Role-playing games generally fall into one of two camps. There’s the open-ended, real-time Western-style, and the linear, turn-based Eastern-style. Both can be fairly predictable, barring a few changes to the characters, story, or environments. They usually come from big publishing houses, too. Avadon defies all these modern conventions and attempts to be a hybrid breed, which is especially sweet coming from an independent developer.
Avadon: The Black Fortress HD is a cross between open-world and linear gameplay styles, featuring both turn-based and active battles. It was also developed by a single person, Jeff Vogel. It immediately sets itself apart from the pack, but it may also be a hard sell for anyone looking for a tried-and-true RPG formula.
Only you can prevent forest fires.
Visually, Avadon is the very definition of basic. Despite the HD moniker, this is a modest, 2-D isometric world that’s not exactly teeming with color and life. Animations are simple, and even on the large iPad screen, some sprites just look a bit too small. Due to the graphics and turn-based gamplay, Avadon feels decidedly old-school. That can be a good thing for the iPad, since there’s not much in the App Store to compare it with.
There’s also no in-game music in Avadon, although this is by choice. The game contains some intro tunes, but then it goes silent apart from ambient noise. It’s a questionable design choice– music can be distracting, but we’ve also grown accustomed to hearing a soundtrack as we journey along our epic quest.
Even though it was designed by a single person, this 30+ hour game is jam-packed with role-playing goodness, and has more character than some games built by huge development teams. You begin by choosing a class with its own set of spells and abilities, and you’ll continue to refine and add to these via skill points. You’ll also pick up additional party members along the way, rounding out your skill set.
Equipment stats are like catnip for role-playing gamers.
Battles can be played in more than one way. Avadon is generally built around a turn-based system, so your characters will take turns moving and executing attacks. However, you can choose a more active approach using action points, like in Fallout. Once you’re used all your points, your turn still ends, but it makes for more engaging battles. There’s also the requisite loot and armor drops, which we found add significantly to the gameplay.
In addition, the game’s story is incredibly fresh. It’s well-written, and you’ll want to read everything rather than just skim or skip over the text. There’s also a lot of player dialogue choice, like you’ll find in console games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age. Whenever you’re asked a question, you can respond with varying degrees of attitude, from pleasant and polite to gruff and harsh.
The game itself is linear in its overarching quest, but these choices do affect how people begin to perceive you, and that alters the game to a degree. There are also extensive side quests that are more than just fluff, so we recommend fully exploring the game rather than just staying the course.
Avadon isn’t a typical RPG, and at the same time, it may not have mass appeal. At $10, you might be tempted to pass it by and wait for the next blockbuster with name recognition. But if you’re looking for a deep RPG, give Avadon a shot. It’s not superb, but it is special.