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Genre: Adventure & RPG
Min OS X: 10.4


Avadon: The Black Fortress
April 18, 2011 | Jon Carr
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Lightning

Requirements:
Mac OS X: 10.4 | CPU: 800 MhZ | RAM: 512 MB | HD Space: 200 MB Graphics: Video card or processor with OpenGL support and 32 MB video RAM (64 MB recommended), 1024x600 screen resolution with 32 bit color

Review:
Spiderweb Software has been around for a long time - 16 years of making indie RPG titles for the Mac (and Windows, but the Mac is always first.) Jeff Vogel, Spiderweb's creator, has had a long time to hone his skill at making them, and it shows in Avadon: The Black Fortress. It's Spiderwebs first new series in a decade, and I would venture to say it's his most finely crafted work to date. Read on to find out why.

The game is set on the fictional continent of Lynaeus, which is divided between two warring factions. There is the Pact, an alliance of five nations; and the Farlands, a loose-knit group of faded empires and barbarian territories. The Pact has banded together for safety and to fend off invasion from the other lands of Lynaeus. The story fashions you as an agent (or Hand) of the titular Black Fortress, ruled over by the fearsome and mighty Redbeard. You are tasked with seeking out conspiracy and troublemakers who would upset the Pact, as well as helping out territories under Pact control to keep the peace. The story is long, but always exciting with many twists, choices and multiple endings depending on your actions along the way. A useful Codex has detailed explanations and descriptions of the world's factions and locations if you feel like reading more in depth or to remind yourself of who is who.

As with all Spiderweb games everything is in real time except for when you enter combat mode, at which point it goes turn-based. You have so many action points per character to move, attack, cast a spell, heal and so on. Anyone familiar with a Spiderweb adventure will be instantly at home with the mechanics here, but it's easy to learn for new players as well. There is a new nifty combat grid around each character (or the whole area if you want it to be) which highlights them on the map. If an enemy is within that space and engaging a member of your team, they can't run away. I thought it was a realistic touch, and adds another layer of strategy. You can't just keep running away, once you get up close, you are committed to the fight. I thought this might be a problem for my fragile Sorceress, but her shield charm and my character's taunt ability kept her alive and well.

Speaking of skills, Avadon has 4 different character classes: Blademaster, Shadowwalker, Shaman and Sorceress. You can't choose gender, but each class has a different set of abilities, strengths and weaknesses. The skill trees are varied enough that you could play through as the same class twice, but focus on a completely different set of skills. It may be tempting to try and leapfrog to the top of the skill-tree, but you'll be sorry if you ignore your lower level abilities. But that's the beauty of the diversity. You can go for a warrior with high melee and ranged damage, or more of a tank with high defensive and resistance skills, letting your other members of the party do most of the damage. Will your sorceress wield ice and fire to devastate her foes, or focus on dazing, defending and buffing your group? You can of course go for a jack-of-all-trades approach, but I like to specialize. Speaking of that, you gain a boost to an entire section of skills in the tree at levels 5, 15 and 25, with level 30 being the highest you can attain.

Leveling up is exciting in Avadon, because it often unlocks a new skill, or a new ability to an existing skill or spell you already have. Your Blademaster may gain a savage blow with high damage at level 3 of your melee attacks, while your Shamans acid rain will affect foes for several turns at level 6 of the skill. Loot is even more addictive in Avadon than previous Spiderweb titles, and that's a good thing. The inventory system is straightforward and easy to use, with handy additions like a junk bag where you can toss stuff in to sell all at once later on. An auto-sorting button would have been nice, but it's not a big deal.

The crafting system seen in the later Geneforge titles also makes an appearance here, but you gain gear and enchanting artifacts at a much higher rate, which makes it more enjoyable. The crafting, or really enchanting, is simple to use and makes your armor and weapons more effective.



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