mento's Avadon: The Black Fortress (PC) review

Avatar image for mento

Have a darn good old-fashioned CRPG for next to nothing.

Avadon: The Black Fortess is a turn-based strategy computer RPG from Spiderweb Software, the creators of - among other things - the Avernum and Geneforge franchises. Spiderweb's been making their own brand of strategy RPGs in the mould of classics of the genre since the mid-90s, very much staying on the fringes of the PC gaming world and catering only to the hardcore crowd who wanted more of the games they used to play, while BioWare and other major developers moved onto things like "3D" and "approachable casual gameplay". It's both admirable and a comfort that Spiderweb have found an audience large enough to keep them and their older style of RPG afloat.

In Avadon, you play as a neophyte "Hand of Avadon" - an agent of a powerful multi-national organization that governs the peace between the five member state known collectively as "The Pact". The Pact is at constant risk of war with itself, as well as from the antagonistic Farland nations that surround them. As a Hand, it is your duty to head out to various locales inside and outside the Pact's territories to solve disputes and bring to justice any that would threaten the fragile peace of the land. What is most readily apparent narrative-wise when playing this game is the sheer fearsome reputation of Avadon: Whenever you leave the eponymous fortress for a mission, you'll see that almost everyone you meet is terrified of you (or rather, what you represent). It's an uneasy but empowering feeling; sort of like having your own servants to order around. It's hard not to treat these NPCs with respect and mercy, speaking as someone who isn't a sociopath, yet the temptation to flaunt one's power or take their belongings (which I generally don't have an issue with in many other RPGs) is always present and is linked to a major point of contention that the game revisits again and again: Just how beneficial can an organization so rife with the potential for corruption and bullying be? Is it worth tearing down this long-lived precarious peace for a new world order? As you play the game, you'll be introduced to "assistants" - other, less senior Hands with which to partner up on missions - that each have their own grudges against Avadon and its stringent methods. As with a certain space opera, following their respective storylines to a conclusion that satisfies them is how you earn their loyalty, necessary for a rather important decision to be made at the end of the game.

Before I continue, I probably ought to address the 16-bit elephant in the room: This game isn't great to look at, at least comparatively to modern RPGs. Spiderweb's presumably been soldiering on with a minimal budget approach, hoping that the real heart of their games - the deep strategic gameplay - is sufficient to draw in that aforementioned audience that can appreciate it. For yardstick purposes, the graphics are a little behind, say, the lush 2D enviornments of its Infinity Engine forebears (which all came out a decade or so ago) but perhaps a little ahead of similarly formative games like the quintessential Ultima franchise. That said, there is a certain minimalist charm with this style: It's more pragmatic than showy, and this is entirely in-line with its philosophy as a deliberately old-school CRPG.

Mechanically, the game is limited in its selection of abilities compared to, say, the vast array of options available to a wizard in a Baldur's Gate game. As before, this too has a silver lining: The abilities and magic you're left with all have a practical, thought-out function depending on the type and number of opponents you're facing, rather than the excessive number of D&D spells that occasionally feel superfluous. There are four classes in the game which are loosely categorized as a defensive tank, a stealthy ranged type, a healer/buffer/summoner and a pure damage-dealing mage - regardless of which class you choose for the main character, each of the four exist in your assistants for you to mix and match. Crowd control AoE, buffs, debuffs, summoned creatures to soak up damage, attacks that cause knockback, attacks that cause enemies to be stunned briefly: Each have their own ideal application, or are otherwise effective ways of quickly ending a battle. They are also saddled with a set cooldown period before they can be used again, and most rely on "Vitality" - a stamina stat that won't refresh after a battle has ended (unlike HP, which is mercifully refilled while not in combat), that instead requires you visit the home base occasionally to rest or use a rare Vitality potion. It's a clever system that prohibits excessive use of your special abilities without causing too much inconvenience for the player.

In conclusion, don't expect too much innovation from Avadon considering the many years of evolution the RPG genre has seen since the classic RPGs that this and Spiderweb's other games purposely emulate. While modern conveniences exist, such as health quickly regenerating post-battle and a bottomless "junk" bag for instantaneously selling off vendor trash when the opportunity to do so arises, it's not a game that goes out of its way to make things easy for you. As with the previous game I reviewed (Wadjet Eye Games' Resonance), this is a conscious effort by the designers to revisit their preferred older style of game and it's rather vital that you're on their wavelength if you're going to enjoy it fully. If you're a proponent of the classics, I can heartily recommend Avadon: The Black Fortress and, tentatively, their recent remake of the first Avernum using the same engine. For everyone else - which I'd possibly reductively say includes anyone under 25 - I'd exercise caution. But then, it's not like the Steam sales weren't made for low-cost risky decisions like this anyway.

Other reviews for Avadon: The Black Fortress (PC)

This edit will also create new pages on Giant Bomb for:

Beware, you are proposing to add brand new pages to the wiki along with your edits. Make sure this is what you intended. This will likely increase the time it takes for your changes to go live.

Comment and Save

Until you earn 1000 points all your submissions need to be vetted by other Giant Bomb users. This process takes no more than a few hours and we'll send you an email once approved.