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Avadon 3: The Warborn (Mac) artwork

Avadon 3: The Warborn (Mac) review

"A satisfying conclusion to a series that's only slightly marred by its ending."

The saga of Avadon has been concluded. Culminating with 2016's Avadon 3: The Warborn, I controlled three different employees of Avadon as they sought to quell unrest in the kingdom, while removing the people fomenting those issues, until they'd left enough bodies in the dust that they could kick back and say they'd manufactured a happy ending simply because no one was left to stand against them. Brutal efficiency: the best solution to any problem!

Spiderweb Software has carved a nice little niche in the gaming world, putting out high-quality, low-budget western RPGs with regularity. Aesthetically, they're not going to compete with names such as Divinity: Original Sin or Pillars of Eternity with their simpler, less-detailed graphics and generic stock sound effects, but I've played through four of Jeff Vogel's games and each of them was a lot of fun. While the Avernum series is built around a massive open world where the only limits to your exploration are how monsters in some regions will utterly stomp your party into mush if you haven't put in a fair amount of work into building your characters, the three Avadon offerings attempted to tell a multi-game story.

And that is a big difference. In the first Avernum, the entirety of the plot could be summed up thusly: The empire banished you to the underworld land of Avernum. Explore it, do jobs for people, kill monsters and try to find a way out…or at least get revenge on that accursed empire! Avadon's plot is far more complex. The fortress of Avadon is essentially a police state which runs five countries that entered into a pact to look out for their interests, essentially aligning themselves against the rest of the world, which is now known as The Farlands and considered inferior nations that will keep out of the way unless they want an example to be made out of them. Avadon is led by a Keeper, who serves until death. That person has at his command Hearts (advisors), Eyes (researchers) and Hands (enforcers) and also can command the armies of each country whenever their service is deemed necessary.

As you might guess, that service is definitely a necessity throughout the events of these three games, as Avadon is encountering all sorts of problems. Those five nations have issues ranging from monster attacks to Farlander raids to their own inability to put old disagreements in the past. One of those Farlands, the Tawon Empire, used to be a powerful nation in the pre-Avadon days and is looking to break apart the Pact in order to return to its former days of glory. And then there are the issues revolving around Redbeard, the man running the show. He's lasted longer than any other Keeper, has access to magic that has vastly increased his lifespan and is very quick to utterly destroy anyone or anything daring to stand up to him. Some people love him, considering him the rock that keeps the Pact together. And others? They look at him as a cruel tyrant willing to cripple nations on a whim, simply to flaunt his power.

Throughout the first two games, all of those things conspired to greatly weaken Avadon. When The Warborn begins, Redbeard has disappeared, leaving Heart Protus in charge. As a more moderate leader, Protus has surrendered some of Avadon's power to the bureaucratic Hanvar's Council in order to gain their support and aid. It's a move that has inspired a variety of emotions and a general consensus that while Protus might not generate the same rabid love or hate that Redbeard does, he also is merely adequate as a leader. And "adequate" isn't going to cut it, as Tawon leader Dheless is still active in his crusade to topple Avadon and several Farland countries still pose a serious threat to the Pact.

Meanwhile, in a remote Pact area that's fairly close to one of those Farland countries, your character is a young Hand serving at a fort. You fight rebels and monsters and have a pretty routine life as an elite soldier in one of five classes ranging from the melee-oriented Blademaster to the ninja-like Shadowblade and the turret-dropping Tinkermage. Routine, that is, until one day you hear that Redbeard has emerged from his seclusion. He's at your fort and he wants to meet with you. His stance is simple: A person is Keeper until death and he is not dead; therefore he's still giving the orders. Coincidentally, Protus also has a simple stance: Redbeard might technically be correct, but his leadership was getting more erratic and questionable and the best chance for Avadon to survive the upcoming conflicts is with someone else (ie: him) taking the lead. And there you are, stuck between two high-ranking dudes who could have you executed for treason without giving the matter a second thought.

In a nice touch, the Redbeard/Protus conflict is what drives The Warborn. Sure, the Tawon and their allies are a threat on the battlefield, but as you play through the game, it's obvious their rebellion is doomed to failure. Several of Dheless' allies have realized the futility of their actions and are more than willing to negotiate their way out of the war, as long as you're willing to perform helpful quests for them as a sort of good faith agreement that Avadon won't completely crush them for their roles in the conflict. Even Dheless seems to feel his efforts are in vain, a sentiment that gets stronger as you thwart his plans time and time again. He still tries to talk you into turning on Avadon and continues to try to raise support for his rebellion, but it's hard to shake the feeling the main reason he's still fighting is because he can guess what Redbeard would have in store for him if he surrendered.

Regardless of whether it be Redbeard or Protus giving the orders, you're constantly instructed to battle enemies of the Pact throughout The Warborn's world. Combat runs much the same as in the previous two games, as you'll use regular attacks and a variety of skills and spells in strategic turn-based battles. New to this game are a few area of effect spells, so you and enemies can turn swatches of the ground into zones damaging anyone walking on the affected spaces. As you kill enemies and accomplish quests, you gain levels that allow you to improve your stats and either strengthen existing skills or unlock new ones. Of course, the farther you get into the game, the more powerful enemies will be. Regular soldiers will start implementing buffs into their repertoire, while bosses will often get two or three moves per turn and have the benefit of summoned allies coming to their side, allowing them to devastate your team quickly if you don't take precautions.

And as you progress through the game, the tension rises. One Hand will confront you, declaring his loyalty to Redbeard and flatly stating that if your allegiance isn't equally absolute, he will find out and he will take action. An envoy from Hanvar's Council is determined that you'll be her spy in Redbeard's camp, delivering her information as to his plans. Some people will mention that the Keeper's paranoia tends to cause him to mistrust those he works most closely with until he, uh, "removes" them from service. That's something you'll nervously contemplate as his compliments toward you are eventually replaced by harsh criticisms of how you handled various situations. Sure, you're earning great victories and your tiny team of Hands is at the forefront of the Pact's war efforts, but will that mean anything when on one side you have an erratic tyrant who's one tantrum away from having your head, while on the other side are conniving pencil-pushers looking to write history in their favor?

The Warborn is almost the perfect conclusion to a very good series. Personally, I preferred the less linear exploration of Avernum when it comes to gameplay, but I found myself really enjoying Avadon's storytelling. However, the end of this game really felt streamlined to the degree I wondered if I was really making choices or just was given the illusion of doing so. Throughout the game, you'll be getting pulled in all directions. Redbeard demands your allegiance, while Protus wants you to recognize his status as Keeper. Dheless tries to get you to realize that Avadon is inherently corrupt and should be dismantled. Various NPCs, both important and minor, serve to reinforce all of these stances, sometimes in situations destined to erupt into violence. And then you reach the end of the game and watch a number of branches abruptly get chopped off the tree, leaving you with one big game-ending choice to make to determine how the series ends.

That was somewhat anti-climactic, but shouldn't be the main takeaway from The Warborn. It took me 40 hours to go through this game, completing all but a handful of late-game side-quests, and if my complaints are with only the final hour of that duration, that means I found the other 39 pretty enjoyable. Spiderweb Software has a good battle system and a well-balanced engine where a player can overcome any foe if they're good at managing their characters' skills and using items when they'd be helpful, which made progressing through this game's many fights enjoyable. And until I'd reached the ending, I was really into things, legitimately worried about the potential fate of my Hand as he tried to play everyone simultaneously. I'd be entering conversations and even if I was at least pretty sure that every response would lead to the same result, I'd still find myself getting a bit nervous as I chose my dialogue option. It's not that often I get that vibe from the narration of a video game, so I have to give Spiderweb kudos for putting me in situations that made me feel I was growing as paranoid as Redbeard himself.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (February 06, 2019)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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