Avadon 2: The Corruption is the newest entry in Spiderweb Software's RPG series and is centered around one question: How much freedom is safety worth? Even if you've never played the first Avadon game, this entry quickly establishes the setting as being a place where defying the organization that secures the realm is dangerous. You are then conscripted by that organization and after that point fear follows you like a cloud casting its shadow over everyone you talk to.

This new game takes place in a setting which has five allied nations in the center of the known world. A joint council rules over what is known as The Pact and Avadon has unlimited authority to enforce the laws designed to keep the nations bound together and protected from the enemies on all sides. The leader of Avadon is appointed by the council but serves for life, beholden to no one. Though the leaders of Avadon have tended to die rather quickly after rising to their posts in the past, the current leader has been in control for a while and the people who serve him aren't known for their kindness and mercy.

Having played the game for 14 hours, the story so far has been pretty straightforward with no real twists. In that time, however, dozens of NPCs have exhibited unique personalities. Interacting with them and completing the side quests they offer teaches more about the state of the world than does reading codex entries. What are people worried about? What tasks do they ask you to accomplish? How does the same character talk to you before and after you become a Hand of Avadon? What insights do your party members have to offer about the places to which you travel?

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Furthermore, Avadon 2 does an excellent job of making it difficult to balance your actions as a Hand of Avadon. Without wanting to spoil anything, my recent attempt to take a middle road, trying to do my job properly but avoid abusing my authority, led to me being forced to kill a man who turned out not to be the person I was after. Ultimately, the criminal I was chasing tricked him into thinking it would be a good idea to talk to me a certain way and when the poor sot figured out how bad the situation was he panicked and attacked me. When the battle was over, he used his dying breath to tell me which way the criminal had gone.

That was one of many side quests the game has. Some quest givers have only one quest to offer you and others have several that they offer you one at a time. The quest log lists not just currently active quests but also quest givers who will have something for you later. This makes it easy to remember to go back and check in with them, though it would be nice if there were a way to distinguish between the two kinds of quest listings besides clicking on every one of them. Limits are placed on which quests are available at any one time according to level or storyline advancement, but you can access some of the side quests before you're high enough in level to breeze through them, which can lead to deaths if you aren't careful.

Avadon 2's battle system rewards good tactics, though. It's a turn-based battle system in which turn order is decided by dexterity at the beginning of battle and doesn't change. The user interface provides all the other information you need to understand exactly what's going on at all times. There are no time limits on turns, so you can take as much time as you need to plan. There is no colorblind mode, but I think the only thing people with colorblindness will miss out on in battle is the visual reminder built into the grid that movement away from enemies in melee range is restricted. Since the game uses text to tell you when that happens to you in battle and there don't seem to be enemies with a reach greater than one square, that should pose little problem.

There are five character classes. At the beginning of the game you choose one for your main character, and eventually you unlock companion characters of all five classes, two of which can be in your party at any time. None of your companions, not even the one who has the same class as you, are redundant, however, not unless you want them to be. The skill trees allow for customized specialization such that you can turn one Blademaster into a tank/support character and another into a physical damage powerhouse, for example. Avadon's big brother Avernum: Escape from the Pit has more customization options than does Avadon 2, but the tradeoff is that Avadon 2's leveling interface is cleaner and easier to understand without sacrificing too much customization capability.

All in all, Avadon 2: The Corruption offers an old school RPG experience that can eat up a lot of time in a good way. People who've never liked PC RPGs probably won't enjoy this one, or any of Spiderweb Software's games, for that matter. Anyone who misses the RPGs of the 90s, however, should definitely check it out.

The game is currently available for Windows and Mac, with an iPad version in the works and planned for release in early 2014.

[Avadon 2 on Steam | Avadon 2 on GOG.com | Avadon 2 on the Mac App Store]