We’ve already reviewed the excellent Avadon: The Black Fortress on Digitally Downloaded, but the promise of an iPad version was just too good to ignore. As a rule of thumb I prefer playing games on consoles and touch screens – sitting in bed with an iPad is a more relaxing experience to me than sitting at a computer or with a laptop on a desk.
But for some game experiences, the iPad has struggled to provide quality content, and the RPG genre is one of those. A couple of Square-Enix efforts aside, there hasn’t been any truly gripping RPGs that make good use of the great iPad screen – and the western RPG has been all but forgotten. Avadon: The Black Fortress takes advantage of this gap in a big way, and is an even better experience this time around than it was on PC.
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I won’t repeat what I said in my previous review, but in summary: This is an independent project from industry veteran, Jeff Vogel (read a full interview with him in our recent Digitally Downloaded magazine) that is a successful throwback to the days of classic RPGs with top down turn-based battles, basic animated sprites and plenty of dialogue boxes.
It’s a big quest (you could be looking at 30 hours to get through it all), with plenty of side missions and secrets to uncover. There are a few concessions to the modern audience – skill trees and a variable difficulty level that, at the lower settings, makes the game a cakewalk. In almost every other way though, this game is classic RPG dungeon hacking at its finest.
And on the iPad’s lovely screen, it looks good. Avadon is not the flashiest game, but it’s aesthetically pleasing in a retro kind of way. Icons are clear and maps are well designed. It’s a genuine pleasure to play through the game, if only to see what each new environment throws up.
The iPad also does an admirable job of replaying the mouse and keyboard with the touch screen. Scrolling around the map through swipes is a snap – and tapping on the screen to direct your party of heroes to each location is intuitive and comfortable. The game does seem to be a bit of a memory drain – a couple of times I’ve had the “iPad is running out of memory” message, and that can at times cause the animation and sound effects (there’s almost no music) to stutter, but it’s a minor complaint that doesn’t make the game any less pleasant to play.
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A bigger concern is the fact that fingers are less precise than a mouse pointer. In combat, the game plays out over a grid – tap a square and the hero will head over there. Tap a monster and he/she will attack the critter. But the grid is small, and occasionally you’ll tell the hero to do something by accident. On the higher difficulty levels, this can be lethal.
I would hope that in future Vogel production iPad ports (and I certainly hope there are a few of those), he includes the ability to pinch to zoom in closer to the action for more precise controls. I realize the games graphics would look pretty ugly up close, but the playability offset would be worth it.
In the end, Avadon is a fairly expensive game by the iPad’s typical standards, but it’s a must have despite that, with far more content and a far more interesting quest than almost anything else you can find on the App store. It looks like Jeff Vogel is on to something good here, and hopefully it’s just the start.