I bought this a while back but wasn’t intending to play it for a while yet because I knew it would take a long, long time to complete. But then my video card died and I had to RMA it and what do you know, Avadon 2 runs just fine using onboard graphics. One eerie thing is how closely my total playtime tracks that of the first game. Steam reports my playtime for Avadon as 71 hours. For this one, it’s 68 hours.
- I won’t repeat myself with regards to the basic lore and mechanics since I’ve already written extensively about these for the first game. The big, new, shiny thing here is the tinkermage class who has the ability to build up to two stationery turrets in battle. There are multiple types of turrets ranging from direct damage, whether area of effect or single target, debuffing enemies to buffing and healing allies. Naturally I made my character a tinkermage and the undisputed consensus is that it is by a large margin the most powerful class in the game. The turrets are durable enough to tank most enemies, the class has a special ability to buff and heal them, and having a healing turret around does wonders for long battles. Apparently dedicated players have completed the entire game with a solo tinkermage.
- Other than this, the mechanics and engine are exactly the same. I think the only change is adding quest objective markets to the map. I’m especially disappointed that the user interface hasn’t been improved. Even a little thing being able to open and close the inventory screen using the I key would make life easier. Balance-wise, dexterity was also nerfed to make evasion less effective. I still don’t believe that melee is worthwhile both because way too many enemies can ensnare or immobilize you and because being able to deal good ranged damage is essential in many of the heavily-scripted combat encounters. But I did play through almost all of the game with a party consisting of me as tinkermage, a melee bladesmaster to tank and a mage for area of effect damage.
- I made a big deal out of how Avadon was genuinely challenging. If anything, I think this one is even harder. There are definitely way more heavily-scripted fights now and I’m all for them. They’re basically set up like puzzles in which you need to figure out what to do to win. Playing on hard difficulty, I skipped the hardest of the optional bosses and once again I didn’t fight Redbeard. Even so, the other fights were hard enough to force me to burn plenty of consumables and reload lots of times. One thing I didn’t like is that sometimes enemies respawn infinitely so there’s no point in persevering. Other times, they do eventually run out of steam if you last long enough. Learning which is which can be a frustrating experience. Similarly, in some cases, killing a boss also gets rid of all of his spawns. But not always so sometimes if you sacrifice everything to kill a boss, the adds still kill you and you need to reload.
- Then we come to the story stuff. Despite being subtitled The Corruption, the area is just one of three zones that you travel to in this game. I was pretty hyped up for it at first. Unfortunately the game leads you to believe that it’s this incredibly hostile place but doesn’t add enough new mechanics to reflect this. For example, early on, you are warned that fighting monsters in the area is pointless since they just respawn but this isn’t actually true except at the very end of the zone. Even food that you find is safe to eat, except for those suspicious cisterns of water. Another of the three major zones, the Contested Lands, unfortunately feels very much like a retread of areas from the first game but I guess it makes sense within the context of the story why this is necessary. The last of the zones is Tawon, which I’ve been curious about since the first game. It’s my favorite of the three due to what’s inside their temples and it’s really where the main plot takes place, in my opinion.
- On the whole, I found the writing here to be good but markedly weaker than that in the first game. It takes place a couple of years after the events of the first Avadon, with the Black Fortress sacked and Avadon’s power weakened, its enemies, both within and without, are multiplying and its Hands are busier than ever running around to quell fires. There is now a romance element that I felt was clumsy and didn’t like at all. Plus I was disappointed with the personalities and personal quests of your companions. The rest of this post discusses plot points and so are full of spoilers. Read them at your own risk.
- The game boasts of having many endings. Basically, these amount to how loyal you feel towards Redbeard personally, the power of Avadon as an institution and the Pact as a whole. Various combinations of this are possible but I feel that the game strongly pushes you to at least not be loyal to Redbeard. The entire rebel storyline, and how the intended romantic interest is involved in this, pushes you towards not being loyal towards Avadon itself. I felt annoyed by this because I felt inclined to be loyal to Redbeard and Avadon and I felt my own wishes weren’t sufficiently accommodated. In the rebel storyline for example, in order to successfully get the romance, I think you need to betray and kill Commander Odil, a capable and loyal soldier of the Pact. I just couldn’t do that. For all that Redbeard is old and tired, doesn’t the massive invasion at the end of the game justify his paranoia and his greed for resources to defend the Pact after all? Even if I wanted to depose Redbeard, surely we shouldn’t do it at the beginning of an enemy invasion. So yes, in the end, I stayed loyal to Redbeard and to Avadon, and felt annoyed that almost all of the quests and characters were actively pushing in the other direction.
- I’m especially irked by the companions you get in this game. As one thread on the official forums put it, there isn’t a single loyal Hand in the bunch! Every single one of them has a companion quest that involves undermining Avadon in some way. If you won’t do it, they all hate you. It’s even worse in that some of the quests feel incredibly contrived so that you’re forced to shed blood even though a peaceable solution seems reasonable. Look, I get that Avadon isn’t a nice place and that it hurts everyone who gets in its way, even its own people. But at least have some people who see that it is still the least of the evils if only for the sake of variety. In general, everything feels too forced, too artificially engineered to fit within the design requirement that you need to do the companion quests in one specific way to have them available on your side to fight Redbeard at the end.
That’s why while I still enjoyed this game, I found it to be inferior to the first one. It feels more a standard fantasy RPG, especially with such large salient threats against Avadon and the Pact to deal with. It feels less a CIA operative with absolute authority to go around solving problems with big guns. There will inevitably be a next game but at the moment I’m most enthusiastic about the Avernum remake than an Avadon sequel but I know I’ll want to learn how the story ends eventually.