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 Aveyond: Gates of Night (Orbs of Magic Series, Book 2)

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PostSubject: Aveyond: Gates of Night (Orbs of Magic Series, Book 2)   Fri Aug 21, 2009 2:00 pm

This is the second chapter in the ongoing Orbs of Magic sub-series; if you played LoT and saved your game in the Gates of Night save menu when prompted, you can load that savefile from the main menu and pick up where you left off (sort of: the game puts you back in Thais after the final events of LoT), with your levels, abilities, and inventory intact. If you start a new game, characters will range from level 11-15, and you will have basic equipment. You will have to start from scratch as far as gold and other supplies. You will also be sent on a sort of truncated version of the main quest from LoT (sans sidequests). Personally, I do recommend playing LoT first, as it will give you more of the background story and a better introduction to the characters. LoT and GoN together essentially make a complete game, taken together (which was kinda the point).

Website: http://www.amaranthia.com/
RM version: XP
Cost: $10

Overview (notes from LoT re: graphics/music also apply here)

Pros: Non-linear feel, lots of exploration, good sidequests, largely bug-free, great storyline

Cons: Poorly balanced, inadequate weapon/armor progression, useless loot, rushed cutscenes, rushed ending

Special Features: Characters continue to earn experience when they are inactive

(NB: I played this one only on Expert level)

Remarks

The reason to play this game is the story, and the story is worth putting up with the flaws. I just want to get that out there right away. Not all the characters are totally developed (and, actually, all the characters are very static, which is the biggest flaw as far as the writing goes), and there are still awkward bits of writing in the dialogue, but the overall story, the way it works out, is quite good, especially toward the end.

Spoiler:
 

Mel seems to run a bit hot and cold with Aveyond fans; some love her, some think she's too cold and unsympathetic. Personally, I like her, though she is sometimes inconsistent, because she's blunt and not always heroic, but she does not cross the line totally into anti-hero territory. The two new characters that you pick up in GoN, Lydia and Ulf, are nothing to write home about. Lydia has some funny exchanges with Mel and Edward, but that's about it. Ulf really isn't developed at all beyond the side-quest that gets him into your party (it is not skippable, however, as he is essential to getting one of the quarter keys).

Beyond the story, there are several new areas to explore, as you get a boat very early in the proceedings. The mapping is excellent. Amanda is very good by now at creating adventure maps that are challenging and satisfying to explore, but not so difficult that you are constantly lost and want to tear your hair out. Cities are sometimes a little more labyrinthine than necessary, but that's not so unusual in an RPG. Once you have the boat, you are free to explore wherever you're strong enough to not get killed, so the game becomes very non-linear. This is either a pro or a con, depending on your personal taste (you can probably tell where I stand). A lot of the sidequests, and even parts of the main quest, are not order-dependent. I think what might throw off a new player, who's not used to RPGs in general and the Aveyond series in particular, is that you frequently have to visit areas more than once to complete parts of a quest (and sometimes to pick up a new quest that is triggered by another event), and there aren't always sufficient hints to know that, but I like having a lot of sidequests as ways to level up without mindless grinding and sometimes acquire useful treasures.

Treasure chests (and holes for digging) are hit or miss; sometimes you get nice new equipment, sometimes you get equipment that you just bought in the last town. Sometimes you get good full-healing or party-healing items, sometimes you get healing items that you don't need anymore. Really, how useful is something that heals 50 HP when the monsters you're fighting deal 200+ damage in one hit? And how many revive items do we really need? (I dunno, maybe other players need lots of them. I don't.)

The progression of equipment upgrades is really disappointing. Mel doesn't get an armor upgrade for, I don't know, two-thirds of GoN? Then she has three armor upgrades (both found and purchasable items) in fairly quick succession. Makes. No. Sense. Other characters have similar wonky progressions. Also, you need, desperately, an equipment upgrade in each new area, but you often can't afford it. (At least gold doesn't become essentially obsolete in the latter part of the game, because you have so much and nothing to buy anymore; you're constantly needing more, here.)

The battles are really badly balanced, which is perhaps the greatest flaw in these two chapters. It's especially disappointing considering Amanda has made three full games, already, and should know better. (In fact, the preceding three games didn't have this problem.) This is a continuation of my complaint in LoT that each area is scaled a little too hard for the player level. Mind you, I played GoN on expert, but I played LoT on both expert and normal, and found the same problem each time. WaveformDelta is playing LoT on easy, and has the same problem. So please, don't blame my chosen difficulty level. Anyway, battles are sometimes simply a matter of luck, as in, if you get your hits in first, you will win, and vice-versa. Have lots of restorative items on hand. You will need them.

Also, only the two magic users have significant skills, so there is little strategy involved. Battles are only so much button-mashing. Even with your main destructive magic user, Lydia, there is no strategy, as you gradually realize that you should simply rely on whatever spell costs the most magic points. Rather than having different spells with similar strength but different properties, and having to figure out what is best against a particular enemy, each spell is simply more powerful than the last, and depending on what order you acquire her spellbooks in, sometimes a spell is already obsolete by the time you have it. Lydia is useful, however, for whole-party attacks, and some of her most powerful spells have useful de-buffing properties.

Finally, some of the cutscenes, especially toward the end, were simply not given the time they deserved. The scene where the party finds the Orb of Light was rushed and needed better pacing, and the scene where, well, I can't comment on it properly without spoiling it, so:

Spoiler:
 
The ending, as well, turned out to be a let down. Like the Orb of Light scene, the scene with Gyendal before the big boss battle could have been paced a little better, but it wasn't terrible. No, the real let down was after the action was over, and all we got was one short scene where Mel, et al., delivered Gyendal to the King, and then a Wall O' Text describing Edward's wedding and Mel's reaction. No wedding scene, no scene depicting the aftermath of some of the other things that happened at the end of the boss battle (deliberately vague so as not to be spoilery). Now, I understand that Edward can marry one of several girls depending on player's choices over the course of LoT and GoN, and to make four different scenes for each of the possible endings is a lot of work (at least, more work than making four different Walls O' Text). It would have made the game better. And when choosing between doing less work and making the game better, well, I think making the game better should always come first. And considering Edward's choice (or lack thereof) of bride will affect parts of the next game, all of which is also extra work in development, I don't see why a proper wedding scene should be a big deal.

I have seen other people comment on official forums about the lack of scenes showing us how the different characters deal with the end of the quest, and the answer from official forum folks is "Well, remember, there's another chapter coming, so you'll get to see that then." I don't really like that answer. Just because this is a chapter in a longer series doesn't mean it does not deserve a proper denouement of its own. Do I expect a full epilogue saying what each character went on to do after the end of GoN? No, that would be silly. Because there's another chapter coming. But a few scenes to show the immediate aftermath, or the character's reactions to what happened (maybe with some tiny teasers about how the story will go on) would add closure to this chapter, and actually increase my anticipation for the next.

I kinda feel bad, because I spend more of my time discussing the flaws than the things that are good about this game, but I hope that at least, if the game developers stumble across this, they will find what I have to say constructive. I've been a fan of the Aveyond games since the first one, and I think Amanda is a great storyteller, but I also have to acknowledge that there are flaws that detract from the overall gaming experience.
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Aveyond: Gates of Night (Orbs of Magic Series, Book 2)
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