Avernum: Escape From the Pit HD by Spiderweb Software, is a throwback, a love letter to a time when RPGs didn’t hold your hand every step of the way, when games were more than just interactive movies and when titles like Baldur’s Gate and Fallout were kings of the hill. Avernum is an immersive, epic and enthralling game done in the grand tradition of those games, that should be played by RPG fans of all stripes.
In the game, the surface empire is ruled by the ruthless and capricious Emperor Hawthorne, who sends anyone who dares to cross him into the massive underground prison world of Avernum. But the residents of Avernum have adapted and created an entire civilization for themselves in the cold and unforgiving underworld. You control a group of hapless adventurers who have been cast down into the prison. Throughout your adventures you’ll meet an immense cast of other unfortunate souls, become embroiled in territorial disputes, interact with the ‘natural’ residents of Avernum, and fight to survive as you plot your escape and seek revenge on the Emperor.
It’s a little too pentagram-y in here for me.
You control four characters on your quest, which you choose at the very beginning of the game. You can choose their class (soldier, rogue, mage, priest, etc.), along with their appearance and name. Throughout the game they will level up and upgrade their special skills, stats, and magical abilities. You can also train or learn new skills and spells by finding characters in the various towns and forts who are willing to teach you. There are quite a few skills, spells and stats to play with and the depth of character customization, and character growth, is part of the fun as you can make your characters as highly focused or as ’rounded’ as you like.
Combat is divided into turns, so each character has a shot to do their thing. Like in any suitably deep RPG, a number of factors come into play during combat. Certain spells or potions can affect when a character takes their turn, as can their skills, your party order, and the abilities of your enemies. To target an enemy, you decide what you want your character to do, such as attack or cast a spell, and then tap on your target. When the screen is crowded, the combat system can be a little tricky. Accidentally targeting the wrong enemy isn’t all that uncommon. A way to move the screen around or some alternate targeting system would be nice.
Lightning crashes, an old mother cries.
Like we mentioned above, the story is truly huge and is played out like a great fantasy novel. You travel from town to town, talking to and learning from the residents and occasionally doing quests for them. There is the main storyline to follow, which plays out over the course of the game, but there are also countless side-quests for you to do. These can range from delivering a sack of bloody meat to a hungry dragon, or finding some sugar for someone. There’s also a little war going on between the human inhabitants of Avernum and the other, non-human races of the underworld. You can choose to involve yourself in this as much or as little as you like. Quest locations are marked on the world map, so you can always make sure you know where you’re going. The plot is very well done, if a bit bleak and depressing, and will keep you constantly engaged.
The presentation is where the game falls a little short. The graphics are serviceable, but that’s about it. Aside from naming conventions for iPad games, there’s nothing ‘HD’ about the look of this one. There’s a text block on the bottom of the screen that takes up a decent amount of real estate, and it’d be nice if there were an option to hide it. Also, there isn’t any music. This wasn’t really a problem for us, but others might be a little turned off by it.
Avernum: Escape from the Pit HD is old-school, and we mean that in a good way. It’s a game of astonishing depth, with a story that was crafted with care. You will easily find yourself getting lost for hours in the trials and tribulations of the world as you attempt to find your way through it. The problems with the combat and the merely utilitarian graphics and sound aren’t enough to detract from the joy of playing this amazing game. For gamers chomping at the bit for the upcoming iOS version of Baldur’s Gate, Avernum will remind you why you love these types of games in the first place.