Avernum: Escape from the Pit: Old-school tactics

April 11, 2012

Avernum has a pretty long history among PC RPG fans, having been remade twice thus far since its initial release as Exile: Escape from the Pit in 1995. Generally, these releases have been timed well, and allow a new player to enter into the series without dealing with dated graphics or awkward installation procedures on account of compatibility issues. This current version came about as the first Avernum has a few glitches when running on Windows 7 64-bit, for example.

The game has your party, which can all be customized in a Dungeons & Dragons-esque way, being thrown into the underground realm of Avernum by the Empire, which is the all-controlling government of the surface world.  You then become that staple of the RPG world, the travelling band of adventurers, willing to assist anyone who asks. (If they can provide experience and coin for your efforts.) The world of Avernum adds an interesting twist to the fantasy RPG, by introducing a much more alien landscape. There are fairly cavernous open spaces in the main game world, as well as the cave exploration this setting leads you to expect. I will not spoil the storyline, but will note that there are actually three ways to “beat” the game, and all three of them can be done in a single playthrough.

Combat is turn-based and tile-based, and flows fairly well. Characters can use both ranged and melee weapons, or focus on spellcasting. There is a bit of strategy involved, as placement and movement can affect the outcome.  It is important to note that each character can have both a melee and ranged weapon equipped. Combat mode is initiated when an enemy gets within a certain distance of you, or you can initiate it yourself. I’ve noticed a few times that you can pop in and out of it quite frequently, often when an enemy is hiding outside of line of sight as the previous battle ends.  You can’t leave combat until all of the visible enemies are defeated.

Like many western RPGs, the game has an open world, though you how much exploring you do will be limited by certain factors. (For example, there are a few areas that require story progress to access.) If you do explore into an area with higher level foes, for example, the game will warn you of this, but will not stop you. You can also attack NPCs and commit crimes in towns, though there are obviously consequences.

Characters develop based on stats, skills, and traits, with four major “classes” to specialize in. While any character can put points into any skill, it is fairly apparent that there is a division between four main RPG staples: Warrior, Ranger, Mage and Cleric. You gain points at each level, assigning them as appropriate. Character appearance isn’t that complex, however in an isometric game, your characters appear fairly small, and details would not be easy to see.

Graphically, this game is probably not the most impressive, but the graphics work well and fit the game nicely – they are also a huge improvement on the original Avernum, clearly designed for the resolutions we use today.  There are also quite a few hand-drawn images used for stat and skill descriptions. They look great, and really add character to the game, as does a lot of the writing.

The game has an isometric perspective, and out of combat movement is also tile based, much like a roguelike. I hesitate to compare this to a true roguelike, however, as the game is not randomly generated, nor does it have permanent death. Your characters can die and be brought back to life, either through spells, scrolls, or returning to the nearest town. If all four characters die, however, the game is over.

The game interface is mouse-driven, with some keyboard shortcuts available, and the controls are fairly standard. Keyboard shortcuts can be changed based on user preference, as well. Another addition is achievements and stat tracking, which are done within the game.

While I enjoyed this game, it is very much designed for fans of this sort of RPG, and doesn’t try to move too far away from what the previous games were. If you are a fan of old school PC RPGs, don’t hesitate to check this out. It is available directly from the Spiderweb Software website and on Steam for both Mac and PC.

Pros: The same RPG that fans know and love, great aesthetic and update to the series
Cons: Still appears and feels bit dated for new players

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.