Returning to Spiderweb Software’s Avadon series with the release of Avadon 3: The Warborn reminds me why I first got into computer gaming and why I love the roleplaying genre so much. Epic quests, stellar writing, and good ol’ fashioned dungeon delving make for an entertaining experience that true roleplaying fans are going to want to dive into as soon as possible. That isn’t to say there aren’t issues, but at this point, players should know what to expect from one of Jeff Vogel’s titles. Avadon 3: The Warborn is what it is. It makes no apologies for being old school in both design and look, and it doesn’t ask for forgiveness or even acceptance from the roleplaying world in general. What it does offer is the opportunity to be whisked away to another reality, a fully lived-in world where every decision you make is important, at least to you and your immediate future. You may not be SHAPING world events, but you do have a part top play in them, and your actions can have an impact.
Spiderweb’s games have never been conventionally beautiful, and feature a dated graphics engine that doesn’t offer much in the way of visual panache. You aren’t going to find hyper-realistic character models, or incredibly fluid animations. You WILL see varied backgrounds, and an attention to detail that lets you feel like you’re living in another place when you play. Objects have reasons for being where they are, even if those reasons have nothing to do with you or your quest. A blacksmith’s shop will have scraps of metal lying around as well as various tools you have no reason to pick up. Fields will be filled with broken farming implements. This is a world where people have jobs to do, and go about their lives regardless of how you are getting on with your quest. In some ways, that’s more immersive than better looking titles with graphical flourishes but less depth. Granted, splash screens are actually quite lovely, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Color, light, and shadow are used to good effect to help set mood and a sense of place. Sound effects are adequate, but not awe-inspiring. Once again, the sounds imply a much larger world- you hear crowds of people going about their lives in towns, with the distant sound of music presumably coming from the tavern or homes although you never see them. Weapons and spells sound as they should and no more. The soundtrack provides additional atmosphere, but is not particularly memorable. None of these take away from the game because Vogel’s written words are so powerful. Reading the flavor text and narration, I feel like I’m back in my old D&D group imagining the world around me. Avadon 3 tells grand and personal stories with equal ability. Every major character your party interacts with can be dealt with many ways, and the game hinges on the choices you make. Dialog is generally well paced and well-written, but I’m still a bit unsure about some characters’ “voices.” Some speak in a broken-English that I’m not sure is supposed to represent a sense of “foreign-ness” or imply certain characters are perhaps less educated. I honestly think it’s just to show that not everyone sounds the same, even if they come from the same geographical location or political faction. At first it bothered me, because I thought the game was mocking the less intelligent, but then I remembered the way Mordin Solus speaks in Mass Effect and became more comfortable with these characterizations. I am impressed by the game’s scope and the always present political machinations happening well above your character’s pay grade. Despite the fact that Avadon is crumbling and stakes have never been higher, Avadon 3’s plot feels more personal for some reason. It’s interesting being an agent of a still feared, yet significantly less powerful Black Fortress.
Playing Avadon 3 is simple enough with the competently-designed mouse controls we’ve become used to in previous games. Again, the controls are what they are. Do I wish it was possible to simply click a spot on the map to have my characters move there? Absolutely. I wish there was a system in place to speed up time when having to traverse large sections of an already explored map. It would be nice if the inventory system were a bit less convoluted, allowing me to pick up, slot, and equip items with fewer clicks. That being said, I still enjoy the combat system where I can effortlessly switch weapons between rounds (without incurring a penalty!) and attack, defend, or use spells easily. I like the variation found among enemies, and I like that different types of foes use different tactics, making me have to change up my battle strategies from time to time, especially during “boss” battles. I like the subtlety involved in making sure no-one is watching me while I pilfer items from storehouses, and I like that I have to watch carefully for items I can use to activate doors. I find a few quests a bit too reliant on backtracking, especially when I didn’t have the “correct” information to proceed, but this occurs too infrequently to be a significant issue. More problematic is not having a simple way to teleport back to my home base after a grueling mission. I don’t enjoy having to schlep all the way back to town.
Avadon 3: The Warborn is a fine RPG, warts and all. Learning its mechanics is quick and painless, and exploring the vast world is rewarding and exciting. Avadon games have a way of grabbing you and not letting go, and the incredible number of sidequests (which are well thought out and usually fairly conveniently located) provides ample gameplay which more than justifies its cost. It’s not going to be for everyone, but that was never the idea. Old-school RPG fans and those valuing story and substance will find plenty to love here.