The Siege of Avalon Anthology is a welcome breath in the world of role-playing games. No, the game does not break any technical benchmarks or cause your processor to smoke under the weight of the graphics processing. But Siege does do something that few other RPGs ever have: provide solid entertainment without breaking your bank.
Siege can be had for just $20, a price that most RPGs won’t reach until they have been bested by their own sequels several times over. For that price, I was expecting a very cheap game that would not impress me in the least, much less hold my interest. Instead, I was treated to a solid RPG that kept me playing each day till I had solved the game about two weeks later.
Siege is interesting because your entire adventure takes place in and around the castle of Avalon, which is under siege at the time, hence the name of the game. All of your efforts will be to try and break the siege of the castle, whether inside the walls rooting out traitors or outside trying to destroy the enemy’s siege engines. Because of this you really get to know all the folks unlucky enough to be trapped inside the castle with you. The game plays up on this fact by having major quests solved pretty often by having the character talk to the different main characters. Yes, you get to do a lot of "go fetch" missions, but not so many that they become annoying. After a while, you will know exactly where everyone in the castle lives, and it will become second nature who to go to for what.
The game interface is a top-down view popular now with most role-playing games. When you click on a friendly person, you will strike up a conversation. When you click on an enemy, you will strike with your sword. You left click to use your melee weapon or bow and right click to cast selected spells. The interface is pretty easy once you assign hot keys to your most used spells. Just click on a monster and you will fight it. Your character does all combat on his own. If you start to get beat, perhaps it’s time to step back and cast a healing spell, or have your opponent munch on a fireball or two.
The graphics are very good considering what I was expecting. In truth, they are not very different from Sierra’s Arcanum, which costs a lot more. Everything looks good and it’s easy to tell different spell effects from one another. The sound effects help to strengthen the mood too. Even though they are simple for the most part – chirping crickets in the forest, wind out on the plains – they nonetheless are appropriate and well done.
The true strength of the game is the plot, and it has been a long time since I have written that. These days it seems that game plots are simply something developers come up with after the fact to try and tie all the levels together. Not so here. As you progress in the game your journal unfolds like a storybook. If you were to just read your journal after the game was over, it would be a pretty enjoyable experience since the plot is filled with romance, intrigue and violence. The unfolding storyline, more than anything else, will keep you coming back.
You can advance your character as you play, as with most RPGs. However, you have to be careful because you are awarded training points as experience. You can dump your points into improving your character instantly, or you can seek out masters and spend points with them to learn special skills. But if you don’t have enough training points, the masters won’t train you. I got into trouble on the final chapter of the game because I figured I was close to the end and dumped all my points into my character. Then I found a secret room with an undead knight who offered to train me after I solved all his riddles. The problem was that since I had no training points, I could not learn anything. And for some reason you don’t get any points for killing monsters (or it seems solving quests) in the final chapter. Trust me, I killed hundreds -probably more than the rest of the game combined- and did not get anything. So no extra training for me.
Originally, Digital Tome designed the game to be sold as individual chapters. With the basic game you got chapters one, two and six. Apparently you had to buy the other three chapters, which focused on fighting, scouting or magic, separately. I’m not sure that business model would work very well, which is probably why everything is sold together now as an Anthology. Still, you have the option of not playing chapters three though five if you don’t want. All are solvable, though in each case the final battles are really, really difficult.
The problem with the Anthology is that apparently the developers ran into gameplay issues. Characters who went through all the chapters would be a lot more powerful than ones who skipped them, and thus missed out on collecting cool magic items and improving their characters. But the fix that was used was a Band-Aid approach. Basically, your character does less damage (or the monsters are made tougher) based on your level. This would be fine except the game also takes into account the level of your party, of which you can have two NPCs along for the ride.
So when I attacked a monster by myself I would kill it in two mighty cleaves of my ax, sometimes before it could even react. But when I had two partners with me, it would take six or even seven swings to bring down the same bad guy, and I would often get pretty injured in the fight. So I took to just adventuring alone, and that’s not what the game I think wants players to do. Even when my long-ill brother wanted to join me I was like, "Sorry bro, but if you come along then all the monsters will be tougher and I’ll do less damage too, so just sit here and guard this broom closet till I get back." This inconsistency is the main reason the gameplay score did not max out for Siege in our rankings.
I think the "optional chapter" theory also hurt the money system in the game. I ended up with well over 5,000 gold coins at the end, and there was not a thing to purchase that I needed. A super-duper sword of instant monster slaying and flaming death that cost around 4,000 would have been nice incentive to save up. After a while, I just stopped collecting money from fallen opponents, or even searching them.
The flaws however are comparatively minor compared to the excellent overall game. They are totally forgivable and even avoidable in most cases.
Siege of Avalon is a perfect addition to any RPG fan’s collection. The system requirements are low enough (Pentium II 450 with 64M of RAM) that just about any system or even laptop computer can run it with little problem. And for $20, there is more than enough gameplay for the price. I played a few hours every night for about two weeks, and was satisfied enough with the experience that I hope to see more chapters written for my digital tome. For value software, this is hands down the best title I’ve ever experienced.