[Guest reviewer Colin Brown profiles each game in the July Jubliee Bundle, now available at IndieGames' co-created site: Indie Royale]

Any single instalment of the Geneforge saga would easily eat up thirty or forty hours of your gaming time no problem, so the fact that this Indie Royale includes all five of the games is absolutely staggering. While I've always been a huge proponent of quality over quantity when it comes to indie games, even I have to admire the sheer amount of hours to dollars you get here. Of course, hundreds of hours of gameplay isn't really a great quality to boast unless those hundreds of hours feel well spent, but luckily Geneforge has far more going for it than sheer length.

The nice thing about Spiderweb games is the way they avoid using a straight fantasy setting. Avernum was all about survival in an underground prison. Avadon is more traditional, but still unusually political. Geneforge is probably the furthest from regular fantasy, which proves fascinating. In Geneforge, a sect of magic users collectively known as Shapers have the ability to create life. They use it to make servant races, ranging from simple household serviles to massive hulking soldiers. In most of the games, you begin as an apprentice Shaper who is thrust into a bubbling conflict between various ideologies about the ethics of the Shapers. In every game you're given various sides to pick from; maybe you agree with the Shapers, or maybe you think the serviles should have equal rights. Maybe you just want the world to burn. It's all up to you. Each game is largely a standalone adventure about unrelated characters, but the whole series paints a complete picture of the struggles alongside and against the Shaper regime.

The excellent and offbeat setting is nice enough, but the moral conundrums of shaping is really helped by the fantastic writing talent of Jeff Vogel. Spiderweb games always feel a bit like a really well crafted D&D campaign or choose your own adventure book. It's not exactly a living breathing world, but instead a finely tuned narrative you happen to have a say in. It's all dense prose instead of cutscenes, and robust descriptions in place of flashy graphics, but it's still a gripping storyline that holds its own against the clichés of the mainstream. Geneforge is also deep enough to pull off moral choices, particularly those where there is no right answer. Unlike the Avernum series, the game takes your dialogue choices very seriously with a dozen or so different endings to each game. It takes a lot to avoid the clichés of having a "best" ending, but Geneforge pulls off this moral complexity rather well.


I won't dwell on graphics, but suffice to say they feel really out of date. It certainly shouldn't stop old school RPG fans, and there is a noticeable improvement in engines and UI as the games go on--the first two are a bit dire, but the third and fourth are perfectly acceptable and the fifth is just as fine as Spiderweb's recent releases like Avadon or the Avernum remake. The gameplay is similarly old school, using a turn based strategy engine for combat that works perfectly well with only a few annoying UI quirks. The real neat system is the shaping; unlike other party based Spiderweb games, you only get one character to play. You can either have a go at the game solo, or use your shaping talents to craft a party. Sure, you've had minions before in RPGs, but the sheer variety and bizarre design of these creatures combined with the customization available makes this a really unique system.

The only real downside is that the lengthy games can occasionally overstay their welcome, as each one could take thirty hours, side quests excluded. But if you count yourself a fan of old classics like Ultima, Baldur's Gate or even Fallout, or you just want something a little different from the mainstream RPG scene, these games are some of the finest indie RPGs ever made.

[Get all five Geneforge Saga titles, Puzzle Agent and four other games in the July Jubliee Bundle, now available at IndieGames' co-created site: Indie Royale.]