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

Geneforge 3
June 17, 2005 | Ian Beck

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Gameplay is where Geneforge III really shines. The plot is well-written and interesting, and advanced through a nice mix of dialogue, quests, and combat. There are several factions in the game, and your comments to NPC's throughout the game will lead to some factions being more friendly than others. Your choices in dialogue and in which faction you cooperate with will completely change the outcomes available to you. Although it is not strictly speaking non-linear, there are many branching plot directions for you to take, which in my experience is often better than non-linear because it allows you no matter your choices to follow a well-developed plot to its conclusion. And then you can play it again and follow a completely different story.

However, this branching system is old news to the Geneforge series, and to anyone who has played a Spiderweb game hearing that it has a great plot is not a big surprise. What is new, and what makes Geneforge III stand out from past Spiderweb titles, is the interface.

Geneforge III's interface may have elements very similar to past titles' interfaces (the minimap, many of the icons, and some of the basic shortcuts), but there have been pretty major modifications to may aspects of it. The inventory is a particularly standout feature; past games had an inventory that was essentially a list of items that you had to scroll through, coupled with a picture of your character to show your equipment. Geneforge III has moved toward a more Diablo II style inventory which lives in its own window called up via a button next to your character in the sidebar or via keyboard shortcut. I found the instant access to all inventory items much easier to use than past inventories. Granted, it was somewhat hard to decipher where on the character inventory items would land, but since you don't have to click the right box (the system automatically places equipped items in their correct place) it was not at all hard to figure out.

Besides the inventory, many interface features have been revised, making the whole system much more intuitive. A "belt" feature is added as well so that you have quick access to important one-use items such as healing potions, making it unnecessary to open the inventory window in most battles. The buttons at the bottom of the window are pretty self-explanatory, but if you don't understand what one does you can hit tab to see every button's function and hotkey. In fact, the only less intuitive feature change was that the controls to move party members up or down in the order are located in the separate character's skill screens.

Ironically, at first I didn't like the interface changes very much because I was so used to the older Spiderweb conventions. However, after using it for a little while I began to really appreciate the changes, and as you can see I'm a strong believer in it now.

Another exciting gameplay change is that in Geneforge III it is possible to convince other human characters to join your party (as opposed to having only creations). Currently, they have the same skill sheet as the creations which is a little odd, but the possibilities of expanding the engine to allow multiple full characters to be in a party for future games makes me absolutely giddy. Even if the upcoming Avernum 4 uses the Geneforge engine with only this minor modification, it will be a very impressive game.

In addition to these other gameplay changes, Geneforge III sports an item enhancement and combination system similar to Diablo II's Horadric Malus. By using a magical anvil you can add enchantments to equipment or follow recipes in arcane books scattered in various places. Or, as the instructions say, you can "Place your items on the anvil. Press combine. Hope." I found this addition to the game to be a completely unlooked for but very fun element.

Finally, the gameplay addition that I think makes this the most appropriate Spiderweb title for people new to the company to get their toes wet with is the thorough integrated tutorial. The entire first few sections of the game set up the atmosphere and introduce you to the game's world and also provide step-by-step instructions for playing the game as you go. While I found it mildly annoying that the tutorial pop-ups could not be disabled via the preferences, they are not intrusive and serve to ease you into the game. Additionally, any information not covered by the tutorial pop-ups is available in a very large and comprehensive help file accessible from anywhere within the game.


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