Punishment in the world of Avernum: Escape From the Pit is severe. All criminals are sent through a portal and banished to an underground prison called Avernum. Most criminals have been punished for committing heinous acts against humanity, but you did the unspeakable; you spoke out against the cruel Emperor Hawthrone. The Empire rules the entire surface world with an iron fist. As prisoners of Avernum, you must find your way back to the surface and regain your freedom.
Avernum: Escape From the Pit is an isometric turn-based role-playing game with gameplay that resembles classics like Ultima. You begin your quest by building a party of four adventurers. The character creation process is simple enough for newcomers to use, but offers enough flexibility for veterans to customize their party.
There are nine different character types available. While building your party, It’s important to include a warrior (Soldier/Berzerker), an additional melee class (Rogue/Rebel/ Archer), a magic user (Sorcerer/Hedge Wizard), and a healer (Priest/Shaman). This will produce a stable party capable of confronting just about anything. For more experienced players, there is an option to fully customize your group. Once the character creation process is complete, your party is banished to an underground world that is inhabited by creatures and villains of all types.
The game begins by introducing the player to the game mechanics. This short tutorial explains how to move your party around, initiate combat, and use the various window systems available. Avernum is based on true turn-based mechanics. Nothing will occur in the environment until the player executes a move. In the more traditional sense, it can be compared to rolling dice in a game of paper and pen Dungeons & Dragons.
As you explore the vast world of Avernum, you discover that it’s more than a sparse subterranean world crawling with monsters. An entire community of survivors shelter themselves inside large cities from the horrors that dwell inside the dark caverns. The cities are not only safe havens, but they contain NPC quest givers and shop keepers to buy and sell items for your party.
If you’re feeling inquisitive, you can venture into buildings and peer inside desks and storage containers. In some cases, you will find items that can be confiscated freely without repercussion. Other items are marked with ‘steal’, indicating that your party can be caught if someone catches you taking them. This usually results in the city’s guards annihilating your group.
When you’re not inside the cities speaking to survivors or visiting shopkeepers, you’re outside exploring the vast cavernous world that surrounds them. Dirt roads lead in all directions; strange flora sprout from the soil; and abandoned shacks litter the landscape. Even patrols from various cities traverse the landscape to keep travelers safe.
Combat happens often during your travels. These encounters happen on a grid where your party and the creatures have a set number of movement points. By using the mouse, you left-click on the highlighted areas to move each of your party members. When you are close to an enemy, you can attack by left-clicking on the creature. This is repeated until every member in your party has a turn. Combat requires a lot of strategy. It’s important to use your moves wisely; keeping track of your fighters’ health and buffing them is a very important element. Creatures can appear in pairs or in large groups and their strength will vary greatly. Finding the right strategy that works for you is pivotal to your survival.
Priests can heal your party, cure hostile effects like poison, and buff other team members. The mage is capable of casting offensive spells like Fire, Icy Rain, and Lightning Spray, among many others. There is also a spell called ‘Call Beast’ that can summon a creature to help aid your party in combat. The number of spells available to your spell casters is based on their levels.
There are three main goals to complete in Avernum — defeat the ancient demon Grah-Hoth and his minions; find a way to escape the pit; and defeat the Emperor Hawthrone inside his palace. None of these goals are easy to achieve. It will take hours of dedication to reach these important moments in the story.
The in-game interface is laid out in a simple, intuitive fashion. Both spell casters have an icon dedicated to their spells from the GUI (Graphical User Interface) located at the bottom of the screen. The blue cross is for priest spells and the red lightning bolt is for mage spells. When one of these icons are clicked, a large menu appears with a list of available spells.
Most of the interface can be customized to the player’s liking. The character roster (which contains portraits of your party members along with their health and mana) and the floating map system can be collapsed to increase your viewing area. A built-in game manual is available if the player has any questions about the game. Plus, you can save your progress at any given time. This is one feature that is sorely missing from most modern role-playing games.
Avernum: Escape From the Pit offers a rich story full of character interaction. Unlike most modern role-playing games, there is no voice acting when mingling with NPCS or narration when accepting quests; everything (including conversations) are displayed in a window and can be recorded in a journal for later reference. The younger generation is used to being guided by voice acting in their role-playings, but again, a game like this is paying tribute to an era when such conveniences didn’t exist.
The graphics are half the scale of your typical role-playing game. Despite their size, they contain a tremendous amount of detail. Rock walls contain cracks; pillars show natural erosion; and cities show the individual rocks that comprise their walls. It’s amazing how much detail was squeezed into these small tiles. Even the creatures manage to impress during combat.
There is little to mention as far as audio is concerned. Loud footsteps echo as your party walks through the subterranean world, and combat contains decent spell explosions and screams, but there is little else. A decent in-game soundtrack would have been appreciated. But to the game’s credit, there is an option to mute the sound effects .
As far as role-playing games are concerned, Avernum: Escape From the Pit revitalizes a classic genre that hasn’t been in the limelight for quite some time. Not only does it present an interesting story with flexible play mechanics, but countless hours of challenging gameplay. If you’re looking for a new role-playing experience, look no further than Avernum: Escape From the Pit by Spiderweb Software.
Platform: Mac / Steam (Also available for PC)
Developer: Spiderweb Software
Publisher: Spiderweb Software
|They contain a tremendous amount of detail for their small size.|
|Sound effects are sparse.|
|Countless hours of challenging gameplay.|
|Fans of classic role-playing games will enjoy Avernum.|