Ean and his friend Iya are two young elves living in the peaceful vale of Elfwood. Iya takes a test to see if she can become a magical Singer, like her mother and grandmother before her. Unfortunately for Iya, she fails, and feels she has let everyone down. When the Snow Queen arrives in her dreams and offers to make her a princess, she accepts - but the Snow Queen is out to conquer the world, turning all the lands to ice, and she intends to use Iya's latent magic to do so.
Ean wakes the next morning to find Elfwood covered in a blanket of snow, which is rather strange when you've never seen snow before. Stranger still, no-one he meets remembers his friend Iya - not even her own mother. He pleads with the Elder Oak to help him, and is transported to the Land of Man to find Iya and save her. Thus begins their quest to unite the kingdoms, free Iya's spirit and defeat the Snow Queen.
Aveyond 2 is a role playing game that sees you taking charge of Ean and his growing band of friends as they go about their quest. Controls are mouse driven with keyboard shortcuts and the game is very easy to get into - Ean's early escapades in Elfwood are tutorial in nature with very limited danger and plenty of room to explore. There is also an actual tutorial that explains the basic controls, and this and the story's prologue can both be skipped - though this is not something I would recommend doing the first time you play. While much less complicated than many RPGs, Aveyond 2 still has a fair amount of stuff to learn.
I feel the keyword in Aveyond's design is "simple". I grew up with several text based RPGs that had a learning curve tending towards vertical, in which surviving beyond the first character level was a feat in and of itself. Aveyond 2 prefers to guide you more gently, starting with basic movement, controlling party members, using equipment, basic combat and such before exposing the player to more complicated matters, such as using magic. Even combat starts off gently and gets tougher - if you encounter enemies way beyond your ability to fight them, there's a good chance you're going the wrong way! Items that can be picked up or used change the mouse cursor to a hand. Characters you can talk to turn the cursor into a speech bubble, though I often had to chase the target person repeatedly before I was close enough to make them talk to me.
"Simple" also describes the graphical style - sprites and simple tiled maps bring me right back to the days of the Ultima series, when the game story was more important than the graphical impact. Aveyond 2 features humour and character development - and the odd cliche! - while the graphics are there purely to make it clear what things are, where they are and where you're going. The screen is clear of unnecessary clutter, with everything easily available by calling up the menu with the Escape key or the right mouse button. It isn't always clear when options are selected, however (which can be especially unfortunate in combat) and I was often attacked by groups of enemies when only some (or one) of them were near my party, which can mean getting into scrapes you aren't ready for. Resurrecting dead party members in combat is tricky - you have to select them via the empty space they had occupied!
The sound is variable, in more than one sense. Effects are quite good despite their understandable limitations, and the music changes depending on your location. There are some issues here - music volume varies a great deal (most notably between inside Ean's house, where it is quite loud, outside the same house, where it is mid-volume, and on the world map, where it is quiet). Entering combat repeatedly surprised me with the loud blast of battle music that results! The combat music loops round, but seemed a little clumsily cut. Fortunately there is an option to mute the music, though not the sound effects, for which your computer's speaker controls are required. Other options include the usual window or full screen mode, both of which play rather well, and the game permits being switched between the two or minimised without any protest.
Playability is strong - as already mentioned, Aveyond 2 introduces elements gradually rather than dropping the novice player straight into a lethal dungeon environment. You can save your game anywhere, both on the world map and in locations (but not during combat) and the game auto-saves whenever you enter a new location. The effect of any items you collect is given in the Items menu by hovering the mouse over them, and characters are equipped with a very limited range of "slots" but a wealth of different items to fill them with. Money and experience can always be gained by returning to forests, etc and battling monsters. If you find the game getting harder, just revisiting old ground and levelling up a bit may be all you need. Certainly Aveyond 2 is a game that will last you a long time - like most RPGs, the standard game time is measured in hours or days rather than minutes - and there's plenty of replay value in looking for things you may have missed. There are even a few secrets if you can track them down!
There are, however, some negative points. Sometimes clicking on things can be a bit hit or miss - especially when searching corpses, though I've selected the wrong option in combat equally often. The routefinding algorithm is pretty good but occasionally does strange things. It isn't always clear what items are for from their limited blurb. There are scores of mini-quests to take part in, but sometimes it isn't clear what to do next in them (fortunately the simple control system makes such quests much easier to work out). My biggest complaint is during combat, in which there is no way to escape - or, worse, to quit the game. If you need to stop suddenly during battle you're a bit stuck.
Overall, we have a complex storyline and a lot of freedom mixed in with a generally well-crafted interface. Some minor factors could be tweaked to improve play and these are the main reasons this game doesn't score higher. There is, however, one big thing in Aveyond 2's favour - I'm finding it hard to stop playing it. A game this addictive is worth a look, though beware the subsequent loss in sleep, social life and sanity.
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