Developer Spyderweb have consistently strived to provide a traditional and exceptional RPG experience with their titles, and their latest game, Avadon: The Black Fortress successfully continues that trend and begins a new franchise. Its ‘old school’ approach to RPGs certain won’t appeal to everyone but there is no denying the quality of Avadon: The Black Fortress’ fundamentals, in fact it downright embarrasses some of the triple ‘A’ releases of late.
You begin Avadon: The Black Fortress by choosing a character from a list of four classes, Blademaster, ShadowWalker, Shaman, and Sorceress, each with their own spells and abilities to match different play-styles. Don’t expect deep character customisation with appearance sliders and stat redistribution though, you pick you preferred class and the adventure begins. It’s a refreshing change of pace and one that promotes a faster entry into the game that’s easy to appreciate, and as you progress you get plenty of opportunity to develop your character and party.
In-game Avadon: The Black Fortress harks back to the early 90s for RPGs, with its isometric view, basic tile palette and sprites, and no music or voices giving it the very traditional presentation. High quality full-screen images and character portraits are reminiscent of the Buldur’s Gate series and the basic movement controls and turn based combat further trade on nostalgia. But then you strike up a conversation and read the text introducing the fantasy world and you realise Avadon: The Black Fortress has no need to trade on presentational gimmicks or player’s memories of yore; its quality is obvious and seldom matched. It’s absolutely brilliantly written with a huge amount of detail in each and every character, including NPCs (No-playable characters). The result is a tangible fantasy world where you can become completely immersed. Each mission subtlety changes how character react to you based on your actions and everyone has a unique personality. In fact some of the best characters are NPCs that you meet through optional side quests or by going out of your way to speak to people; it’s wonderfully designed with seldom matched levels of detail.
The fantastic writing and solid fantasy setting allow the narrative to flow brilliantly once it gets going; unfortunately it takes a few hours to really get started. The initial pacing problems threaten to put you off and few clichéd moments reduce the flare of originality as you progress, but the 30 hours or so of adventure is engaging and enjoyable, if not quite as grand as you may hope. However, your position in an authoritive role makes for a refreshing experience.
You have joined Avadon, a portrait of authority in place to maintain balance across the land. Through the use of power and a fair share of fear, Avadon protects kingdoms and quells unrest in the region like a governing body. As a member of Avadon, you represent the rule of Avadon and this comes with inherent prejudice from those around you, resulting in their feelings of mistrust and fear, tainting you perspective of the world. Some enemies will run from you and others begrudgingly ask your help, fearful of what you represent. It’s a different perspective from the norm that really shows you the world and its traditions by you begin a fundamental part of the system. It’s very difficult not to be drawn in.
However immersed you become, Avadon: The Black Fortress does have a few issues, but for the most part they’re small nitpicks. Things like the odd confusing controls cropping up, for example when on your inventory screen, pressing ‘I’ brings it up but doesn’t close it, and a few similar faux pas. The narrative is also a very linear affair but this is more a subject of preference than anything else. Otherwise it’s difficult to find fault. The turn based combat is easy to learn and exceptionally well balanced, offing up just enough challenge to keep you progressing and engaged. The character development follows a simple talent tree for each class, allowing you to level up your character and you party members individually to fit your needs, and is designed to allow choice but without punishing you if you choose certain skills over others.
There is no doubt about it; Avadon: The Black Fortress represents the quintessential RPG experience in all its excellence. It provides a huge fantasy world, full of genuinely human, dynamic characters, and combat balanced damn near perfectly. Avadon: The Black Fortress should be considered a benchmark title for the pure role playing games.
MLG Rating: 9/10
Platform: PC Release Date: 27/04/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Avadon: The Black Fortress for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of two weeks on a PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.