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.

 

Alphabetical RPG Playthrough

I blame Steam.  Or maybe GoG.com

Either way, it’s useful to have someone to blame.

I went a long time with a substandard PC, and played a lot of PS2 and Xbox games.  I joined GameFly and got games that way and other ways. I had been a sort-of PC gamer, and I became a console gamer.  The origins of this blog (on my poor dead computer SarahBellum) were in writing about console games — with the knowledge that the games I most loved were PC ones.   Despite this, when Oblivion came out, I didn’t have a PC that could run it. Nor Neverwinter Nights 2, or the Witcher. (One must note that this PC ran World of Warcraft just fine, thankyouverymuch).

I started doing some game reviews for other sites, and Tam and I decided I needed a slightly better computer (it was time for both of us).  I got a nice video card, enough memory, and (eventually) a copy of Windows 7.  The stagnation in monitor resolution has meant that video cards didn’t change enough to matter, and while I’ve had this computer for some time, it runs pretty much every PC game just fine.

And that’s when Steam came around.  My first game? Audiosurf — thanks to Ben Abraham and several other friends.  It was free, or nearly so one day, so I downloaded it — and the steam client it required.  Things were stable for a while, and Steam started having sales. GoG started adding older games I’d never properly played.  But it was mainly Steam that did it.  Their Christmas sale in 2009 ballooned my game list.  Again in the summer of 2010 and in the winter (although, since a lot of what was on sale was their back catalog, and I’ve bought most of that…it didn’t balloon so much last Christmas).  I’m sure there will be another sale this summer.

But, here’s the thing, many of these games are big and complicated, they take time to play and effort to stay focused with, and there are a lot of them, all sort of vying for attention.  Half the time I just play SpaceChem, or Cogs, or go to Kongregate for a small amuse-bouche game.  Kat bugs me about it when I tell her “so and so game is on sale today for just FOUR DOLLARS.”  She says, “How many of those games have you even downloaded [ed: most of them]?  How many of them have you played? [ed: almost most of them]  For any length of time?”  She adds the last because she knows what a pedant I am.  And the answer? Not even close to almost most of them.

There are several indie games on there, bought as packs or through the Humble Indie Bundle, but there are a ton of my favorite kind of game: the RPG.  A ton of them that I never played, or never got very far in or just couldn’t tackle.  They are the very model of the sort of big, complicated game I don’t try to play on a whim some night.  I need some sort of motivation, a plan or a procedure to decide what I’m going to do.  Something to keep me on one game, to keep that cacophony of games crying out to be played a bit quieter (or less distracting).

The answer that I’ve chosen is to play them alphabetically.

In fact, I’ve already started.  I finished up the very first Steam RPG on my list yesterday: Avencast. I’ll write a bit about it tomorrow.  Some games I’m not sure if they are RPGs or not, some games have sequels.  For the former problem, I’m going to try to be inclusive. For the latter, I’m giving myself an alphabetical exemption to the sequels.  I’ll intersperse them among other games as I get to them.  [Gothic is the worse offendoer -- and for those who say I should have started with Arcania -- Gothic 4, I can only say it makes more sense to play that after Gothic 3. I don't intend to be foolishly consistent.]

The other other thing that I considered is that I have a lot of games (and thus, RPGs) which are not Steam games.  I have the whole Might and Magic series through GoG.com, as well as Arcanum [Which really, really should have been first.]  I’ll post the list soon, as I compile it, and I’ll fill back in as I add more games. It’ll help break up the Ds, Gs, and Ms with their Dragons and Dungeons and Gothics and Mights.

I won’t be replaying anything I finished completely (with the possible exception of M&M: Swords of Xeen), and there are a few games I don’t want to play (like the M&M’s 1-3).  There are a few games I don’t have yet, but probably want: Witcher 2, Skyrim [no probably about it], Avadon and Frayed Knights.  Din’s Curse sounds interesting, as do some other games — but I’m going to try to limit these as the goal is to play what I have.  You haven’t seen the list,yet, but there’s a good chance I won’t be done before Diablo III is out.

I’ll post the list soon, and we can discuss what’s missing — and why.  I’d be interested to hear what folks have to say.  I’m playing Arcanum now, and will have a post about Avencast up in a few days.