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Avadon – The Black Fortress for Mac OS X review

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Genre: Role-Playing
Format: Download or CD
Developer: Spiderweb Software
Mac Publisher: Spiderweb Software
System Requirements: Mac OS X v10.4 or later, 800 MhZ processor (1.6 GHz processor recommended), video card or processor with OpenGL support and 32 MB video RAM (64 MB recommended), 512 MB RAM, 200 MB hard disk space, 1024 x 600 screen resolution with 32 bit color
Review Computer: Mac OS X v10.5.8; Dual 533 MHz PowerPC G4, 1.5 GB RAM; 128 MB video RAM
Network Feature: n/a
Processor Compatibility: Intel or PowerPC
Price: $25 game download (additional $6 for game on CD, $7 for electronic hint book, or $10 for printed and electronic hint book)
ESRB Rating: n/a
Availability: Out Now
Demo: Avadon’s official page

The first day on the job is tough for everyone, especially when you’re tasked with making a very angry dragon happy. Then you have to catch a dangerous magical beast followed by a diplomatic mission where peace is an illusion. In Spiderweb Software’s latest game—Avadon – The Black Fortress—you play a Hand of Avadon whose task it is to preserve the peace of The Pact from enemies both within and without. Can you use the power you’ve been given wisely?

Avadon Kva Hall

 

The enemies without are the Farlands, six nations and territories that have a long history of invading, raiding, terrorizing, and conquering the nations of The Pact, and which are a reason why The Pact exists in the first place. The enemies within are the five nations of The Pact itself since they are significantly different from each other. These differences lead to a 30-year civil war which was the reason for Avadon to be created as a force to keep the peace no matter what. The current leader or Keeper of Avadon is Redbeard, who has been in that position for longer than most people have been alive. Your character, as a Hand of Avadon, will be working for Redbeard, doing his bidding at a time when everything seems to be going wrong.

You won’t be sent out on difficult missions alone, because you can pick two out of four people to take with you—one of each of the four classes and from a different nation of The Pact. They have their own personalities and different reasons for fighting for or against Avadon. When they talk with you, you get a sense of how Avadon’s power and influence have both good and bad aspects, and how easy it is to abuse that power for the greater good. Each of them also has a quest which explores these conundrums and gives you the choice of siding either with Avadon’s idea of justice or your own. Ultimately you have the ability to support Redbeard against those who would overthrow him, or you can defeat him yourself and become the new Keeper of Avadon.

Avadon Fire Lizards

 

I feel this is one of the best ways to introduce a world, and it personalizes moral and ethical questions that could be difficult to relate to. After all, it’s one thing to want peace and stability and easy to say that giving up a bit of freedom is worth it. Yet when you see one way that this can impact an entire society, you might not be so sure that it’s the right path. On the other hand, you might say that peace—even if it’s a peace enforced from the outside—is preferable to the alternative of war and bloodshed. Making decisions, big and small, with ramifications that don’t appear right away, is what makes Avadon so much fun and gives it a high replay value.

The four classes are interesting, although they’re a bit more limiting than what I like. You have the Blademaster (heavy armored warrior), Shadowwalker (polearm-wielding ninja), Shaman (magic, pets, and healing), and Sorceress (supreme user of magic). Each class has a skill tree with three columns devoted to attack skills, passive skills (such as additional health or resistances, chance to parry or get a critical hit), and utility skills (buffs, debuffs, pet summons, healing). To get the higher level skills, you have to get all of the skills that are a prerequisite of the same level or higher. This is limiting in that you have to get skills you may not like to get the skills you want. If you put enough points into a skill, you can unlock a second skill. All skills have cool-downs, however, and the two connected skills share the same one. For example, a Shaman can summon a Wolf, and if you get that skill to level 6 you can summon a Hellhound. You have to decide whether to summon a Wolf or a Hellhound because once you summon one, both skills have the same cool-down. I would have liked to actually gain another ability instead of an alternative ability.

Avadon Skill Tree

 

You can also gain skills by using scarabs, most of which are received as quest rewards. Each character starts out with one slot and eventually has a total of four as they gain levels. There is a variety of scarabs, some of which are magical spells such as a cone of fire or acid. Some heal the group or haste the character so they have extra moves per turn. Others add strength and endurance or a chance to parry. They add a lot more flexibility to your characters because if you have one focusing on utility skills, he or she won’t have very many attack skills. Giving them scarabs with skills will give them something additional to do besides their basic attacks.

As an aside, the Junk Bag must be one of the best inventions ever. You don’t have to go through your character’s inventories to sell the stuff you don’t want and risk accidentally getting rid of something you wanted to keep. Instead, just put what you don’t want in the Junk Bag and sell everything in it with one easy click. More games should have this feature!

Avadon Inventory

 

You can also customize your characters with gear and augmentations. Much of the gear you’ll later find will have bonuses to skills or general bonuses such as increases to magical damage or parry. You can customize your gear with different bonuses to weapons and armor by using runestones on an enchanted anvil. For example, one runestone adds extra damage on a weapon, but if you use it on armor it provides more protection from physical attacks. There’s a runestone that adds a bonus to magical attacks when put on a weapon, but if put on armor it provides protection from magical attacks. Other runestones increase your dexterity or intelligence when put on either a weapon or an item.

This system is good and flexible, but I wish it didn’t involve items that get used up. Maybe it’s just me, but I tend to save all of the runestones because I don’t want to waste them on gear that will get replaced. Then I either use them only for a small portion of the game or forget about them entirely. Either way, I don’t think they’re used well and would rather have a different system entirely.

The graphics, spell effects, and sounds in Avadon are amazing, and there a lot more animations than I expected. What I liked most is the attention to detail and how each area has a different feel—from the sand and cactus of the southern Kva to the dark forest of the Beraza Woods to the hilly and mountainous Wretch lands. I’m not much of a graphics snob, but Avadon is definitely one game that doesn’t lead me to say something like “The gameplay’s great, but the graphics are kind of bad.” There’s no music, but I found the environmental effects are much better than music could ever be in drawing you into the world of Avadon. Walk into a busy town and you hear what a busy town would sound like, with people talking and goods being moved about. Descend into a dark cave full of giant rats and fire-breathing bats and it sounds appropriately spooky and dank.

On one hand, Avadon isn’t a perfect game and there are aspects that I would like changed. On the other hand, the faults seem petty to the overall awesomeness and hours of enjoyment to be had, so I feel complaining about them is kind of like throwing a tantrum because someone gave you a present in the wrong color. If you want to play a game with an engaging and thought-provoking story, turn-based combat, and skills with a variety of interesting effects, and which rewards exploration and communication, then immediately download the demo of Avadon – The Black Fortress. It’s a fantastic game which will provide hours of enjoyment for both experienced players of role-playing games and those who have never played one before.

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