, it really feels like nothing I’ve ever played. Sure you’ve got some RPGs that make you have hard choices, but some of the newer ones hold your hand through your decisions and this one really doesn’t. Looking at past games from this studio, Avadon doesn’t look all that different visually, but from what I’ve seen here, they’re very good at creating new worlds to play in that give a completely different feel. Instead of having various skill trees and no class, you’ve got four distinct classes each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Since this is my first Spiderweb Software game, I decided to check in on their other RPGs a bit and get a feel. I’d have to say that Avadon, while a bit shorter than what fans of the company might be used to, is a bit more balanced not only class-wise, but also in terms of difficulty. Bear in mind the game will still run you a little over forty hours, maybe a few less depending on play speed, and the second time through is always faster, however Spiderweb RPGs have a reputation of being fairly difficult right at the outset, and that’s just not the case with Avadon. There is a learning stage and it does get harder from there. The good news is there are multiple difficulty settings, so if you are one of those players who wants a challenge from the start, simply crank it up and go to town. Or maybe the town will go with you instead? However that works.

You do get quite a bit for your money. The game itself is only $25, and for $7 you can get the guide e-mailed to you from the publisher for less than half what you’d spend on an RPG for the consoles with the guide. And you can play this on PC or Mac and there’s an iPad version now as well, which is only $10 on the App Store, so there are options. I think anyone who’s into games like Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale, or even further back like Curse of the Azure Bonds should at least download the demo and give it a fair shot. I definitely think you get more than decent bang for your buck here even if it is a quieter bang.

With four different classes, a wealth of choices that can radically affect how you interact with NPCs and the world later on and even right away in some cases, as well as four different difficulty settings that actually challenge, you can definitely play this one over again and get a completely different outcome. Like some of the newer RPGs, all the options are there and you genuinely want to go back in and try things a bit differently, maybe change your tactics up, or even build up your character in an entirely new fashion. The tools are there and the story is compelling enough to want to go through it all over again.

The price is right, it’s on a number of platforms, it plays well, has a really decent combat and level system, and is all around a solid RPG. The game has a few things going against it is that it’s not flashy, and it is still very old school even with a few of the more recent character building options. So really what you’ve got is a company that’s got an almost niche series of titles and with this one trying to make it a bit more accessible to the more casual gamer, but I think the more casual gamer might not be interested, the nostalgic gamer who’s played these older RPGs though should very much be interested.

This game hits all the right nostalgia chords with me, but at the same time has elements from current RPGs that I’m familiar with without diluting the classic RPG experience that the game provides. I really enjoyed the game, and after reading the developer’s blog I am really liking Spiderweb Software as a whole and will definitely have to check out their other releases.

The Scores
Story: Amazing
Graphics: Below Average
Sound: Below Average
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Great
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Incredible
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Classic

Short Attention Span Summary
asheresizeAvadon is like going over to your friends house to play some games with some friends and him pulling out the AD&D Red Box (the first one, not the 4th Edition release) for some good old fashioned dungeon crawling. While it’s not a graphical powerhouse and looks a bit dated, it delivers a feeling of nostalgia while coming off as something you haven’t played before. It’s priced right and runs smoothly on pretty much any PC out there let alone an aging gaming rig. While it’s retro looks and feel might not be for everyone, those who want story and hard choices that have real consequences in their RPG will love this. Don’t believe me? Try the demo, it’s extremely long for a game like this and it’s only the tip of the iceberg as far as content in this game. Old schoolers will love this and newer RPG fans might be left scratching their heads why anyone would pay money for it.



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One response to “Review: Avadon: The Black Fortress (PC)”

  1. Jaime Avatar

    Read this review, bought it, LOVE IT!

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