Review by Relle

Reviewed: 12/11/03

I never learned this in history class...

Taking a break from my 8-part review of Spiderweb's Exile/Avernum series, I'm going to do my own trilogy of reviews of the games outside the Exile/Avernum saga. These include the pair of Geneforge titles and the earlier, standalone game, Nethergate, which paved the way for the Avernum titles.

Graphics

No longer a 2D top-down perspective, this game uses a 3/4 quasi-3D perspective. Sprites are still the order of the day, but everything's been turned to the side to give the illusion of depth, which works quite well. This sort of perspective might cause you to run into a dead end if going through a thick forest outside, since you no longer have the benefit of a flat environment, but you really shouldn't be wandering through a forest anyway.

Sound

I'm considering eliminating this category from my reviews of Spiderweb games. No in-game music once again, but there's some altered sound effects with the spells. The sword clangs are still there, and still clangy.

Gameplay

This game focuses on the epic struggle between the Romans and the Celts on the island of Britannia. At the beginning you have to choose which side you'll support. The Romans are more adept at combat and won't have much in the way of magical power, while the Celts are the opposite: they have the backing of their heathen gods, but can't use heavy armor or weapons. The game's plot depends entirely on which side you choose, though there are some parts that are universal to both sides.

This game is the first to introduce the full-body character portrait, which is Spiderweb's latest improvement to the game's interface. You can drag weapons and armor onto this portrait, and they'll stay there rather than take up space in your item slots. You can also drag and drop other items to give them to your other party members or toss them away. Further, the game doesn't run on keywords when communicating with NPCs. Instead, you choose the response you want to give from a list the game provides. It's the first touch of modern RPG elements in a Spiderweb game.

Naturally all the magic has been changed, seeing as this isn't Exile anymore. Instead you have six categories of magic power: Health, War, Beast, Craft, Spirit, and Nether. Health is obvious, and War involves buffs for combat (both positive and negative). Beast contains summoning spells, Craft is the sort of all-purpose spells that are useful in many situations, Spirit contains spells that have control over life and death, and Nether is a collection of five powerful spells not obtained through ordinary means. You can only use spells in categories you've leveled up enough, so magic-based characters are pretty much going to have to focus entirely on magic.

Also new to this game are mercenaries. On both sides there are warriors that are flat-out better than any of your party, and you're able to recruit them for your cause. You'll need them, because this game's got difficulty in spades. This game also retains the non-linear gameplay of the Exile trilogy, with many sidequests and optional dungeons to explore. Naturally you'll eventually have to stay on the main path, but there's a lot to explore on Britannia. Have fun!

Replay Value

You'll want to play through the game at least twice to get both sides of the story. This game offers less in the way of party creation freedom, since the Romans are pretty much stuck as the offensive type, while the Celts are more magic-oriented, but you can always create a party of all-magic Romans or pure weapon-wielding Celts. If the game suddenly gets too easy, bump up the difficulty level and watch yourself get slaughtered. Next up in the trilogy is Geneforge, one of my personal favorites.

Rating: 8

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