Describing Avencast: Rise of the Mage is a bit tricky. This role-player relies on WASD controls, but it doesn’t have the nonstop action of a typical action role-playing game. Quests feature standard go-fetch objectives, although they’re often jazzed up with adventure game puzzles. And while the plot strays into world-saving Dungeons & Dragons clichés, it begins with a bored teen mage doing the Hogwarts thing. With so much cross-genre experimentation, it’s difficult to figure out what the developer was trying to get at, although the one thing you can say is that this grab bag of RPG styles comes together remarkably well.
The look and feel of Avencast are pretty similar to that of the original Neverwinter Nights. ClockStone started developing the game four years ago, so it has something of an old-school vibe. This is most notable in the visuals, which are a bit chunky for a modern game. Character and monster models are burdened with boxy features, the animations are just a touch robotic, and most quests take place in run-of-the-mill dungeon corridors. Nothing here is particularly ugly, just uninspired. Outstanding colored lighting at least gives most scenes an eerie glow, a mood enhanced by the often creepy musical score.
Story is par for the course for a traditional role-playing game. You play a young wizard studying at the magical academy of Avencast, sort of a Hogwarts rip-off set in the usual D&D-style fantasy world. There is very little in the way of initial character creation. You just type in a name and go at it, later using skill points from leveling up to augment traits and select spells. The Harry Potter atmosphere is limited to the opening chapter of the game, too. The tale slides headfirst into derivative territory about saving the world from demons right after you prove your wizardry skills by clearing out a crypt and run errands for a few select professors. At least the voice acting is adept for a non-English game (ClockStone is based in Austria), and considerable storytelling flair has been added through the dramatic, sepia-toned artwork used in cutscenes.
Given all of the above, you would expect Avencast to play like the usual dungeon crawl. But here’s where the game takes a little walk on the wild side. For starters, combat has been enhanced with dodge maneuvers. Instead of click-killing all of the skeletons, ghosts, giant crabs, golems, and other beasties that the game throws at your humble mage, you roll and tumble through battles with double-presses of the WASD keys. Most enemies have ranged attacks, too, and do a lot of damage in short order during melee combat, which prevents you from playing Conan and hacking your way through the monstrous mobs. Instead, you generally bounce around like an acrobat, avoiding projectiles like flaming skulls and boulders while ripping off magical bolts of your own with the right mouse button.