Avernum: Escape from the Pit is a remake/rewrite of the old Exile and Avernum Trilogys by Spiderweb Software. Avernum is a RPG with a Tactical RPG fighting system and plays a lot like Avadon: The Black Fortress, a game I reviewed a while back. Although there are a number of similarities to the two games there are a lot of differences as well.
We’ll start with what is Avernum about. In Avernum you play a group of 4 characters that you create at the beginning of the game. For whatever unknown reason they like many before them have been thrown into a portal to Avernum a cavernous world separated from the surface world. Whatever sins or possibly wrong person you POed you are now stuck in an underground world with no way out in sight. Welcome to Avernum a world of the unwanted. People have been being thrown down here for a long time and have established there own system of survival and your characters must set out to find their place in this new world or maybe a way out.
So that is the gist of the story. You’ll talk to different people get quests and information to lead you farther into Avernum and the secrets that have been left behind. Although the story and the way it works differs greatly from Avadon and most RPGs these days. First since you create your team of 4 from different types or you can even select a custom type to create a team exactly the way you want it. You can chose how they look what their names are and what skills and traits they have. The downside to this is that your characters really have no history or importance individually. You won’t hear anything interesting from them or have any story lines that focus on any individual member of your team. It really is all about your team as a whole.
The game offers you the freedom to attack anyone you would like to. So if you want to attempt to go on a spree you can, although this won’t benefit you in anyway that I can tell. Although it is a good way to get killed pretty quickly as the towns guards come to take you out pretty fast. So give it a shot if you’re daring or just follow the quests and explore the surroundings. Like most RPGs, you will have your kill em all quests, as well as your numerous fetch quests. So many fetch quests you may even feel like stabbing the guy who wants you to fetch some very lame set of objects that may take forever to find on the expansive map. Although unlike Avadon in Avernum pretty much everyone is friendly which is a little strange figuring that these are the people kicked out of the surface world for whatever reason. Prison makes strange bedfellows I guess and Avernum is in a way a very large prison, that offers more freedom than the surface world albeit with a higher mortality rate.
As far as gameplay goes, point and click is the key to it. Much like Avadon in this way, I never really used the keyboard for much of anything. You just point and click then your character moves to that location on the map or if in battle they move as close to there as possible. Selecting spells is easy even if you don’t put them on the quick bar at the bottom. It is just a click on the spell type priest or mage and select the spell you want then click the target. If your character is too far away they will move closer to get the shot off. While there are warrior skills you can learn as well that allow you to deal more damage in a single attack they all have a recoup time denoted by fatigue. Overall the games battle mechanics are simple, straight forward and fairly easy to grasp. All battles are played out where the floor is like a grid of squares that you and your enemies maneuver to gain line of sight or get next to them to pummel them with your weapon.
Leveling is easy to grasp as well, yet can be a bit hard to determine the best route to go with your characters. The first part of leveling is picking which attribute to add a point to; strength, dexterity, intelligence, and endurance. These attributes are all pretty straight forward. Next you will get 2 points to add to your skills, whether it is archery, mage skills or lock picking or any of the other numerous choices. This is the part that choosing your route becomes very important. How much tool use/lockpick skill do you need in the group or are you going to find a book that requires more points in arcane lore than you already have? I found myself many a times lacking the skill levels necessary to do what I wanted at the time I found something. Requiring me to go get experience to level up and go back to the object I couldn’t open or use at a later time. The last part of leveling is every two levels you get the chance to choose a new trait to add to your character. These traits seem dependent on both your attributes and skills you have chosen. This is what can give your mage that extra oomph from your warrior you decided to turn into a swordmage. Yep, that is also a trait and I’ll say I was happy to see it.
The things I found lacking was that objects on the ground are very often hard to see. This can make some fetch quests a royal pain. You end up taking a few steps only to check the ground again finding nothing or a rock. The music isn’t bad, but it isn’t grand either. It just sort of blends away and is quite forgettable. The last thing is that your characters have no stories, you don’t get to pick one or give them one in game they simply are and they stay together simply because they came through the portal together. There is no interaction with them and I couldn’t help but feel like they as a whole might as well be just one hero. The last thing I wasn’t to fond of was the reputation system it goes up from completing quests and it helps to open up more quests and get people to talk to you who would otherwise be uninterested in your arrival. While it is an interesting mechanic the encourages you to do the quests it also makes you feel a little constrained into doing things like the fetch quests and other things just to build your reputation.
So while Avernum is very open world with a large map to explore and a myriad of quests to take, I miss the deeper intrigue you get from other RPGs. While the game is nice and has a very retro feel to it storytelling wise it just didn’t grip me the same way as other RPGs. It does offer a lot of character build choices and plenty of locations to explore, but I could only give it a 3 out of 5. It is a solid game and has more plus than minus when it comes down to it. If you love RPGs and TRPGs give this game a shot if not you will probably be bored pretty quickly.