I must admit succumbing to a bit of gamer snobbery when I first heard about Aveyond: Gates of Night, an RPG on casual game portal BigFishGames. Don't get me wrong, I love casual games, but I seriously doubted that a casual game developer would really be able to do justice to the role-playing genre. I was wrong. Gates of Night may not be as deep as Zelda, but what it lacks in intricacy it makes up for with style and charm.
You play as Mel, a street thief studying to be a spy, whose lineage makes her the subject of an evil prophecy and of particular interest to an evil vampire intent on plunging the world into eternal darkness. (Just once, I'd like for a prophecy to foretell the coming of a thousand nights of kittens or something. Maybe daisies.) You and the pals you picked up in the game's predecessor, Aveyond: Lord of Twilight set out once again to track down the Orb that will theoretically save the day.
You'll immediately notice that Gates of Night evokes the retro vibe of Zeldas and Final Fantasys of yore, with brightly colored sprites and beautifully drawn characters communicating via chat bubbles. Simply wandering around the countryside, chatting with NPCs and poking around the buildings is a joy, thanks to the gloriously old school graphics and fantastic soundtrack.
The combat of Gates of Night is the turn-based, Attack/Skill/Use Item choice-a-rama that you might expect from an old-school style RPG, but thankfully lacks the random battles that clogged many older titles. The creatures of the world are plainly visible as you walk around, so you can avoid them or not as you see fit. If you do decide to attack one, you'll find that you're taking on everything that was on screen at the time; while that helps speed things along and is wonderfully tidy, it can come as a bit of surprise if you're not ready for it.
That said, you could find yourself in battle with an entire mountain's worth of enemies and still need little more than a Band-Aid when you're done. Because Gates of Night picks up where Lord of Twilight leaves off, you start off fairly powerful. You may not have more than the rags on your back and a so-so knife, but you're more than strong enough to take on the monsters you encounter, and hit points to spare if things go horribly wrong. Even if you're playing on Expert, you should have no trouble at all plowing your way through the ghoulies, ghosties and long-legged beasties attempting to do you harm. You and your companions have a few spells among you, but you'll do just fine by bashing things on the head.
Gates of Night was designed for the casual gamer, and accordingly is fairly simplistic and easy. That doesn't mean it isn't fun, though. The combat is a cakewalk, sure, but still oddly satisfying, and finding treasure, leveling up, and equipping new gear is always entertaining. The story may not be the stuff of legend, but admit it - we've gone off adventuring for less. Sidequests like finding artifacts for the local museum or weird eggs for Professor Moo add some whimsy, as do the tests you must pass to learn new spy skills. Gates of Night doesn't exactly shoot for the moon, no, but scaled down though it may be, it still delivers the goods in a very polished and entertaining fashion.
Bottom Line: Aveyond: Gates of Night delivers 10 or so hours of very relaxed, laid-back, RPG goodness, delivering a few chuckles and surprises along the way. Plus, it's only seven bucks!
Recommendation: If you're not happy unless a game is so hard it could be used as punishment, Gates of Night is not for you. Everyone else, check out the demo, which provides you with a full hour of gameplay.
Susan Arendt wonders if copying off your neighbor's paper is allowed in spy school. It is a kind of espionage, if you think about it.