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Avadon: The Black Fortress

Score: 75%
ESRB: Not Rated
Publisher: Spiderweb Software
Developer: Spiderweb Software
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Classic/Retro/ RPG/ Board Games

Graphics & Sound:

This takes me back. Remember the days of isometric, third-person, top-down, dungeon-crawl, old-school role-playing games? Avadon revisits this genre, but with the added bonus of modern high resolution displays. This gives you what amounts to more area on-screen and items you can actually sometimes make out before you pick them up.

The sound effects are nice and the title music is a fitting orchestral piece, but the most noticeable aspect of the sound is the ambient noise in the background. It's very prominent, as there is no in-game music, and whether it be the shuffling of workers as they go about their business in the castle or the strange sounds that almost sounded like signs swinging in the wind in the desert area, these environmental sound effects create an atmosphere that helps to set a backdrop for the game... unless they sound too real. At one point, when I was playing Avadon in the same room as my wife, I actually had to mute the speakers to make sure there wasn't something shambling about in our house.


Avadon: The Black Fortress weaves a tale in a fantasy world beset by beasts and demi-humans of the Farlands, protected by the tenuous Midlands Pact, which is protected by the guardians of a terrifying Black Fortress and its legendary and enigmatic Keeper, Redbeard. You are now starting your service to Avadon...

You choose your main character from four different characters (of four different classes), rather than creating a character from scratch. Your choices include two males: a Blademaster (warrior class), a Shadowwalker (a Ninja/warrior class) and two females: a Shaman and a Sorceress. You can choose any of these, but you will be able to take additional characters to assist you on your quests, so you're not locking yourself into a single, specific class when you choose your main character.

In typical old-school fashion, you'll need to manage your inventory as you go about your quests; you will find lots of items laying about, useful things in chests and lockers, lightly used armor and items on vanquished enemies and, perhaps, the occasional stray coin here and again. The coin doesn't take up any room, but everything else will eventually clog up your inventory, so you'll want to make sure you take only things you might actually need; there are a lot of "trash" items laying about in dungeons that you'd never use, anyway. Then again, anything of value that you find is yours to keep... or to sell to the Quartermaster to buy other things you need. Sadly, however, everything you pick up adds weight and, once you're overburdened, you'll find you can't get around as easy or fight as well.


There are four levels of difficulty: Casual, Normal, Hard and Torment. Sometimes, however, the most difficult part is determining what to do next. I found myself talking to NPCs that I was supposed to be talking to, but they wouldn't give me the items they were supposed to; it turned out that I had missed one dialogue, which was keeping the story from advancing, even though I had talked to the appropriate NPC.

The easiest difficulty is very easy, indeed, and is perfect for novices or people who are primarily interested in making their way through the story. However, from Normal on up, there's a decent amount of challenge, where you can get yourself into trouble if you're not careful and if you don't put a bit of strategy into play. The four different classes give you some variety, but there is no amazingly unstoppable class, so you'll need to be aware of your surroundings, avoid getting flanked and be careful to avoid biting off more than you can chew.

From the first quest, you will have a Sorceress and a Blademaster available to assist you (although, at first, you can only take one with you), so if you want a Shadowwalker or Shaman to start off with, you'll want to select your character accordingly.

Game Mechanics:

In general, this game could hide in a lineup of simliar RPGs of yesteryear, with primarily its resolution options giving it away. One nice feature that set it apart, however, is the ability to click a long way away and have your characters navigate to your desired destination without having to hand-hold them all the way there.

This requires that you've been through the area before and a path through known areas exists, but it's nice not to have to click over and over a little ways across the screen each time they get a little further toward your goal. It's really nice to be able to simply scroll waaaay over to where you're wanting your characters to go and then click the ground and watch on the map as they make their way there.

Avadon: The Black Fortress features a similar game mechanic as some others, whereby if you turn to leave while near an enemy, they can stop you from getting away. This makes the long range spell attacks of the Shaman and Sorceress especially useful, since you can still attack something in the distance, even if you can't walk there. Actually, having a Sorceress around can be really useful, since she has a spell that will daze the enemy, allowing you to take some control over pacing.

Another thing worth mentioning is that Avadon automatically pauses if you change focus to a different window. This can be good or bad, depending on how you play and how much you multitask. After clearing out an area, I clicked where I wanted my characters to go and switched over to my email to give them time to make their way through the dungeon, knowing that if the encountered something, the game would stop when the fight started. I was surprised, however, to find that after a bit, when I returned to the game, my characters started their trek again from exactly where they were when I switched away from the game. I was a bit disappointed, but that also means that if you need to switch over to do something else, your game should be there, waiting for you just like you left it.

Avadon does a pretty good job of delivering the dungeon crawling experience of yesteryear, but it's very reliant on clicking and moving around the map, but doesn't support the ability to zoom out. This leads to a lot of moving the mouse to the edge of the screen to scroll around as well as a lot more need for referring to the full-screen version of the map than would otherwise be necessary.

It's certainly not perfect, and it is a niche game, but there is a free demo, so if you're thinking this might be the game for you, give the demo a download and try it out.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

Minimum System Requirements:

PC Running Windows XP or later or Macintosh running System 10.4 or later, 800 MhZ processor (Minimum 1.6 GhZ processor recommended), Video card or processor with OpenGL support and 32 MB video RAM (64 MB recommended), 512 MB RAM, and 200 MB hard disk space, 1024x600 screen resolution with 32 bit color

Avadon will run natively on Intel Macintoshes.


Test System:

MS Windows XP Home Edition, AMD Dual-Core, 3.11 GHz, 2 GB RAM, Award Modular BIOS v6.00PG, Gateway HD2201 21" HDMI Monitor, Sony SDM-HS73 Monitor, ATI Radeon HD 2400 (256 MB) , A30 Gaming Headset, Realtek HD Audio, Creative SB X-Fi, 1.5 TB Western Digital Caviar Green SATA Hard Drive, Sony DVD RW, Cable Modem, Logitech Wireless Gaming Mouse G700

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