Day 156: Avatar Adventurers Online

Posted: 2011/04/14 in Indie Games

I’m purchasing an Xbox Live Indie Game (XBLIG) every day, seeking out the quality titles that got lost in the shuffle and are not well represented in the top 50 lists on the Xbox Dashboard. Today is day #156, and today’s game is “Avatar Adventurers Online”.

For this review, the requirement to have other players participating meant I had to arrange to purchase and play it with others well in advance, and a consequence of that was forgoing the normal self-appointed restrictions on its Dashboard placement (since I couldn’t know in advance where the game would be charting on the day of the review). So today I found myself buying this game this morning, and playing it online with several friends; some old, such as “The Good Twin”, and some new such as Twitter’s @Mr_Deeke, @TeamKobun, and @Masterblud. The latter three are all working on reviews for their respective websites, so interestingly today’s play session will form part of fully four reviews of the game when all is said and done.

Avatar Adventurers Online (AAO) is a multiplayer RPG, though not a “massively” one. It’s closest technical comparison is probably Phantasy Star Online (PSO), and its closest gameplay comparison is probably Final Fantasy XI (FFXI). Like PSO it’s a game with a central area (the space station in PSO, the main town in AAO) where people can meet, party up, and head out on quests. The actual controls and combat are a closer match to FFXI. It’s a bold attempt, and is definitely worth a look for multiplayer RPG fans.

First, from the developer (Squarebananas):

“Avatar Adventurers is a Multiplayer Online RPG. Develop your avatar by levelling your character and obtaining new equipment. Battle formidable beasts, complete quests and take on missions across three vast continents. Communicate with fellow adventurers, form experience parties and trade items. Join the online adventure today!”

AAO does a lot of things right. The simplistic graphics aren’t actually that out of step with what some multiplayer RPGs (I’m looking at you EverQuest) have on offer, and keep in mind this is a $3 game with no monthly fee. AAO has 39 areas (all of them relatively large) to explore. You can teleport from the main town to most areas, and you can teleport back to the main town if you purchase an item in advance that lets you do that (and it’s reasonably inexpensive and highly recommended). The game handles the job of partying up well, or the “Team” as it’s called in AAO. Only the initiator of the team is able to add more players to it, a restriction that is likely sensible under the circumstances. Should that person leave the game, though, the entire team is disbanded.

Gameplay is of the grinding variety that is commonplace in multiplayer RPGs, where you’ll kill a lot of the same enemies and wildlife over and over again, do some of the same quests repeatedly, increasing your stats and building your riches so that you can buy better equipment. This game plays a bit better solo than a lot of PC multiplayer RPGs in my opinion, as there is a main quest (with side-quests) that you can follow to its completion and consider yourself to have “beat” the game once you’ve done so. Like all games in this category, though, it’s when you’re playing with a bunch of friends together that it’s at its best. It’s a lot more fun finding items, solving quests, and defeating bosses with your friends puzzling through it with you and watching your back during combat.

Speaking of combat, it seems impossible to actually die in the game. Instead of dying, when my health got too low I would be knocked unconscious. At no point was everyone in the party unconscious, and perhaps if I had been playing solo (or if the entire party had been incapacitated at the same time) it would have been a different story, but as it stood your health dropping to the point you were unconscious had you fall down and a counter begin until you were able to get up again. Interestingly, once you were able to get up again you had the option of not doing so immediately (perhaps in case you would put yourself in greater jeopardy by doing so, versus waiting until the coast was clear).

The game has the normal assortment of leveling-up, equipment upgrades, items to find and purchase, and magic. The magic isn’t just about attacks either, as there’s also magic that enhances your stats, reduces enemy stats, heals party members, effects party member stats, and much more. There’s a long ladder, with 99 levels to achieve and a healthy list of equipment upgrades to find/purchase along the way.

If you’ve tried and failed to enjoy a multiplayer RPG in the past, I don’t think AAO will change your mind on them. If on the other hand you enjoyed them, but preferred the idea of playing one on your big screen TV rather than on your computer, and like the idea of playing one that doesn’t have a monthly fee attached, then AAO could be right up your alley. The ubiquitous voice chat offered through Xbox Live is an improvement over most PC multiplayer RPGs where a mixture of voice chat solutions have splintered the market, and where fewer people own headsets in the first place, and matching is a breeze through Xbox Live as well. The game has received post release support that has improved it, which is also encouraging. You’ll only be able to play it singleplayer, and only for 8 minutes at a time, until you purchase the full version, but for only 240 Microsoft Points, it’s a no-brainer for fans of multiplayer RPGs (or those who thought they might like to try one, if only they didn’t have to pay a monthly fee).

On a side note: I began this by project 156 days ago loading 19,600 Microsoft Points onto my account. Today I loaded another 19,600 MSP onto my account. I wasn’t at zero when I began, and I’m not at zero now, but it’s still a pretty accurate estimate that the first 156 games I bought cost me about 20K Microsoft Points, a cost of $280 at the Canadian Microsoft Points rate (about $250 at the American rate, which is the “standard” one as that’s the one the developers get paid in, from what I understand, an imbalance given that the Canadian dollar is actually higher than the U.S. currency at the moment). Just for those curious, as I do get that question every once in a while. I think that’s fantastic value given many of those 156 games I’ve played and enjoyed more than most retail games I paid $60 for, and it has strengthened my belief that Xbox Live Indie Games is probably the single best value in all of gaming.

As a second (and final) side note: As a side note, I’m over 155 days in before buying my first game with “Avatar” in the title. This despite the XBLIG channel’s (undeserved) reputation for being mostly avatar/zombie games.

Click here to download “Avatar Adventurers Online”, and then please come back after playing to rate the game.

Know someone else who would want to read the review, or rate the game? “Share This” and invite them to.

  1. AaoSociety says:

    The game is awsome, i wish more people played it however.

    • I ran into the “I wish more people played it” problem on the original Xbox with Crimson Skies. It was a hot game where it seemed like everyone was playing it when it came out, but a year later it was a ghost town like many XBLIG titles. What I ended up doing was trimming down my friends list to just those I knew well, and then started rebuilding it around Crimson Skies. Every time I would meet someone on the game I would friend them; before long, I had a long list of people I could invite to join me in the game. They had the game but didn’t play it often; I was able to get them to put the disc in more often and get games going almost whenever I wanted. People searching out other prospective players in online forums could replace and/or supplement this strategy, but to the same end result, for XBLIG.

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