Five nations held together in an uneasy alliance, threatened by neighbouring nations, and troubled by their own differences. Choices you make early on affect later events.
Avadon: The Black Fortress has the scale, sweep and complexity of plot that you’d expect from a major game publisher, backed with solid writing and a setting that is every bit as intricate and thought-through as you could hope for. It is, in fact, produced and sold by Spiderweb Software, an indie developer of whom I cannot say enough nice things.
Those indie roots show in its graphics and music – it uses old-style isometric faux-3D, and the music and sound are pleasant, but don’t have the thrill or intensity of Dragon Age or Borderlands.
Avadon – the eponymous fortress – is the centre of power for the Pact; the alliance between the five lands, binding them together for protection against the Farlands and barbarians. You are a ‘Hand’ of Avadon, empowered to act on behalf of the Pact, answerable only to your superiors.
The Hands are supported in their work by the Eyes – who function as observers, spies, and miscellaneous support personnel – and the Hearts – who manage strategy, set goals for the Hands and advise Redbeard, the Keeper of Avadon, who is quite possibly the most dangerous man alive.
As a Hand of Avadon, you’re part James Bond and part Mission Impossible team. So long as the Pact gets what it wants, you have a free hand in how you deliver it. Extortion, diplomacy, assassination, theft – whatever gets the job done is okay.
Play the moral high-ground, or play for your own personal power.
You have a team of other Hands to work with, but you are the one who is assigned tasks and lead the team. You may choose any two of your four companions to take with you. You also have subplots with them, and can stab them in the back or shelter them from their own mistakes and misdeeds – as you choose.
Exploration is in real-time, while combat is straightforward and turn-based. Experienced gamers may find Avadon’s default difficulty setting too easy – allowing you, as it does, to focus more on the story and goals – but if that bugs you, just crank it up. It’s still possible to get in over your head at times, even on the lower difficulty levels. Keeping your head is a matter of not sticking your neck out too far.
There are four basic character classes to choose from, and the character development system is detailed enough to allow you to customise the characters (your own, and those of your team) as they advance.
The whole game is a 106MB digital download, which doubles as a playable demo that covers the first few hours of the game. US$25 buys you a serial number which will unlock the remainder of the game should you wish to continue. Avadon: The Black Fortress is the first game in a new series from Spiderweb Software, and I’m looking forward to more in this series.
Avadon: The Black Fortress is moderately intuitive, intriguing, fascinating, satisfying and ready to deliver entertainment when you’ve got a little time to sit with it. A toothsome treat indeed.
If you want glorious rendered vistas, thrilling music, and to make your graphics and sound cards sputter and overheat, go and play something else. Avadon’s system requirements are comfortably modest on both Windows and the Mac (and for the iPad before too much longer).
If you want a complex and interesting story, a detailed setting, interesting characters, moral challenges (and the odd bit of puzzle solving), all in an easy-to-play package, play it now.