Old-school RPG goodness

Usually when something is named “The Black Fortress,” it’s the place where the bad guys hang out practicing their evil cackles. Not so in the world of Avadon, where it once was the symbol of order and justice. That’s changed in Avadon 2: The Corruption, a retro-styled RPG that offers you a choice: either rally people around the old ways in the face of dangerous new threats, or add to the chaos that threatens to overrun everything. Either way, hours of fun await you.

Playing the first game isn’t a prerequisite for getting into the sequel, which summarizes the partial fall of Avadon in the introduction before throwing you into the quick character creation – just pick one of five classes, a gender, and a name, and away you go – and introducing you to a scout who shows you the ropes. Life isn’t easy in this particular fantasy setting, what with dangerous wildlife, magic-powered mines, and a budding rebellion consisting of humans, ogres, and titans.

Avadon 2: The Corruption

To make matters worse, the relationship between Avadon, led by the mysterious Redbeard, and the people it claims to protect is clearly strained. The citizens seem resentful of the Black Fortress’ influence even as they rely upon its power to hold off the approaching darkness, especially the magical Corruption that is running big chunks of land. Some of Avadon’s hands have been conscripted to serve against their will, and the game asks some very modern questions about how much liberty is worth giving up in exchange for relative safety.

The gameplay is strictly old school though, and that’s meant as a compliment. The development team at Spiderweb Software has the UI down to a science, having used it for the first Avadon and its remake of Avernum: Escape from the Pit. Movement and dialogue are simple point-and-click affairs, with companion characters dutifully following where your main character leads. Getting close enough to hostiles instantly ends your free movement and begins the turn-based combat.

Fights require some thought since the game throws enemies at you with a wide variety of special attacks. It’s also fond of running battles where bosses take multiple encounters to defeat. Fortunately, you and your companions have plenty of tricks of your own, including summoned pets, auto-firing turrets, and a wide range of heals and buffs. Items can also be used without wasting your action on any given turn, allowing you to wolf down some food if necessary.

Avadon 2: The Corruption

Even with careful selection of abilities as your party levels up (and even companions you don’t take with you gain levels on their own, which is a nice feature), Avadon 2 is a challenge. There are times when you simply don’t realize the true extent of the danger you’re in until you’re up the proverbial creek. Many RPG aficionados will doubtless feel this is just fine, especially since you can swap between the four difficulty settings at will. You’re also provided with plenty of save slots, and you’re going to want to save often so you can go back to right before you walked into that ambush.

Though there are plenty of side quests and decisions to make along the way, the main story is fairly linear and requires you to return to Avadon fairly often. That’s not a completely bad thing since you can recharge your character’s Vitality, shop for gear, and acquire scarabs that grant you extra powers while fusing to you a la Jaime Reyes. But even though you’re able to hop from zone to zone on the world map, there’s a lot of backtracking and covering the same ground that slows the pace at times.

Avadon 2: The Corruption

The game world is rendered in the same 3/4 perspective as any number of previous RPGs, which should make it comfortable to many players. Character designs lean toward the generic side, and the art style in general is more solid than spectacular. The result is something that isn’t too demanding on your PC, though also one where you can’t always tell a zombie from a ghoul just by looking at them. You’re also almost guaranteed to wish the character models changed as you equip them with new weapons and armor.

It’s also quite possible you won’t care, since the game has so many other classic RPG aspects – I didn’t even mention the encumbrance rules or the system for forging magical weapons – that it doesn’t need to be a visual tour de force. Like its predecessor, Avadon 2 is an expertly crafted throwback that caters to its target audience with dozens of hours of exactly what it wants.