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Avadon 3: The Warborn Review

After the wealth of RPGs we received last year, 2016 is feeling a little light for some RPG fans.

This is a much larger problem for those who prefer “the good old days” of classic isometric role-playing games with the few we actually obtain. 2015’s Pillars of Eternity was an amazing return to form and we have seen a recent resurgence of cRPGs with the likes of Obsidian’s games and Divinity: Original Sin. There is however one company which has been active since the mid-90’s and never stopped making classic RPGs – their latest release is Avadon 3: The Warborn.

Spiderweb Software’s Avadon series is as classic as classic RPGs go. Set in a warring medieval fantasy world, you play as a Hand of Avadon – the judge and jury of the land of Lynaeus. This, of course, gives the perfect narrative – and mechanical – reason as to why you can meander across the world, deciding the outcome of conflicts and who lives and who dies. Obviously, with this much power, there are those who oppose you – silently or not.

Avadon is the powerhouse behind The Pact, a coalition between five large landlocked countries – with tremendously different cultures – surrounded by the Farlands. The Pact don’t like each other amazingly well – there are ongoing civil wars – but enough to band together to fight the Farlands; various barbarian states, tribes, evil corruption and beast forces. It’s a grand backdrop and it makes for a wonderful story of politics, intrigue and choice helped in full by Jeff Vogel’s phenomenal writing.

We often look at classic RPGs with rose-tinted glasses however. We remember the stories and characters but often forget some of the more technical details. One area in which Avadon 3: The Warborn may put people off is in the graphics and audio department. Spiderweb Software have never been known for their stunning vistas and this latest title is no different. Almost sitting on the fence between retro graphics and modern isometric styles Avadon 3’s visuals never impress but neither do they ever fail. If anything, the clean and simple visual style makes for an easy transition into an isometric perspective for those inexperienced.

Where Avadon 3: The Warborn does falter is in its character models, animations and effects. Most will be able deal with its graphics – which invariably suit the style of the game – but these areas laughably call back to the 90’s – and not in a good way. Characters walk around the map at an incredibly fast pace, completely out of time with their poor walking animations. Sprites are often re-used and have a lack of overall detail – meeting a drake or dragon should be an intimidating experience but here feels like strolling up to a small cardboard cut-out. Visual effects like lightning or fire are nowhere as impressive as they should be.

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Some people may call out that these things are an inherent weakness of the subgenre or perspective – and you will quickly begin to not really care about them in game – but they really are just not very good. Audio is also initially off-putting, or rather, the lack thereof. There is a single piece of music played throughout the whole title, on the main menu. Again, it’s something you get used to but playing a game nowadays, especially an RPG, and not having a tranquil orchestral track in the background is unusual.

Avadon 3: The Warborn is a game of three parts; exploring, talking and fighting. All three will be done in equal measure but the conversation and combat are by far the most important. Thankfully the combat is pretty good. Done in the expected – and in my case, preferred – way of turn-based party encounters, fighting is a mix of using melee, missile and class-based abilities to fend off foes. There are five classes to choose from, and a companion of each type (you can take up to two companions) which range from the more basic soldier-like Blademaster to the turret-wielding Tinkerer.

Everyone gets both a melee and missile weapon – which often means shooting the enemy until they come to you – as well as numerous abilities unlocked through levelling up. Different classes have different skill trees which means that two sorcerer’s could play slightly differently – one may focus on large AoE elemental attacks and the other focuses on defensive and mind-bending play to bring the enemies over to your side. Although, usually, it’s best just have a nice split selection of classes.

At first, combat seems a little easy, not requiring much more than charging in and using base attacks. But as the game progresses, and your party unlocks more and more abilities the game becomes more difficult. Enemies develop certain playstyles – you may need to take out a “controller” enemy before being able to kill the invincible zombies – and you need to use tactics to advance. By end-game each one of your characters will have around 20 abilities, all with their own uses, and you will have developed a playstyle that fits the classes in your party.

As you explore and complete quests you will gain new loot and items. Much of this can be sold, the rest either consumed or equipped. Armour and enchantments are found throughout the game but can’t all be used the same class: I played as a Sorcerer and couldn’t equip the massive bulky armour that my Blademaster and Shadowwalker could. One minor complaint during combat is that you have to got into a seperate menu to access your abilties and can’t just equip them to a specific hotkey – like you can with rarely used food and potions.

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Avadon 3: The Warborn‘s real strength is in its spectacular storyline, quests and writing. A common problem with RPGs heavy on reading is that, initially, trying to introduce a new player to a massive, complicated world full of lore and depth is it is just overbearing and boring. Vogel’s wryly humourous writing, which mixes enough depth to get you interested and enough humour to keep you entertained ensures that you are never bored and always engrossed in his wonderful world.

Avadon 3 proves that the classic RPG isn’t, and nor should it ever be, dead; as long as we have people like Jeff Vogel creating these involved and terrific worlds full of choice and enjoyment the genre will never leave us. Some people may scoff at the visuals or at the lack of a soundtrack; others may be put off by the sometimes poor UI or the intrinsic slowness of it all, but even those things add charm to something like this.

Avadon 3: The Warborn is available on PC.
Ruaraidh - pronounced Roo-Ree - is a Scottish gamer with the name and games to prove it. He enjoys mostly everything, unless it involves exercise, and much prefers to run around inside a good, open-world RPG, being chased across the lands by a horde of monsters after his sweet loot. When he has made his escape, he will often return to the real world to continue playing anything with a good story - indie or otherwise.