Avencast

Avencast is an action RPG by ClockStone Software, an Austrian game development company.  I’d never heard of it, until I saw it on Steam, and there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of it either.  I’ve found that a lot of Action RPGs, like this one, don’t make a big splash within my user community.

In Avencast you play as a student in a school of mages, just coming of age when the whole place is attacked by demons.  The rest of the game is spent fighting demons and possessed apprentices and masters, doing quests for the few survivors and trying to stop the demon invasion.  The story itself isn’t bad for a gaming story, but it’s primarily an excuse for all the fighting. One of the story arcs ends on a comedic note right before the final big battle, which feels a bit off to me, but again, story isn’t this games’ strong point.

In fact the story is pretty much what you’d expect, nothing fancy.  This game does take risks though, and that’s worth talking about.

Most of the action RPGs I’ve played are based on the Diablo click-to-slay model.  A power or attack is mapped to each of the mouse buttons (with a quick keypress to swap those things around) and you click on monsters to kill them, and click on things to pick them up, and so forth. It’s a mouse oriented game, with either a fixed camera, or one which floats over the shoulder of your hero, or something simple like that.  Torchlight uses the same interface, with the button bar at the bottom mapped to hotkeys (aka the World of Warcraft interface model).

Avencast is nothing like this at all.

Instead, the system is more based on that of fighting games, where you push a sequence of keys (left, up, down) and then a mouse button (left for melee attack, right for ranged) in order to cast a spell.  The spell then goes off based on it’s area of affect — some summon monsters or add buffs, some have a cone or line based on your facing and the placement of your mouse.  I played as a ranged character, so the melee method may be more click-to-kill, since you’d probably click directly on the enemy you want to attack, but ranged required some aiming, and thought about the shape of the spell.

The key combinations were frustrating, and since you were pressing your movement keys, the combination of facing, and movement to cast spells made things awkward.  A guide suggested some alternate keymappings, and I was able to map the 1-8 keys to 8 spells — I needed more of that, but I could then put 8 spells up on the screen so I could see their combos, and that got me through the game.

It was an interesting experiment, I think, and it somewhat worked.  Although I realized to myself how much I made it into the Blizzard style interface that is becoming common, in large part, I think, because it works. Having to do fighter-combo type spells while being in a third person viewpoint was a bit awkward at first, but 12 hours or so into the game it became easier — by then I’d largely settled into the spells and types of spells I’d be casting, though, and had seen most kinds of monsters and had strategies for fighting them.

Overall (on Easy) it took me 16 hours to play it (thanks Steam for counting), and while I might have a more refined thought about the game if I played a bit on melee, there’s nothing there to call me back to it.

There are things which are annoyances today — not everything that was clickable (the various things which are containers in the world don’t glow or highlight when moused over, so I’m sure I missed much of them).  The overall experience was a bit grind-y, as the only reason to go to some areas was to kill more monsters (and since they don’t respawn this is necessary to level).

According to the game’s wiki, Avencast’s engine was written by the founder of ClockStone, and he had several people working with him, none of whom had any previous experience in game design.  This sufficiently explains the rough edges of the game to me, and those are largely why I probably won’t play it again

I am glad my alphabetical playthrough forced me to do it, as this game had an interesting idea or two in it.  It was just buried under some learning curves and rough edges that were frustrating.