Siege of Avalon takes a new approach to computer game storytelling (and computer game marketing, as well). This medieval fantasy role-playing game is constructed in chapters. Developers and producers at Digital Tome offer the first chapter in the story for free. Subsequent chapters are available for purchase online. While each chapter in the game contains a complete tale, the chapters relate to one another and form a larger, more intricate story as they are played in succession.
The first chapter is a fairly large 94 MB, but the following chapters will take much less space. All chapters will remain available online for purchase and download, allowing gamers to play at their own pace. Of the six chapters available for the game, three (including the first one) are crucial to the main story and the other three function more like expansion packs, to add tangential characters and allow new abilities.
The protagonist in the game is a young man who arrives at the fortress of Avalon just at the climax of a long and costly war. Great adventure awaits him. The game features an isometric perspective with lots of places to explore and characters to meet.
Siege of Avalon combines elements of Diablo and Baldur's Gate to create an interesting role-playing experience, and while it might not have the polish of those other games, it does enough things right to be fun to play.
Siege of Avalon takes place in a world of fantasy and war. On one side are the typical fantasy creatures -- humans, elves, and dwarfs -- who coexist peacefully. On the other side are the Sha'ahoul, a race of nomads who are a "close cousin to the common orc." For most of their history, the two groups aren't aware of each other, but then one day the Sha'ahoul discover a human outpost and decide that the "dirtmen" are a desecration to the land and should be exterminated. Battles ensue, and the Sha'ahoul are at first driven back, but then they advance with a vengeance.
As the game opens, you find yourself as a new recruit in the castle of Avalon, where the humans are making their final stand against the Sha'ahoul. Your brother is also at the castle, but otherwise there isn't anything special about you. You're not the son of a god or the Chosen One of a prophecy, so you'll have to make do with whatever equipment you can scrounge up, and you'll have to take orders from your commanding officers. But with the Sha'ahoul laying siege to the castle, you'll have plenty of opportunities to prove yourself -- from foiling plots of treachery to disabling siege equipment to recovering artifacts of great power -- and eventually you'll rise in rank and grow strong enough to maybe even help end the siege itself.
At this point, Siege of Avalon almost sounds like a long lost relative of the Warcraft series, but, as far as I know, its premise is unique for role-playing games. Usually, if a role-playing game has much of a plot at all, it has you seeking out enemies and essentially laying siege to them, so the role reversal here is a nice change of pace. Plus, Digital Tome took advantage of the premise to put you in unusual situations, such as defending ramparts and taking part in large-scale battles, that you normally don't get to experience.
But while the premise is unique, the gameplay isn't. In fact, Siege of Avalon is a simple mix of Diablo and Baldur's Gate -- the originals, not their more recent sequels -- and you won't see much in Siege of Avalon that you didn't see in those other games first. Now, if you're going to emulate a couple games, then Diablo and Baldur's Gate are good choices, and Digital Tome was able to take the simple, action-oriented parts of Diablo and combine them with the depth and storytelling of Baldur's Gate. The resulting mix isn't perfect, but it's not bad either.
Consider character creation, for example. This is an area where Siege of Avalon emulates Diablo and probably shouldn't have. There are three classes in the game -- fighter, scout, and magician -- but they're even less distinctive than the classes in Diablo, which is impressive. Regardless of the class you pick, you can wear whatever equipment you want and learn all of the available spells, and while Diablo at least had some minor differences between the classes -- like rogues being able to shoot arrows faster -- I didn't notice anything like that in Siege of Avalon. In fact, the only difference between the classes seems to be in the statistics you start with and in the quests you can go on (there are two special quests for each class).
Better is the Diablo-style combat system. There aren't any special attacks, and there are only a dozen or so spells, but the controls -- left click to attack, right click to cast -- are as simple and effective as they were in Diablo. The fighting is also just as fast and furious, but there probably isn't enough of it. For some reason Digital Tome really toned down the combat aspect of the game, and most areas only have a handful of creatures to kill. Also, you might find yourself waiting around a lot, especially early in the game, because there aren't any potions for regaining health or mana, and it takes a while to heal.
One thing Siege of Avalon adds over Diablo is the ability to recruit up to two characters to join your group. This is an idea with potential, but it isn't handled very well. The additional characters don't say anything, they add almost nothing to the story, and, since you can't pause the game to give orders, it isn't really possible to control them during combat. The characters have AI, so they're not completely useless or anything, but the AI is poor, and the characters often do dumb things like trying to cast spells through walls or jumping into frays when they shouldn't. Hopefully this is an aspect of the game that Digital Tome improves in the future.
Where Siege of Avalon really shines is in the quests and the story -- no surprise, I guess, given that the game's developer has the word "tome" in its name. The conversations are nicely written, the people and places have depth, and the quests are well integrated with the story. Plus, there aren't any of the lame "fetch" quests like in Baldur's Gate. The quests of Siege of Avalon are much more meaningful than that. The only real problem here is that you'll have to do a lot of running around and talking to people to complete some quests, and since the game doesn't always offer a convenient way to move around, you can spend a lot of time walking back and forth between places, which is boring.
The graphics for Siege of Avalon are good but not great. There aren't any bells and whistles in the form of cinematics or (overly) fancy spell effects, but the locations are varied and interesting, and Avalon itself is large and detailed -- and I think it's even accurate to what the inside of a castle should look like (not that I've ever been in one). However, the best part of the graphics is the character representations. There are 16 locations where a character can wear objects, and 13 of them actually change the appearance of the character. That is just an amazing and impressive level of detail, and the characters as a result look really good. However, the sound isn't as good as the graphics. There are only a few tracks of music that get repeated over and over, and while the tracks aren't bad, the game could use some more variety. Also, the sound effects are a little sparse (no footstep sounds, for example) and there isn't any spoken dialogue at all.
On a technical level, Siege of Avalon has a few problems. I already mentioned that the character AI is a little weak, but the character pathfinding is absolutely atrocious. If the character can't get to where it wants to go using a straight line, then it probably won't get there, and you'll have to guide it using short steps. The game engine itself also appears to be somewhat weak. The minimum requirements are too high for what the game does, the game engine often slows down for no apparent reason, and doing something as simple as checking your inventory or examining a corpse can take far longer than it should. If I had to guess, I'd say that Digital Tome needs to spend some time optimizing their code and perhaps doing some rigorous quality assurance testing.
In closing, there's one more thing I should say about Siege of Avalon. Digital Tome created the game so it could be bought and downloaded from their web site. Now, that's important in one sense because it probably explains why the game is a little lacking in the audio and visual departments, but it's also not important because all I'm doing here is reviewing the game, and how the game gets distributed makes absolutely no difference in that regard. And so, while I'm giving Siege of Avalon a reasonably positive review, it might be an excellent game given its constraints, and there are far worse ways you could be spending your money the next time you feel like beating up some bad guys and saving the world.
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