IGN Review of Avencast: Rise of the Mage
Many games claim the "exciting combination of dynamic action, adventure and traditional role-playing" that Avencast Rise of the Mage has printed on the back of its box, but how many actually live up to it? There's always a danger in trying to do too much, but somehow Avencast manages to make an RPG with action-based controls and tricky puzzles like an adventure game should have.
First and foremost, let's call it an RPG. You play as Moses—errr, or you could name him Moses if you wanted and it would be apt, since he was found floating down a river in a basket. After showing a particular aptitude for magic, his benefactor sends him to the magic academy to unlock his potential and the plot picks up near the end of his studies. This lends everything a rather Harry Potter-ful flavor, but luckily there's more to it than that—yes, including healthy amounts of loot.
Quests range from infuriating side tasks like keeping some overheating pots from exploding, to main story missions like exploring crypts beneath the school and hunting ghosts. You'll level up as you go, earning ten stat points with each. Allocate them as you please either among your four main attributes (Health, Mana, Soul Magic, and Blood Magic) or unlock one of the many spells available, which all cost a cheap six points. You never have to hoard stat points, as opposed to some games where leveling up is often anticlimactic because you're not earning anything new while saving.
Blood Magic consists of more melee range spells, while Soul Magic allows you to attack from a distance. Since you can dodge flaming skulls and other projectiles, enemies' melee attacks are far more dangerous, so getting close enough to throw out Lash of Rage or Fire Thrust seemed risky. The most useful spells were the "Wave" type under the Soul umbrella. In addition to looking really sweet, they allow you to attack multiple enemies in one rolling hit. There are also a number of summons, and Killer Flies are awesome. Not only do they make whichever enemy they attack flail and run in circles, but they distract his friends, too.
Using WSAD to move doesn't necessarily equal action, but it sure feels like it does in this type of game. I preferred the "Follow" camera option (where the camera is always behind you) for its MMO-y feel, but no matter what style you choose…no click to move. Breakthrough! Double tapping any direction causes your character to do a roll, while spacebar is a one step dodge. Magic spells have an even fresher scheme, where instead of a hot key, each spell is assigned its own combo (e.g. down, up, down, left click for those wicked Killer Flies). There are still some monsters that are big and lunky that you can just kite out of existence using your default purple magic shot, but for the most part you'll have to be a little more active.
Once you make it past the minions, though, bosses tend to be needlessly long and tedious. If you know the pattern and that's all there is to it, it probably doesn't need to take more than a few minutes to whittle down the HP. Plus, there's one particularly lame bug that seems to have not be addressed yet involves bosses disappearing, which leaves you with an obsolete life bar and nothing to whack on.
Completing the trio of genres here is the adventure puzzle segments. You don't always expect puzzles in an action-RPG, and certainly not ones that put you to the test (or to the forums) as much as in Avencast. While figuring out how to operate the machines in the Planetarium or put your magical imprint on your special glowing crystal could be very frustrating, it was also really nice to have something outside of the dodging, spell launching, and staff wielding to accomplish.
The well-rounded gameplay is complemented decently by the sound and graphics. Instead of not really noticing the music at all, I found it to be actually sort of good, and mood-fitting. The battle theme seems to come in with its fat staccatos at a slightly higher volume for an extra alert. Voice acting is pretty consistently good, even if the dialogue is sort of bland.
This is not to say that there is anything wrong with the in-game graphics, but I was happy to find that cut scenes played out in artistic stills rather than generic fuzzy CG. The inky parchment look gave the events a more classic fantasy feel anyways, and it's getting to the point where having a discrepancy between in-game and cut scenes feels really outdated. That may not be why they made the choice, but it's still a really great alternative, and it even managed to make me pay attention to the dull story.
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