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Publisher: Spiderweb Software    Genre: Adventure & RPG
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: Any CPU    RAM: 30 MB    Hard Disk: 40 MB    Graphics: 800x600 @ 16-bit

Blades of Avernum
March 1, 2005 | Joseph Cadotte

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Blades of Avernum continues the world Spiderweb Software created for the Exile/Avernum games. Like the previous games, Blades of Avernum is primarily an update of its Exile equivalent, Blades of Exile. If you've played Blades of Exile through, it might not be worthwhile to acquire Blades of Avernum (unless you wish to run the program in OS X or to have a drastically improved interface). If you haven't played the original, then you may find this interesting.

Like all Spiderweb games, the graphics in Blades are not stellar. Aside from very clever illustrations by Phil Foglio, they can best be called serviceable. Similarly, the sounds are bare bones, with no detectable improvement from the previous Avernum games. It actually improves the gameplay to turn them off. But neither element is really much of a detriment. For those who have been following the series, this lack of change provides a continuity which almost overcomes the dated look and sound.

And the game does look dated. It does not support multi-buttoned mice, nor a scroll wheel. It prefers thousands of colors over millions. During character creation, it is difficult to determine what is selectable and what isn't. The animations are simple affairs of two or three frames. The landscape is tiled, with the objects and characters as stock figures, looking like nothing so much as miniatures on a complex board.

The characters the player creates have no personality, nor anything apart from their abilities to set them apart. While the characters are highly customizable, the focus is entirely on how they compliment each other. They are best viewed as tools in a kit. If you need to unlock a door, the best thief automatically does it. If you need to heal someone's wounds, the best person in first aid or priest spells does that. There is little motive to cross-train any character, as they are never really separated. Even if there is an impassable barrier between them, the party will stay together, the stray characters somehow catching up.

When compared to Neverwinter Nights or the Fallout series, Blades of Avernum can't stand up. There is no eye-candy, no compelling personal quests, nothing to provide an immersive experience. If that is what you are looking for, this isn't it. But then, Blades of Avernum makes no pretensions that it wants to have any of the above, and, when evaluated on its own terms, it is actually quite good.

Even with all of the above flaws, Blades is still charming and more than worthwhile. It is best to think of it in terms of a merger between board games and RPGs. From this light, its strengths really shine. It can have very complex puzzles, but few that are truly insolvable. Each combat (and there are many of them), in fact, is best viewed as a mini-puzzle to solve, as one balances how best to overcome the foe while conserving as much of your resources as possible.

It has depth that is rarely available in most RPGs, and a storyline that, while filled with clichés, still is enjoyable. The dialogue is a bit stilted, but better than average. Most importantly, and unlike many of its competitors, Blades of Avernum is not very taxing on either you or your computer. It comfortably sits in the background, and lends itself to a few minutes of play at a time. Of course, once you start playing it takes a bit of doing to stop. It falls into the "five more minutes" category of games, and that five more minutes usually ends up being an hour or so.


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