Avadon: The Warborn Review
Four years ago I played my first Spiderweb game. It was Avadon: The Black Fortress. It was one my first indie RPG. Now, I'm reviewing my 8th Spiderweb game, Avadon: The Warborn, which is the third in the Avadon series. In all the Avadon games you play a hand of Avadon, sort of a combination of a secret police officer and an elite military operative. Due to your office and your power, you are feared and hated. All the Avadon games are story driven and deal with difficult themes like war crimes, the corruption of power, and making choices where the destruction of innocent lives is nearly inevitable. This third Avadon is no exception, dependent on Jeff Vogel's writing and on a time tested tactical RPG system to make it an engaging game.
While the graphics may be limited, well written texts give an excellent sense of atmosphere
Atmosphere and Story
To understand the world of Avadon, one must understand that the player serves the Pact. The Pact were once five independent states, dominated and terrorized by their neighbors. For their mutual preservation they banded together and crushed the neighbors who once wronged them. But all is not well in the Pact. Joining together has led to new problems, as immigrants from one Pact state entered another with their different customs and laws. Also age old disputes between the Pact states cause friction and the defeated Farlands are constantly looking for a chance to return to their age old glory. To stem these problems the Pact founded Avadon. The black fortress conscripted the most elite warriors the Pact could offer to crush all internal dissent and external threat. Your character plays one of these elite agents, and in all the Avadon games you are sent to deal with threats to the Pact. How you deal with them is, at least partially, up to you. Do you try to compromise with rebels to bring them back into the fold, or do you try to destroy them to discourage further rebellion? Do you let corruption occur because it is in the best interest of the Pact, or do you crush it, knowing it could lead to internal problems? Do you kill a defeated enemy or do you capture them, knowing your superior will have them tortured? This sort of game certainly isn't for everyone, but Jeff Vogel does a good job in making the characters very human. In fact I think The Warborn does an even better job than the two previous entries in presenting the player with a wide variety of personalities on both sides of the conflict, and Avadon manages to avoid being overly depressing or sickening despite dealing with serious and difficult themes.
You can decide to be merciful, harsh, or greedy, but not without consequences.
The Avadon games are story driven. While they allow a decent amount of exploration and character building, it's clear that they aren't as open as, for example, the Avernum series, but make up for this with their main stories and companions. Obviously if you don't like story driven RPGs (such as most RPGs by Bioware, Obsidian, or the Shadowrun games), then Avadon probably won't be your cup of tea. If, like me, you can get really caught up in a story, provided you're given a decent combat system, character building, and exploration, then you'll probably like the Avadon series. As far as The Warborn is concerned, the story is great, and probably my favourite of the Avadon series. It gradually builds tension and sucks you in. In fact I much preferred the way the narrative was built up in this game compared to the two previous games. The one thing that has to be said about The Warborn is that it is a true sequel. If you don't have prior knowledge of some of the NPCs from previous games, the events that occur and choices you'll have to make won't have quite the same impact as they do if you have played the earlier games. The price of peace and loyalty, as well as the worth of personal sacrifice drive the story forward, and you're often put between a rock and a hard place. You can die from making story based decisions (as I found out the beginning of the third chapter, though I decided to reload, decide differently and continue.) Also you'll have to like to read if you want to play these games. There is nothing voiced, and while you're never confronted with huge blocks of text, there is a significant amount of dialogue and environment description, and it's all pretty well written.
No one plays Spiderweb games for their graphics or sound. In general the character portraits and story screens look nice. Everything else looks pretty primitive. Sound and music are very basic. If you are considering getting this game, then you should know that the writing, story and game mechanics, are its strength. Still everyone has a certain tolerance level when it comes to graphics, and so if the Avadon games sound interesting to you, and you've never played one, you should probably go look at the screenshots or check out a video.
You can build each character in a number of ways.
Avadon: The Warborn is a party based tactical CRPG. You are allowed to choose from one of five well balanced classes for your character. The blademaster is a tanky fighter, the shadowwalker is a lighter mobile warrior, the shaman is a summoner/healer, the tinker mage is sort of a hybrid summoner/warrior, and the sorcerer is a ranged control/damage dealer. Each class is on one hand distinct, while on the other hand open enough that they can be built in many different directions. For example the blademaster can be built into a party supporter with his buffs, or even into a competent archer if that's what you want. Regardless, he'll still be to hold his own in close combat. In addition to your own character, you get five companions (one of each class) and you can switch them in and out of the party whenever you enter camp (they also level up with your main character).
While you move around in real time, the game switches into turn based mode whenever you see enemies. In combat movement and range are important. Your turn ends when you've used up all of your movement points, used a skill, or attacked someone. Consumables can be used without ending the turn, and use up about half of your action points. Combat starts out pretty easy but ramps up pretty quickly. Especially in the late game the intelligent use of your skills, items, and positioning becomes very important. There is a nice variety in opponents and their abilities to keep combat interesting. Bosses provide a special challenge with their scripted combat events, and special abilities.
None of this is news to anyone who has played an Avadon game and anyone who has played any Spiderweb game will feel comfortable with the combat system. The Avadon games are generally considered more linear than other Spiderweb games, but describing them as linear per se is unfair. In fact the game system reminds me a lot of Neverwinter Nights 2. Whenever you hear about a place a map will open. The maps themselves are not linear and most maps have a lot to do in addition to whatever main quests you have. Exploration is rewarded, especially on maps with towns, because there are often a large number of sidequests you can undertake, that can be totally missed if you only follow the main quest. There are also a number of secret chambers, extra monster lairs, and interesting places which can be completely skipped, and probably will be if you don't take the time to look around. Also some combat encounters can be avoided by moving around them. A few story passages also reward a stealthier approach over open combat. Unlike a lot of modern games there is nothing procedural or random about the Avadon games. Loot and monsters are hand placed, and with very few exceptions monsters don't respawn.
Combat can be tough and complex
Return to the Black Fortress
Avadon: The Corruption was an improvement over Avadon: The Black Fortress in a number of ways. First you got a new class, the tinker mage. Secondly all classes were now playable as either gender, and perhaps most importantly you travelled to new and different portions of the world of Avadon and met some new monsters and learned new lore about the world.
Avadon: The Warborn's improvements seem very modest in comparison. First there has been a change in class balance. Both the sorceress and the somewhat weak shaman were given a new ability, and the shaman is now good enough to make him a much better choice. Also the overly powerful tinkermage has been ramped down a little. In addition the characters now have more belt slots, which is useful. Energy now regenerates in and between battles, but you start each battle with significantly less. In general I found this positive, since I had to do much less backtracking (to regenerate my energy) and because instead of just using all of my best abilities and then waiting for the cool downs to end, I actually had to weigh which abilities to use. For example in the late mid game my tinkermage companion could place one basic and one advanced turret before consuming all of her energy, even though I could theoretically use all three advanced turrets.
In fact I can imagine that many players might criticize Jeff Vogel for this, since Avadon 3 relies a great deal on the assets from the first two games. Even two of the five companions aren't new. One comes from the Black Fortress, and the other first appeared in the Corruption. Also we revisit a number of places from the first two games. Of course different encounters and enemies await us there. Sometimes this fits well into the story. At other times I felt the game would have profited from more new locations and NPCs. In fact, I think this is my biggest problem with The Warborn, and it was one of the few things which limited my enjoyment of the game.
I still was much happier with Avadon: The Warborn than I was with Avadon: The Corruption. Despite all of its improvements Avadon: The Corruption was narratively and structurally very similar to Avadon: The Black Fortress and many times I felt like I was replaying The Black Fortress, but with improved features and new locations. Only the end of Avadon: The Corruption really surprised me. That's not the case in Avadon: The Warborn. Even though you once again start off as a young inexperienced hand of the Black Fortress, the events which ended part two have had a noticeable impact on the world of Avadon. Your character is trying to deal with a world fallen into chaos. Even though you meet some of the characters from the first two games again, the events of the first two games have had a definite impact on them, and you see some of them in a somewhat different light than in either of the first two games. This also holds true for the two reappearing companions, and I think Jeff Vogel does a good job in showing their development. The first two games also had a story which seemed to be made up of disparate strands which slowly came together as the game advanced. The Warborn in comparison has a strong single story which drives you ahead. I felt it really difficult at times to quit.
We meet plenty of characters from previous games
Avadon: The Warborn is a very good game, but it's a true sequel, and not really the game you want to start the Avadon series with. So if you think this game sounds like something you might enjoy I'd suggest you start with Avadon: The Corruption, since the events of that game shape the story of this one (or you can start with the Black Fortress if you don't mind playing two games which feel very similar). Keep in mind you have to put up with antiquated graphics and sound, but in turn you're getting a game with great writing and story, as well as an enjoyable party based tactical combat system. For those of you who have played earlier Avadon games and not liked the fact that they are much more story driven and linear than the Avernum or Geneforge series, you probably will be just as bothered by these issues. For those who have played at least one of the two previous Avadon games and enjoyed it, I can recommend Avadon: The Warborn. Even though you won't see much new in terms of assets in this game, at least in terms of narrative and pacing, this game feels decidedly different from either of its predecessors.
Information aboutAvadon 3: The Warborne
Developer: Spiderweb Software
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Released: 2016-09-14
· Publisher: Spiderweb Software
- Excellent story
- Unique world full of difficult choices
- Well drawn companions
- Enjoyable turn-based combat
- Well balanced character system
- Very few new assets for a sequel
- Primitive graphics
- Primitive sound