Avernum – Underworld revolution

“You have been banished to the underworld, never to see the light of day again.  You have been cast down into the dark, AvernumSS03volcanic pits of Avernum, filled with foul monsters, constant warfare, and thousands and thousands of your fellow prisoners. You have been sentenced to life imprisonment in the caverns, eventually to die there, forgotten and un-mourned.  But you need not accept your fate.  Will you be the first person to escape from Avernum?”

That is pretty much the description off the Spiderweb Software website, shortened so you wouldn’t feel as though I were trying to add filler.  I had just started up the demo for one of indie software’s classic games, the original Avernum, and after reading the opening passages, I couldn’t hope to remember what they said, other than, You have been banished to the underworld.  Okay that is not to say there’s too much text there at the beginning, it is a CRPG after all, but I wanted to get right into the game.  I did read it, but I read it rather quickly.

It seems Spiderweb Software would have a few things going against it.  The produce hardcore CRPG games.  They’re independent.  They often give a lot more in their demos than most developers and their games generally cost more than most independent games even during the recent economic downturn.  And yet they survive, and in fact they thrive.  Spiderweb Software is neo-classic gaming at it’s best.  Neo-classic in the sense that the game series are old enough and have gained enough of a following to be qualified as classics, and yet still new enough to capture the imagination of their fans.  Now lest this review turn into an introspective of Spiderweb Software let us go back to the review.

I’ll plainly admit that I’ve never really been into RPGs of any kind, however I did get a chance to test a few demos out back in the day trying to get games for Andre Lamothe’s game compilations.  That didn’t seem to pan out, but I got to try a lot of games.  One of them was Avernum.  I felt back then even as I do now, I could actually get into this.  Avernum is about a group of people (your group), that get thrown into this underground cavern system called Avernum, by the evil Emperor Hawthorne for some crime you may or may not have committed.  Anyone who speaks out against the emperor gets tossed in.  Down in Avernum people have formed cities, and learned to live, and defend, their new homes.

AvernumSS02 Your mission, Jim, should you choose to accept it, is to find a way to escape and perhaps overthrow Emperor Hawthorne.  Okay so your name is not Jim.  Actually you could name him Jim on the party creation screen.  You’re given four adventurers and you can modify their stats, skills, etc.  Then you’re dropped into the world.  From then on you need to talk to people, get supplies and what not and generally explore the underground world of Avernum.  The interface is a bit complex.  Probably most hardcore fans are fine with this.  It wasn’t very hard to figure out what to do, but it is a little clunky.  For instance it’s easy to move by clicking on the screen.  However sometimes your party members get in the way or you’re not facing correctly.  Since it seems to move by tiles, it’s hard to see where the character is moving until it moves there.

On the screen there’s the main window, below that is a bar with stuff like look, take, use spells, etc.  On the right hand side of the screen is the character drawings and their info such as health and what not.  To talk to someone you hit the talk icon on the bottom, and then letters appear over people you can talk to, and you can either move your mouse over the letter, or type the letter to talk to that person.  Same way with picking stuff up.  Being an RPG, there is also a combat mode.  In combat mode each of the party takes a turn, and you can move him or her to the enemy to attack it.  I had a little trouble in one battle because there were solders facing one way and giant spiders another on an isometric style playfield, and each time I tried to move, it seemed like it wanted to attack a soldier.

These little niggles aside, the game is wonderfully complex, and I don’t mean the playing of it, I mean in terms of story line.  There are several quests you can go on, or you can just explore.  So your level of involvement is whatever you want.  You can also do stuff like stealing and breaking in to places if you want to be, like a thief.  I think anyone who’s ever played it has enjoyed it, and even from a non-RPG player like me, I found it was interesting.  I will probably play more after this review is written.AvernumSS01

The graphics are as everyone says, dated.  Adequate, and decent.  You don’t ever get the sense that the art is subpar, or amateurish, merely that it’s old.  It doesn’t necessarily have all the graphic flourishes we do today.  But tell that to a player of any of Spiderweb’s games and they’ll tell you “So what” and “I prefer a game with a great story over great graphics any day.”  The sounds are ok.  Again most of the time when I play games I don’t really notice the sounds.  If I do end up doing it it’s either because they’re really really good (like I’m watching an awesome action movie with explosions and things moving around me aurally), or they’re really bad, which nobody wants.  So the sounds are ok.  I didn’t really notice music except in the opening, or a little trumpet riff when you’re entering a town.

Okay so I haven’t really told you that much about the game, but I think you should try it out.  It’s fun.  It’s an interesting idea, and the world is very vast.  You will spend a lot of time just playing the demo itself.  Just as a testament to the series (and other Spiderweb games), Avernum is up to number five.  Sort of like the fact Ultima went up to like 8 in the early dos days.  If you’re an old school CRPG nut, then you’ll love this.  If you’re not, you would probably enjoy it anyway, provided you actually play it for a bit. It’s available for both Windows and Macintosh.

Name: Avernum

Developer: Spiderweb Software

Price: $25.00

Where you can get it: On the Avernum page.

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