Avadon 3: The Warborn is the latest in a line of retro roleplaying games by developer Spiderweb Software. In it, you play as a feared and revered Hand of Avadon, tasked with the dirty work of dealing with Avadon’s enemies.
Steel yourself for an information overload at the beginning of the game if you haven’t played the prequels (or perhaps more so if you have). The world Avadon 3 is set in is well-built and concrete in its foundations, but it falls prey to the common pitfall of bundling a lot of this knowledge onto the player at the beginning of the game. In these first few minutes or hours of gameplay, you may find your mind wandering over the conversations, wishing more than anything just to get out and explore. But, much like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and its lengthy trawl through the planet Taris, it gets better if you stick with it.
As a semi open-world game with a bunch of story on offer, there’s a lot to discover. Each character – including seemingly minor NPCs – has a distinct personality that makes for interesting conversations. Sometimes the dialogue drags on, though, one paragraph too long for no good reason, but for the most part they give you a good insight into the life of the character with very few grammatical faux pas.
Your character will soon find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place when they return from their first mission to find the vengeance-seeking but mild-mannered Keeper Redbeard has taken command. Stuck between duty to your new commander and the strict word of the law, it’ll be up to you to either follow him and his violent ways or find a way around his orders. The story is good, but there are many back-and-forth quests to send you traipsing across the same old maps.
Now Spiderweb Software only has two employees, so the sheer number of games they’ve released is commendable. That said, the difference between each iteration of the Avadon series is minimal. While style consistency within a game series is acceptable, there are several things which cross the border from retro to plain-old outdated.
In regards to the story, it feels odd that Spiderweb gives no option to choose the background of your Hand. Games like Pillars of Eternity do this well and, with many countries in the Pact that Hands can come from, not including it seems like a bit of an oversight. If the player character has a default background, it’s barely ever mentioned. Having this small amount of control over a character that can’t be customised would be a welcome addition to immersion.
Keep a careful eye on your quests – you may have the option to ‘record’ salient moments of dialogue, but quest objectives never (or rarely) update. Can’t remember whether you’ve finished something or not? Good luck guessing, because the game isn’t going to tell you. You’ll have to go back to whoever gave you the quest in the first place.
Combat is fairly straightforward, but several aspects of it can be hard to get used to at first. For one thing, hotkeys seem quite arbitrary (with both ‘i’ and ‘g’ for ‘get’ opening the inventory). If unused to the system, you may make the frequent mistake of pressing ‘a’ to look at your abilities, finding nothing you want to use and trying to close it again with the same button. Rather than closing the abilities window again, this auto-activates your first skill, wasting your turn.
Once you get used to the way abilities and items are set out, though (which involves working out that the instructions do not scroll with the mouse wheel), you’ll find yourself in some nice scripted encounters, with text appearing at pre-defined moments to tell you of changes in behaviour and other combat events. But sometimes things can seem a little out of balance, with one AoE ability in an early fight on normal difficulty almost insta-killing your characters on turn one and finishing them off the next turn, before they can move. It doesn’t help when the dialogue that triggers the encounter triggers before you’ve even rounded the corner and seen the enemy.
Classes in this game try to differentiate themselves from others in the genre and they work quite well. There are Blademasters (warriors), Shadowwalkers (rogues), Shamans (druids/rangers/healers), Sorcerers and TInkermages (rogue-likes who can construct magical turrets). The most unusual of these, the Tinkermage, makes for interesting play. However, turrets have no range indicators, no apparent direction control (for cone attacks) and can seem to behave unpredictably.
Where the game begins to be stuck in the past is with inventory management. Want to transfer items between character inventories? Open your inventory, move the item to the ground, close your inventory, open your inventory on the other character and pick the item up. Repeat this every time you find new stuff or just get each character to open things individually. Either way, it’s a chore that could be eliminated with no negative effects. Pressing shift highlights people, but not lootable objects, which makes differentiating furniture from loot quite tricky.
Add to this system the fact that there’s no indication which items are useful or not and the inventory is just a mess. Junk items litter the game – there must be thousands of the things, with very little point to them – but they’re presented in the same manner as ordinary items. What’s more, some of these can’t even be sold to traders and just clutter up your inventory because you don’t know if they’re needed for anything else. Keep track of this, because there’s no tab for quest items and nothing to indicate you might want to keep something. Want to sell all the useless stuff at once? Because there’s no category for junk items, you’ll have to transfer them to a junk bag to do so. More inventory management. Great if you’re the human equivalent of a sorting algorithm. Otherwise, not so much.
Retro is what the game claims to be and that’s what the graphics deliver, so don’t go into this expecting to see anything fancy. That said, there is some room for improvement in the quality of the tilesets and objects, which are lacklustre compared to other games with similar styles. Characters’ legs are out of sync with the speed at which they walk, so they appear to hover. One of the fonts Avadon uses is awful and guaranteed to make your eyes hurt if you stare at it too long. The font used for instructions is too small and all the paragraphs are bunched together. The only upside is the tiny file size the game is packaged into.
Likewise, the sound fails to impress. As in, there is no sound. Apart from an admittedly quite good tune on the menu screen, the game is completely devoid of thematic, circumstantial or ambient music. Sound effects are present, but not amazing.
It’s not a bad game, but it’s not great either. So, if you’re only in it for the story and you can handle an infodump at the beginning of the game, you’ll enjoy playing it and may eventually find yourself absorbed by the plot. But if you’re easily frustrated by tedious inventory management, non-intuitive mechanics and ambiguous quest directions, you’ll want to give it a miss.
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