App Of The Day: Avadon: The Black Fortress


Avadon: The Black Fortress stands out amongst gaming apps. By not being esoteric, obscure, cute, or a new twist on a classic idea, it's pretty much unique in the market. It's an incredibly old-school RPG that simply acknowledges that a touch screen is pretty much a mouse, and then gets on with it.

It is in fact a port of a PC version, released a year back, from the ludicrously prolific Spiderweb Software, a Seattle-based company that has been producing full-length RPG sagas for decades. Minimalist in design, and unashamed in their reuse of assets, the essentially one-man team (Jeff Vogel) produces epic stories that tend to span over three or six 50 hour games. They exist in a world where BioWare never was, and it was up to Spiderweb to advance things from Ultima. And it works. Compellingly.

Vogel's two most recent games - a relaunch of the very long-running Avernum series, and a brand new story in Avadon - have been developed for iPad and Android tablets alongside his traditional PC and Mac. And it turns out this is just about perfect. A week's holiday in France almost didn't get a look in as I began exploring The Black Fortress on my Android Transformer Prime, and a day hasn't gone past since when I don't find a sneaky chance to explore for another hour.

Really, with this much info on screen, and it still so clear and easy to see, it highlights how much more we should expect from tablet RPGs.

What works particularly well here is the linear story - something Spiderweb's games often avoid, and end up feeling overwhelmingly sprawling. This time, while you have multiple quests at once, there's a clear route through the tale. It concerns the Hand of Avadon, an attempt to restore peace in an ongoing conflict between a group of nations - the Pact - and those not affiliated, the Farlanders.

This story gently explores complexities of nations, of the ethical complications of being either side of a perceived divide, and does so without ever shoving it in your face. You're asked to ponder whether the rich, powerful capital you represent is necessarily right in its dealings with outlying groups that some consider terrorists. Or you can simply enjoy running around hitting spiders with swords. Depends how much you care, I think.

But mostly you're controlling a changing team of three characters, exploring the absolutely enormous world, chatting to everyone to pick up quests, and firing fireballs at skellingtons. It's RPG purity, just like daddy Garriot would have wanted. And I mean that - this isn't cut down or streamlined or simplified for a tablet. And that's what makes it stand out quite so much.

This is Zhethron the dragon. He's awfully cross.

Stats are rich, choices about how XP is spent is complicated, conversations can be long and elaborate, and the world is enormous without being randomly generated or constantly respawned. It's an epic RPG, and it never for a moment feels awkward under your fingers.

Turn-based combat helps, and while I miss the broader customisation available for magic in the Avernum series, a party of sorceresses, fighters and shamans offers plenty of variation, further mixed up by your being able to choose which two NPCs you'd like to bring along, and ultimately control. The only issue I found here was an occasional odd four or five second pause on the Transformer - but it's a minor issue.

It's expensive, in the world of apps. Unfortunately Spiderweb has always over-priced their games, still charging $15 for 15 year old PC games for instance. At £6.50 on Google Play, this is more on the more level-headed side. It's a cracking bargain when you consider you're not buying a ten-minute lunchtime distraction, but rather at least 40 hours of really decent RPG.

It's an extra 49p on iTunes, but then Eurogamer's always said that Android is clearly far better [Good grief - Ed.]. And this is further proven by there being a huge free demo on Google Play.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments. For daily app coverage, check out our sister site Modojo.

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John Walker

John Walker



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