Times have been better, for Boyle Wolfbane. He and his unfortunate but loyal minions, along with his most faithful minion and pet, Fang, tried taking over the world like all of the best and most powerful dark lords do. Emphasis on 'tried', because Boyle failed. Miserably. Aveyond 4: Shadow of the Mist brings Boyle's adventure (or misadventure, if you will) to Linux. So how does this old-school style RPG game fare?
Disclaimer: This is the fourth game in the Aveyond series and to be perfectly honest, I haven't played the previous Aveyond games. At all. Thankfully there's enough exposition at the start of Aveyond 4 that a new player can pick everything up pretty easily and I hope that is reflected in this review.
Aveyond 4: Shadow of the Mist is an indie RPG by developers Amaranth Games. It's a classic styled game with simple graphics, although those graphics come to life thanks to beautifully done artwork. If you're familiar at all with RPGMaker, you'll probably have a pretty good idea of how this game will look and feel at a basic level, given this game was indeed made with RPGMaker.
There's no doubt a plethora of RPGMaker-produced games out there on the grand old interwebs, but Aveyond 4 definitely stands out as one of the most well done examples. With the aforementioned lovely artwork, an engaging storyline, interesting and quirky characters and a surprisingly well balanced difficulty system when it comes to combat, this game certainly had its fair share of blood, sweat and tears put into it... and no doubt a healthy splash of love as well.
As mentioned in the disclaimer, the game begins with enough exposition in the form of a flashback in-game cutscene that even as a new player you get an idea of what is going on leading up to the present. Plus, really, the storyline here is standalone enough that it doesn't matter too much. So, if you're like me and haven't played previous Aveyond titles, fret not. Basically, the story is centered around some villains who are in retirement after all their mischief and evil deeds have taken a toll on them. The main character here of course is Boyle Wolfbane, a former dark lord (well, he'd like to say he's still a powerful dark lord, but alas) who loves his storm wolf named Fang more than anything. Alongside Boyle is the witch, Ingrid; she's young and beautiful, not one of the ugly witches with warts and such. In typical witch fashion, however, she does love a good cackle and has a supremely confident persona, not to mention a definite love of mischief. I mean, she's so desperate to make Boyle marry her, she's willing to curse him to make it happen!
These two villains are your main characters and form the basis of your party from a very early stage. Of course, it's here you realise that things aren't entirely your standard RPG fare, as the 'heros' who are going to try 'save the world' are in fact villains. Or at least retired villains. I won't spoil the story too much but suffice to say, the story does well to force these villains into being kind of anti-heros. Sometimes it's a bit silly, but then this is a decently lighthearted affair and it is always entertaining. At the same time though, it's believable enough that some villains who would rather have a world to take over, would strive to help save it instead of being left with an empty wasteland. Oh yeah, did I mention the mist? Long story short, up in the "Mist Mountains", there dwells the Mist people, who unsurprisingly live amongst a heap of...mist. This particular type of mist can be lethal if the Lady of the Mist so wishes to surround the entire world in her particularly suffocating mist, which at the beginning of the game, is exactly what she threatens to do if her recently kidnapped son is not returned to her. Liam Neeson eat your heart out.
Our heros, eh... villains, end up stuck in the middle of this whole affair and so begins the adventure to rescue the Mist boy and save the world. Joining them on the adventure is the very-much-not-a-villain in the form of a Mist wraith named Myst (original, I know). As one of the Mist people, she has some unique powers and ability to transform into a four-legs (basically a dog version of herself), not to mention she serves as the party healer. Myst is kind of the "good" hearted one of the group who will speak up when she feels our beloved villains are going over the top, although she definitely has a cheeky side as well.
I won't go too much into the other elements of the story or the other characters for fear of spoiling anything, but suffice to say from a story point of view, there's an interesting dynamic to be had with the characters in your party. You've got a mix of villains and heros who are ultimately striving for the same goal with all the antics in-between.
Combat and Stats Progression
In classic RPG style we have a turn-based combat system where you have to select an action for each of your party members and select a target for them to attack or use an item from your inventory for healing etc. Anyone who has played old-school JRPGs like Final Fantasy has a bit of an idea of what to expect here. The turn-based system seems a bit random as far as who attacks first and when, although party members who use a healing power/item or buff clearly seem to get a priority in the ordering. This isn't a bad thing, it gives a somewhat unpredictable system a bit of predictability when you need to heal party members and the combat is challenging enough that you'll be thankful for it.
Yes, that's right, there is a decent challenge to be had here. It's not Dark Souls challenging, but it's not a casual romp on normal difficulty like certain games out there either (*cough* Diablo III *cough*). I quite liked this about Aveyond 4 - the difficulty always felt 'just right'. It will keep you on your toes but not ever be impossible either. The other good thing is, unlike some games which 'hold your hand' or have an enemy levelling system that tries to keep up with your characters, Aveyond 4 is the kind of game where if you go back to an area from earlier on after you've gone up a few levels, you'll rightly slaughter foes easily that once might have given you trouble. On the other hand, it is possible to wander into an area you're clearly not equipped to handle yet and you'll soon realise as such when your entire party gets wiped out the first time. This is more Morrowind rather than Oblivion, if I may reference the Elder Scrolls series for a moment.
In saying that, I feel the game can be deceptively linear and does control the hero (well, villains, but you get my meaning by now) development quite a bit based on story progression. You do earn experience points from battles and 'level up' your characters, as well as outfit them with gear, but there isn't any real stats to play with here. The game controls the stats progression - all you have to do as a player is fight things and earn XP while occasionally changing your characters gear. You'll often find that while you can go up several levels during a period of gameplay, you can only truly upgrade certain powers or outfits once you reach a new major area of interest, such as a new city, during the storyline. To be fair, many games (even larger scale RPGs) probably do this, giving you more incentive to push forward the storyline by completing quests instead of just grinding battles. Still, maybe it's just because Aveyond is an indie title and a bit smaller scale than some of the larger RPGs, perhaps it is more noticeable.
In a similar vein, the overall freedom isn't necessarily what it seems. Some areas are cleverly closed off at certain points, clearly pushing you to go in a certain direction. It's a minor gripe really, for a game with a quirky and fun storyline, you really should just go with it and progress the storyline. But it does bear mention that this is somewhat more of a tightly controlled adventure rather than a playground or "sandbox". Plus, as mentioned, the difficulty is usually enough that even if this is a more on-rails RPG, not that I'm saying it totally is, it's good enough that ultimately it shouldn't spoil the experience, but you can notice it.
Besides the main questline, there is of course a healthy dose of side quests to play with. This game can be anywhere from twenty to thirty hours depending on how many side quests you actually bother to complete. Thankfully you do have enough freedom to backtrack to many of the major areas, allowing you to complete many of the side quests later on, if you happen to not do them as they come along.
The above paragraph probably seems contrary to my previous statements about the lack of freedom or the seemingly quite linear nature of the adventure. To be fair, it probably does seem like a contradiction and I've battled mentally to try to describe exactly what I mean. I would say though, play the game and perhaps you'll know what I mean. This game probably isn't guilty of doing anything that a lot of games don't already do, but just occasionally, it feels more forced somehow. On that note though, I would say that besides doing any side quests you may have missed the first time through, there isn't a heap of replayability to be found here. Again though, it's more of a pure story driven experience and indeed a worthy and entertaining one, just don't expect an RPG where you can adjust stats and character builds to the cows come home, because that isn't the sort of game this is. The characters will, for the most part, be the same every time.
Other than that, on a technical level, the game runs fine although there are a few unfortunate bugs. I only encountered one bug that caused a Crash to Desktop (CTD), but there were also a few performance oddities where playing for a certain amount of time would cause odd frame rate hitches when walking up or down in the game world. As far as I can tell though, this isn't Linux-specific but actually a bug in the game for all platforms. Saving and reloading (hitting Load game, rather than restarting fully) fixes the problem when it occurs.
There are also a few goofy instances where you will interact with an object in the game that will trigger conversation with a party member... that you haven't even met yet. This is clearly just a design problem where the developers didn't realise it was possible for the player to interact with a certain object while not having met a particular party member yet, or at least forgot to account for that scenario and again, this isn't a Linux-specific problem.
Pleasingly, there were no problems to speak of, or that I encountered on my system anyway, in regards to Linux.
A good old-school styled RPG with some unique twists of its own, Aveyond 4: Shadow of the Mist is certainly decent value for money (typically anywhere from $14-$19 USD), especially given the amount of gametime on offer. The storyline and characters will undoubtedly leave a smile on your face at times and the game is easy to pick up and play. It's not perfect, but the game is clearly a labour of love and while it's scarred by a few unfortunate bugs and perhaps not being quite as free-form and open-world as some of these types of games can be, it's a worthy romp.
- Good quirky humour
- Decently balanced difficulty
- Pacing is generally good
- Good story that avoids being totally predictable
- Beautiful art
- Can be deceptively linear
- Probably not a lot of replay value to be had here
- Some battles and trekking through areas can be tedious
- A few unfortunate bugs, however they're not game breaking