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Fun, accessible hypertext adventure, April 27, 2022
by ccpost (Greensboro, North Carolina)
I used to play a lot of RPG's for console systems (e.g. Final Fantasy and the like), though I fell off of them because they tend to be self-serious and require enormous commitments of time and energy. Tavern Crawler delivers an imaginative fantasy world, some meaningful character customization, and an engaging (slightly offbeat) story without the humdrum.
I was immediately quite drawn into the fantasy world. From the first scene, set in a bar, the player gleans details about the society/culture and political structures of the game world, all cleverly integrated into narrative events that move the story forward. Just bumping into a soldier at the bar sets off a chain of detailed interactions that situate the player in a fully realized and lived-in fantasy world. This continues throughout the game, and even though the game world open to the player is itself rather small, you gain a rather sweeping sense of the world of the game through these interactions.
There are some limited, but meaningful, ways to customize the character through decisions made throughout the game. Principally, the player can take actions that build up the players mage, tank, or rogue stats. Interactions with the non-player companions, Ford and Aurora, can negatively or positively affect the player's relationships with these characters. These decisions can impact the course of the game, but (in my playthrough) it was not difficult to advance to a satisfying conclusion to the game without maxing out any of these stats.
The story itself -- in brief, a quest to slay a dragon that goes wrong -- is well told as the player advances through the various quests. This is, of course, not a typical dragon slaying mission. While I'll refrain from any details that might spoil the story, the narrative opens up questions about the ethics of adventuring that are quite thought provoking.
All of this is done with a knowing sense of humor; while I often found myself smiling, this is not just a send-up of RPG's. The game exhibits an impressive emotional range, which especially comes out in the conversations you can have with Ford and Aurora along the journey. As you complete main quest objectives and side quests, the player can chat with both companions about what they've been experiencing. These side conversations provided some of the most engrossing bits of story and offered insight into both the non-player characters and the broader fictive universe in which the game takes place.
My only qualm with the game is also perhaps a strength -- that the main story itself can be accomplished fairly quickly. You can get in and out pretty quickly and still have a meaningful gameplay experience, but it would be nice to stretch out more in this intriguing game world. This is a fantastic short story length work, and I'd gladly take a fat novel.