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Lora's CRPG Reviews: Siege of Avalon

Siege of Avalon (Game release date: 2000)
Siege of Avalon is well-written and capably executed, and though the game is marred by excessive travel time and combat problems, it's overall a fun and satisfying epic.

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Highlights: Excellent writing, satisfying character development, smooth play Lowlights: Combat flaws, too much walking, poor party AI

Siege of Avalon is probably the most pleasant surprise I've ever picked out of a software bargain bin. The game is undeniably low-budget--the first adventure on the disk was actually released as freeware--but it doesn't suffer from the horrible dialogue or wretchedly buggy code that plague most low-budget games. I didn't encounter any critical bugs in the game at all, in fact, and it's actually better-written than average, not worse. The interface is generally smooth (with the glaring exception of the inadequate inventory screen), and character training and advancement is enjoyable. Special kudos go to the 'death' screen, which is scarier than any other I can remember seeing.

Despite the unexpectedly professional quality of this game, there are still some rough spots that will require patience on the part of the player. In particular, far too much play time must be dedicated to manually jogging your character back and forth across already-familiar areas. Frequently when you learn a new piece of information or accomplish a new task, it will unlock new conversational options with other NPC's; but when getting from NPC to NPC is such a slow and boring chore, it can't help but diminish your enthusiasm for checking back in with all of them. Combined with the tiny inventory panel, this turns running 100 crowns worth of recovered loot back to a merchant into an unpleasant chore involving multiple trips. Combat has a few serious flaws, too--enemy spells seem to be significantly overpowered, the AI of party NPC's is so faulty that it can be tough to keep them alive during even easy fights, and your own character frequently forgets what target you've told him to attack so that you have to just keep clicking repeatedly.

Even so, though, Siege of Avalon accomplishes more than most full-price CRPG's--it's well-written, capably executed, and lots of fun to play. It was poor business and marketing choices that kept Siege of Avalon from breaking through into the first tier of PC computer games, not flaws in the game itself, and especially at its price, this is a game well worth picking up.

Style: Siege of Avalon is a classic CRPG with a third-person Ultima-style birdseye interface. Also like Ultima, you control and develop a single character but have the option of fleshing your party out with pre-scripted NPCs. Unlike Ultima, combat is realtime (though the rest of the game is event-based.) The plot is a role-playing adventure on a fantasy theme.

Finding Siege of Avalon: You can still download the first Avalon adventure as shareware if you like, but if you want to play the whole game, you'll need to buy the CD.

Getting Siege of Avalon to Work: The game warns you that it doesn't work properly on Windows NT, but I had no difficulties running it on XP.

Hints For Siege of Avalon: I have a page of Siege of Avalon hints up online with a complete low-spoiler walkthrough for the game.

Pitfalls In Siege of Avalon: Combat is realtime and requires a bit of manual dexterity; however, the rest of the game is wholly event-based (the sun will not set until you have accomplished some unrelated task, and a new monster won't suddenly enter the screen you're standing in), so it's safe to go AFK as long as you're not in the middle of a battle at the time.

Game Length: 60 hours or so, a good length for a CRPG (though an unfortunate percentage of that was spent on travel time.)

Age-Appropriateness: This game is rated T (for 13 years old and up) due to the usual amount of CRPG violence (there's no sexual content or strong language that I noticed.)

Lora's Siege of Avalon Review: (Very Good)

Plot and Quests: The plot is linear but well-written, and though each quest has only one solution, they are varied and interesting. The final adventure includes some path-splitting and interactive elements.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: There aren't a lot of puzzles in Siege of Avalon. Most of your mental energy is spent using deduction to solve quests and track down traitors. Not especially challenging, but highly satisfying.
Characters: You control only one character in Siege of Avalon, and though you can customize his appearance slightly (hair and beard, not skin color or gender) you get few chances to affect his personality or reactions to anything around him. (In fact, annoyingly enough, his reactions to NPC's are recorded in his journal whenever he meets them, and you have no input into it.) On the other hand, many of the NPC's you meet are interesting and complex, and their attitude towards you changes based on the actions you have taken.
Gameworld: The fantasy world of Siege of Avalon is thoroughly generic, but the game designers clearly put a tremendous amount of thought into the specific scenario (defending a besieged castle) and came up with a whole host of interesting characters, conflicts, atmospheric details, and other interlocking ideas, which makes their milieu more absorbing than the average sword-and-sorcery setting.
Gameplay (Leveling, Spells, etc.): Character training and advancement is excellent, and stealth skills are much better-used than in many games. There are some significant game-balance flaws, particularly in the use of magic (enemy spells seem to be much more effective than the PC's spells, something there's no in-game justification for.) Too much of the gameplay is also spent on rote travel.
Interface (Movement, Inventory Management, etc.): In general the interface is simple and intuitive, but the inventory screen is extremely annoying (it's one of those grids that you have to physically fit each new object into, but there's no button to automatically rearrange them, and the grid is so tiny that you can't even fit all your character's own armor into it at once, so if you ever want to change apparel you have to drop everything on the ground, put on the new gear, and then pick up the old stuff.) Trying to get your NPC's to follow you correctly can also be like herding cats.
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): The graphics range from serviceable to genuinely creepy; the writing style is particularly evocative. This game is not voiced (which is certainly better than it being badly voiced), and the music is merely so-so.

Lora's Recommendations: I wouldn't think Siege of Avalon would be a game with much crossover appeal, but I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy CRPG's and doesn't have a violent aversion to realtime game elements. It's a well-written game and there's something in it for almost anybody who likes the genre.

If You Loved Siege of Avalon: Other 3rd-person CRPG's that may appeal to you are the outstanding Baldur's Gate II, the complex and macabre Planescape Torment, and the classic masterpiece Ultima VII. The surreal puzzle-adventure Sanitarium, while more puzzle-based than Siege of Avalon, would be enjoyable to most gamers who liked Avalon. You may also enjoy the expansive 1st-person role-playing powerhouse Oblivion or the story-based CRPG Return to Krondor.

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